(Yes or No, Charles West Cope)
Now that Valentine’s Day is near and we are all dreaming of heart-shaped boxes with fine, hand-made chocolates or stunning pink sapphire and moonstone rings, it’s time to review the Etiquette Central rules for gifts.
‘Tis the burden of all etiquette mavens that we spend most of January and February listening to people whine about 1) not having received a thank you note or 2) having to write a thank-you note and all the brouhaha that surrounds both positions. Type 1 people insist that they only want to know if the gift made it to the recipient’s door. Type 2 people insist that they didn’t ASK to be given a gift and they are too busy to acknowledge it (plus, they hint, they were only given a gift to be forced to write a thank-you note).
Can Etiquette Central help? But of course Darling.
To the Type 1s (watching e-mail inboxes and their postal delivery person like a hawk) – stop it. Only send gifts that are tracked so you can check yourself if the gift was received and if you are mad about not getting a thank-you, stop sending anything. Ever. (New moms get a pass – newly-weds do not.) Send the equivalent amount to a charity and you will a) feel pleased with yourself and b) be flooded with messages as the charity will want more of your moola.
To the Types 2s (using or tossing gifts without responding) – please allow me to introduce you to the concept of ‘hidden costs.” Or shall we say, “enlightened self-interest,” otherwise known as: if you want more, take care of what is given and who gave it to you. Note: I am not talking here about unwanted gifts, things from strangers or stalkers or people who are trying to ingratiate themselves, objects contrary to your values, etc. This advice is for items that are of some use to you and you received from people who love you and are trying to be kind.
Type 1s live in the bustling world of “I’m busy” which is a happy, no-thank-you-note planet until…they need or want something else. This is something I have learned living in the Middle East; people are rarely called out for bad behavior, but the consequences are quietly severe. A colleague who was stingy and bad-tempered asked for the name of the taxi-driver who I use frequently and I said the driver was on vacation. When a grouchy person called the housing unit for help in finding a new place to live, the person in charge sadly announced that there was not an apartment for rent in the whole town.
I sent one younger relative gifts for years and, when they asked for advice, always answered promptly. They would disappear as soon as they had the information they needed, only to reappear when they had another question. A few weeks ago they wrote asking for information about traveling to a Middle Eastern country. I know people who live there who the relative could have stayed with but thinking it over, I decided I didn’t want to spend hours arranging for this relative’s ease and comfort when I knew the result would be silence.
Darling, once I walked into a person’s room and (imagine my horror!) saw a very expensive present on the floor, dirty, dusty and tread on. I said nothing and never sent another gift. The person eventually figured out that something was wrong when I had a fit of closet-cleaning and couture dresses went flying to various relatives, not her.
Sometimes one has extra resources of time and/ or money to give out to the universe; helping others with no thought of return is lovely and much recommended. But sometimes, you need to harbor your strength and there is no shame in dodging requests that would require energy you need to take care of yourself.
And remember – the easiest and best thing to give in a thoughtful compliment. A true person of character can give considerate praise about anything. And I do mean ANYTHING: “Oh my goodness, Darling, is that a new drainpipe? It matches your house paint perfectly and accents your trim! How the rain will simply scurry off your roof and away from your foundation! No flooded basement for clever you!”
Being Charming: How to be charming and Why to be charming
The Season of Giving (& Tipping, Avoiding Giving Tips & Trying not to Feel Guilty about not Tipping)
You Never Know Who Has a Little Table; or, The Necessity of Tipping
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