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Gift etiquette

(29 Posts)
ShebaShimmyShake Mon 03-Aug-15 18:41:47

Hi all. Before I start, I know this is a very minor thing, it's not causing any problems. I just want to know whose attitude is the unusual one, mother in law's or mine.

I was always taught that you never discuss the cost of a gift, you simply give it or receive it - you never tell, you never ask, how much it was. If you give it, you just say you hope they like it, and if you receive it, you just say how much you like it and how generous it is. End of.

My mother in law is always telling us how much gifts cost, with an air of being pleased about how little she spent. Over Christmas she gave me and my husband some kitchen utensils for our new house. I said, "Thank you, they'll be really useful" and she smiled and said, "Yes, I got them from the pound shop so they were really cheap!" More recently she offered us a baby bouncer that had come into her possession. She works in a toddler group so I assumed it was a hand me down from someone. I said, "Thank you, it's lovely" and she said, "Yes, do you know, it was only £2 from the charity shop. I offered it to Paul and Linda but they didn't want it, so it's yours."

I don't care if things come from the pound shop or charity shop - I buy lots of things in those places myself and almost all our baby stuff is second hand. I know it's nice of her to give us things. But when I receive a gift, I like to get the impression that the giver is pleased I like it, rather than pleased at how little they managed to get it for. All we need to know is that she's found a baby bouncer that we might like - I don't need to know that it was two quid from a charity shop or that it was rejected by someone else before it was offered to us.

I know she and my father in law don't have a huge amount of money, so I don't mean to sound ungrateful for the gifts, and I know how good it feels to get something good quality on the cheap or freecycled. As I said, I do it all the time. And I know she doesn't intend it in any negative way. But is it unreasonable or ungrateful to wish that, if she wants to give us a gift, she would just say, "I hope you like it" and leaves it at that?

UrethraFranklin1 Mon 03-Aug-15 18:47:26

To her its a positive thing, it makes the gift even better because it was a bargain. If I were you I would try and see it that while it might be different to what you are used to, it doesn't harm you, there is no bad intent, and it makes her happy. So when she says "ooh I got it for a hapenny and some magic beans", instead of hmm try and adjust your attitude and so a smile and "well done, MIL, isn't that great?".

Etiquette should be about making people comfortable and happy, not deciding that your way is the right way and criticising others.

Sallyhasleftthebuilding Mon 03-Aug-15 18:51:05

But MIL is making DiL uncomfortable. So if MiL stopped a simple sentence, wouldnt everyone be comfortable? FWIW my grandma does this.

ShebaShimmyShake Mon 03-Aug-15 18:53:00

Not sure I follow your logic...if I get someone a bargain for a gift, I may be pleased about that but that's because it's good for me, not good for them - and what's good for them should be my concern if it's a gift. And I have got bargain gifts for people, absolutely. I just wouldn't tell them that...I'd simply say, "I got this for you and I hope you like it." (Actually, if I get something for less than it would normally cost, I'll usually get something else to make up the difference. Unless I don't like the person.)

So if it's about making people comfortable and happy, well, I think people are happier and more comfortable when they believe your sole pleasure, or at least your main pleasure, in giving them something is because you thought they'd like it, rather than because it cost you so little. As for deciding my way is the right way, well, that's kind of the point of this discussion. Not convinced otherwise so far, but I'm sure other viewpoints are forthcoming.

UrethraFranklin1 Mon 03-Aug-15 18:53:19

But MIL is making DiL uncomfortable. So if MiL stopped a simple sentence, wouldnt everyone be comfortable?

If everyone stopped doing all the little things I don't like, my world would be lovely. But since I'm not overlord of the universe it doesn't work like that. Thats a pretty self centred argument. MIL would be uncomfortable by being told off for her attitude to present giving, wouldn't she?

trollkonor Mon 03-Aug-15 18:54:20

We need Sheldon Cooper on this thread.

ShebaShimmyShake Mon 03-Aug-15 18:58:46

Well Urethra, that's why I haven't said anything and don't intend to - it is not important enough to warrant that. I'm not asking whether I should discuss it with her because I know I'm not going to. I'm asking whether it's unreasonable of me to wish that, if she does wish to give a gift (which is of course a kind thing to do), she simply gives it, and doesn't ask to be patted on the back for how little it cost her? And doesn't tell me if it was rejected by someone else before she offered it to me?

