Rule number one when you open a gift in the presence of the giver: Thank the person enthusiastically. Even if the present is the last thing you wanted, thank the giver for his thoughtfulness, drawing on the actor in you to mask any disappointment. Be pleasant but noncommittal: “It’s so nice of you to think of me!” or “What a creative choice!”
Is it okay to “regift”? (Meaning to give a gift you’ve received to someone else.)
Not really. It’s a symptom of the surplus of “stuff” many people find themselves with, and their desire to be practical and give away things that they know they will never use. Still, gifts should be recycled only rarely, and only under the following circumstances:
- You’re certain that the gift is something the recipient would really like to receive.
- The gift is brand new (no cast-offs allowed!) and comes with its original packaging and instructions.
- The gift isn’t one that the original giver took great care to select or make.
- It’s not handmade or personalized (think monogrammed or engraved).
Simply put, you have to make sure you don’t hurt anyone’s feelings—either the original giver’s or the new recipient’s. Would the person who gave you the gift mind that
you passed it along? Do he and the recipient of your gift know each other, and would it be awkward if they realized that you’ve regifted a gift from one to the other?
What’s wrong with regifting?
As mentioned above, it can hurt feelings if it’s discovered. It’s inherently deceitful, and good etiquette is about not only being respectful and considerate, but also honest. Honest in this case means being authentic and genuine, as well as not telling a partial truth. When you wrap a present and give as though you bought it yourself it says, “I got this for you,” while leaving out the rest, “…from someone else who gave it to me,” which, if the recipient did know, would likely be interpreted as lazy or short on thoughtfulness or effort on your part.
That said, there are times when it’s okay, as in the following two examples. The first case is about practicality—you really might have bought this item, but you just happened to have an extra new one on hand already. Though frankly, the second is really the best way, because it’s completely transparent—more of a thoughtful pass-along than an attempt to pretend you went out and shopped for this item with the recipient in mind.
Here are two scenarios where regifting would be appropriate:
- Your sister’s coffeemaker just stopped working, and her birthday is days away. You, who are on a budget, have been given an extra coffeemaker. Instead of stashing the extra coffeemaker in your closet, you wrap it in its original box and present it to her. She’s delighted.
- You’ve been given two copies of the same book. Your best friend, with whom you exchange Christmas gifts each year, is a fan of the author. You decide to give her the book—not as a holiday gift, but as a surprise: “Ellie, I received two copies of this book and want you to have one.” An “unofficial” gift of this sort is not wrapped.
Only you can decide whether a scenario meets the criteria above. Think through each situation carefully, and if you’re still in doubt, don’t do it. Saving on the time or expense of shopping for or making a gift isn’t worth the cost of hurt feeling or a damaged friendship.