Gift Giving Etiquette

Is it ever acceptable to decline a gift or even regift?

Ensure you don't offend by following these guidelines

Gift Giving Etiquette rules provide you with everything you need to know regarding which events are appropriate to take a gift to, how to choose a present without stress and of course, advice on when it's OK to regift and/or decline a present.

Knowing how to choose and accept an appropriate gift for someone, so that they feel special and appreciated, means you can be confident that your gift giving etiquette is intact.

Take the stress out of buying gifts

It should be a pleasure to give a present to someone, so it's a shame when this enjoyment is dampened by a stressful last minute shopping trip.

Like many women, I have been guilty of buying expensive “branded” gifts when I have left my gift shopping until the last minute. Unfortunately these presents have not always been particularly personal to the recipient, regardless of the cost.

So, as with most aspects of etiquette and manners, much of it relies on good personal organisation of, well, pretty much everything in our lives really and so having a reliable diary system, with reminders set, is crucial.

If you receive an invitation to an event then it's a good idea to set yourself a gift purchase reminder as soon as you receive it, so that you have plenty of time to put some thought into it.

Should you take a gift or not?

It's not always clear on an invite whether you are obliged to take a present but if in any doubt I would advise you to do so.

I attended an event a few years ago for a couple who married abroad and then hosted a party on their return. The invitation did not enclose a wedding gift list so I was unsure what to do. I was pleased that I decided to take a small present, as did some of the other guests.

Generally it is good gift giving etiquette to take a present to the following occasions:

·         Housewarming 

·         Moving away parties

·         New neighbours

·         Host gift for dinner parties

·         New pet 

·         Baby Showers and births

·         Thank You's 

·         Illnesses & Deaths

·         Congratulations

·         Just because you feel like it – they are the best of all!

What makes a Thoughtful Gift?

A good idea is to make a note of interests/hobbies/holiday destinations your friends/family talk about when you see them so that when the time comes to purchase a gift, you can refer back to your notes and choose something relevant to their lifestyle.

Try not to go over budget, buy with your heart and wrap the present well.

Another tip is to purchase gifts ahead of time as and when you see them. As with most shopping trips, we are most likely to find the perfect item when we are not looking for it!

You should build the cost of wrapping the gift into your overall present budget; even the smallest of gifts should be given just as much consideration. The presentation of the gift reflects how much thought you have put into it just as much as the gift inside.

When is it OK to Return/Exchange a Gift?

Most of us have received a present that we do not like or perhaps are not able to accept. Knowing how to deal with these types of situations, without hurting someone’s feelings, can be invaluable.

Returning or exchanging gifts, when you already have the item, is quite acceptable and straight forward. It is good gift giving etiquette to inform the giver that you already have it.

This demonstrates that the present they chose was suitable and appropriate; it should therefore soften the blow and not offend them. For items of clothing and household goods this can be easy to address.

If you simply do not like the gift then you will need to consider whether it is worth hurting someone's feelings by returning or exchanging it.

This depends on your relationship with them; if it is someone you are close to, and they are thick skinned, then you can admit your disappointment; but it is never an easy thing to do and having good gift giving etiquette means you will need to be tactful.

Waiting for a couple of days to pass before broaching the subject can be a good idea. The pressure of wanting the Christmas, Birthday or Anniversary to be perfect is over, and most people will want you to be happy with the gift.

It is, however, never acceptable returning gifts for cash, even when things are a bit tight in January! 

It really is up to you if you decide to tell the giver about returning or exchanging gifts – if you see them often and they are likely to notice then it is best to come clean. When sending your thank you note afterwards you should not mention any returning or exchanging of gifts.

If you have given an unsuitable gift and the recipient is obviously unimpressed then having good gift giving etiquette means you must try to admire their honesty; providing them with the receipt will save you the hassle of a further hunt for a suitable present.

When is it OK to re-gift?

If you choose to re-gift you must be confident in having an excellent memory or it could cause you and someone else huge embarrassment!

It is good gift giving etiquette to re-gift as long as you follow some guidelines:

·         do it rarely

·         keep a list of any items that are re-gifted

·         the item must be new and un-opened

·         re-wrap the gift making sure no previous gift tag remains

·         be upfront when giving a re-gifted present – you should tell the       recipient that you felt they would have better use for the item

·         be sure that the gift is suitable for the recipient - this shows you have put some thought into it

·         ensure the recipient of the re-gift is not likely to cross paths with the original giver

When should a gift be returned to the giver?

There are a few situations when it is good gift giving etiquette to return the present to the giver:

·         The occasion for the gift is cancelled

·         The occasion for the gift is postponed indefinitely

These situations are most likely to occur for events like weddings or big birthday party celebrations.

When you are returning gifts directly to the giver, you should include a thank you note and short explanation, without giving too much information as to the reason for the cancellation.

If the present is engraved then check with the giver to see if they can obtain a credit note; they may state that you can keep the gift, but it is good gift giving etiquette to check with them first.

How to graciously decline a gift

There can be situations when receiving a gift makes you feel uncomfortable, or maybe your employer has rules which prevent you from accepting gifts.

Some gifts are just unwanted, e.g. a bouquet of flowers from a friendship or romance that has ended, or an incredibly expensive gift that makes you feel uncomfortable. It can be very embarrassing and a difficult situation to handle if you aren't equipped with gift giving etiquette.

If you have received an expensive gift out of the blue from someone other than your partner then you will need to assess the motives of that person. If the person has romantic intentions then you need to simply state “I’m sorry but it would be inappropriate of me to accept this gift – we hardly know each other”.

If you are being thanked for your hard work by your boss, and the gift is appropriate, then it is acceptable to keep it as long as it is all above board and definitely not against company regulation.

In business a gift can be seen as a conflict of interest or even a bribe. If you are offered an “off the record” gift then you should decline it immediately.

If you receive a gift as a genuine thank you then returning gifts of this nature should be done with a note expressing your thanks but explaining that you cannot accept it.

In the situation of receiving flowers then you should place them in the office for everyone to enjoy. 

An example letter:

Dear David,

Thank you for sending me such a lovely bracelet from such a fine jeweller. Unfortunately my company specifically forbids me to accept any sort of gift.

I really do appreciate the thought, and I hope that you will not, in any way, take my adherence to the company rules as a comment on our excellent relationship.

Yours sincerely 


Other Social Etiquette Skills to learn on this site:

Introduction Etiquette

Cheek Kissing Traditions

Conversation Etiquette

Taboo Chat

Social Faux Pas


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