Thus far, you haven't convinced me my feelings are unreasonable, you've just told me I shouldn't try to stop her doing it. I'm not going to, so fear not there.

troll, I don't think I'd take his word for anything! smile

hesterton Mon 03-Aug-15 19:02:34

I wonder if she's trying I'm her own rather clumsy way to reassure you that she isn't spending all her money on stuff for you. A sort of please have it, you're not bankrupting me here! thing.

CloserToFiftyThanTwenty Mon 03-Aug-15 19:02:36

I only ever mention the cost if I've got an absolute bargain and the recipient is worried that I've spent too much. Eg "Oh no, you shouldn't have got this Ralph Lauren outfit for my new baby, it's far too much and he'll only be sick down it"; "don't worry, it came from TK Maxx and cost the same as Mothercare, but I thought it looked nice and he would look lovely in it"

^^ Actual conversation once; doesn't happen v often

Otherwise, no, it is a bit crass to talk about the cost of presents

hesterton Mon 03-Aug-15 19:03:23

I may be a tad guilty of that sometimes blush

ShebaShimmyShake Mon 03-Aug-15 19:09:16

Closer, that would be different because then the recipient has brought up the issue of money and feeling uncomfortable about it, so I think reassuring them on that count is something else. A friend of mine once bought me what I knew must be a very expensive present, and when I said it cost too much, he said, "No, I know where to go, it wasn't too much, I want you to have it." I know he was lying, and I know he had an ulterior motive for buying me something so costly (basically he was in love with me - long story), and on the one hand I felt I couldn't accept it, but I just sensed that he would be more hurt if I didn't take it, so I did. And in that circumstance, having told him I was uneasy with him spending so much, I didn't mind him insisting that he hadn't really.

hesterton, I did think of that but I doubt it. First of all, I know she's too sensible with money ever to spend more than she can afford. Of course you have only my word for this, but from the facial expression, the tone, the choice of words, (an unsolicited "it was from the pound shop, so it was really cheap!" as opposed to "No, it's too much", "No, please don't worry, I wouldn't spend more than I could afford"), there is no doubt in my mind that the motive is satisfaction about having spent so little rather than reassuring my non-existent worry.

As before, I just assumed the bouncer was a free hand me down and I had zero issues with that. If she'd said, "This came from a lady at the toddler group, do you want it?" because she didn't want to take credit for spending money if she hadn't, I'd have been 100% fine with that.

It just does set my teeth slightly on edge to thank someone for a gift and then be told, proudly, how little they spent on it and how they initially offered it to someone else. Just doesn't seem in line with the spirit of gift giving.

ShebaShimmyShake Mon 03-Aug-15 19:15:42

As a slightly amusing aside...years ago, my then boyfriend and now husband came home with some flowers. I thanked him and made a show of putting them in a vase. He then said, "Yeah, they were going for half price so I thought it was worth it." So I laughed, and gently said to him, "Darling, in future, all I need to know is that you bought me flowers and you hope I'll like them." I saw a cog move in his brain, he nodded and said, "Oh, I see" and has not done it since.

So I know where it came from, anyway smile

MakeItRain Mon 03-Aug-15 19:17:40

I think, like you say, it all depends on how it's said. My family are often known to find bargains in charity shops for each other, and we'll let each other know gleefully that we've found something great for very little money. We're always just pleased to have found something nice. It doesn't feel offensive. I can see how it might take the edge off to be told that someone else was offered it and didn't want it though!

WeAllHaveWings Mon 03-Aug-15 19:20:21

I do it too blush, more because I love giving presents but get a bit embarrassed when the receiver is overwhelmed so try to play the gift down and so they don't feel obliged to spend a lot on me.

i.e. BIL 50th birthday I managed to get a special bottle of something for him which usually retails at >£130. I got it for £50 through contacts, I don't want him to feel obliged to spend >£130 on my 50th.

Theycallmemellowjello Mon 03-Aug-15 19:20:27

My mum does this! Obviously it's a faux pas! But it's not unkindly meant - and as we all know, with gifts it's the thought that counts. So just don't worry about it.

VolumniaDedlock Mon 03-Aug-15 19:22:37

i gave a fairly casual mate - the kind you'd spend a fiver on - a lovely set from SpaceNK one year. Thing was, it DID cost me a fiver. I was walking past one day when they were doing 80% reductions on old stock, and bought four sets to stash away for presents. I worried that she'd either think I was a bit Single White Female, or that she'd attempt to reciprocate and spend lots on me, so I did mention that I'd had the fortune to pick it up for a song.

MelanieCheeks Mon 03-Aug-15 19:26:12

Neither of you is unreasonable, you just have a different approach and mind set to gift giving.

DoJo Mon 03-Aug-15 20:13:13

I agree that neither is unreasonable - she loves a bargain and possibly wants you to know that there's no need to treat the things she gives you with kid gloves or worry that she's spending too much, and you feel as though her approach suggests that the bargain is the main purpose rather than the gift itself.

However, you say:

I was always taught that you never discuss the cost of a gift, you simply give it or receive it

But then

A friend of mine once bought me what I knew must be a very expensive present, and when I said it cost too much, he said, "No, I know where to go, it wasn't too much, I want you to have it." I know he was lying, and I know he had an ulterior motive for buying me something so costly (basically he was in love with me - long story), and on the one hand I felt I couldn't accept it, but I just sensed that he would be more hurt if I didn't take it, so I did. And in that circumstance, having told him I was uneasy with him spending so much, I didn't mind him insisting that he hadn't really.

If you can acknowledge that there are certain circumstances under which it is ok for you to bring up cost (and indeed for someone to lie about it), then why not just accept that this is a part of the way your MIL gives gifts and it's no intended to de-value them for you, just to impress you with her mad bargain-hunting skills.

SaucyJack Mon 03-Aug-15 20:18:50

Are these things supposed to be "proper" presents, or is it more like "I saw this for a quid and I thought you might like it"?

The latter is fine. The former is a bit tacky.

ShebaShimmyShake Mon 03-Aug-15 21:39:21

Saucy, it's both. Christmas and birthday presents, and 'here's something I saw for the baby' presents.

I feel a need to stress again that it's not the fact they're from charity or pound shops that bothers me. It's the fact she tells me how cheap they were and how other people rejected them before she offered them to me. I know it is absolutely not meant in any negative way, but 'I got it really cheap and Paul and Linda didn't want it' makes a gift feel very different to 'Here's something for you that I hope you like'.

DoJo, I see your point! Well made. All I can say was that this was a VERY expensive gift, far beyond what most people would normally give to each other, plus there was the context of knowing why he was doing it (but that's a story for another time). If someone does express that they are uncomfortable with what is clearly a costly present, then I see nothing wrong with downplaying it because the point is to make the recipient feel happier. Giving someone a gift and immediately, without solicitation, telling them how little you spent on it with a pleased smile, doesn't feel like you're trying to make the recipient happy. By all means spend as much or as little on a gift as you like, but unless there's a need to, I think it's much classier to keep the cost to yourself.

With that said, I think gift cards are a great idea...a whole new kettle of fish!

ShebaShimmyShake Mon 03-Aug-15 21:40:46

I think I'd feel just as uncomfortable if, on receiving an expensive gift, I said, "Thank you, I love it" and the giver said, "Well so you should, since it cost me £250." That would feel just as horrid.

Feawen Mon 03-Aug-15 23:00:03

Hopefully it's kindly meant, and a slightly clumsy way of trying to avoid creating any sense of obligation, a bit like saying 'oh, it was no trouble.'

ShebaShimmyShake Tue 04-Aug-15 07:13:45

She is definitely a kind person in general, but in this particular case, no, I don't get the impression that it's about making me feel comfortable (I don't feel uncomfortable receiving small gifts from family). The choice of words, the tone, the facial expression, the fact it's said without my indicating any uneasiness and so on....I am positive of the fact that it's a kind of brag about how little she spent and an sign of what her priorities really are in gift giving (ie, how little she can get it for).

It's fine to have such a priority, but should you tell the recipient that? There's a time and a place for telling someone how cheap you got something for, and in my view, presenting someone with a gift is not it.

ollieplimsoles Tue 04-Aug-15 07:18:25

She's probably proud she got a bargain, but I agree, you shouldn't really mention the price of things in gift giving.

My mil does it but the other way around- she talks about how expensive something was. Its just another feather in her martyrdom hat...

honeysucklejasmine Tue 04-Aug-15 07:22:57

My aunt is the same... Obsessed with the cost of things. Generally a conversation will go...

"I love your shoes!"
"Thanks, they are manalos"
"Wow!"
"Found them at a car boot, only 50p!"

And repeat. For everything you ever comment on, ever. It sounds pretty but it is really annoying!

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