Returning gifts respectfully

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I’ve talked about gift-giving for boyfriends, girlfriends, and in-laws before, but I’ve never talked about gift-receiving. By the time this blog publishes, most of you will have already opened all your Christmas presents and either loved them, liked them, or decided to take them back. But how can you tell your future mother-in-law that the hefty golden bottle of Walmart-brand perfume just isn’t your style? The rules for gift-giving are generally clear…but what about gift-returning?

I run into this problem every year with my 87-year-old grandmother. Gammy is totally awesome – she still drives, works, dances, cooks, lives independently and generally hardly ever acts her age. But bless her big Italian heart, she almost never likes anything we get her, even if she asked for it specifically. One year she asked me for a brand-name four-cup coffeemaker.

I go to the store and they don’t have it. In fact, this particular brand doesn’t even make a four-cup coffeemaker, they only make a five-cup coffeemaker. So I think to myself, one cup isn’t going to make a difference. This thought was 100% wrong. When Gammy unwrapped the coffeemaker, she literally said, “Oh…this isn’t the four cup one, is it” and then thanked me with this look on her face like I just told her Christmas dinner was rotten fish.

This was obviously not the way to handle receiving a gift, but my grandmother is 87 and most of the time doesn’t realize she is insulting you. She once looked at me, smiled, then said, “You want to have a baby so bad, but no one wants to have one with you” and then patted my head like a cat (this was pre-boyfriend moving in). However, this type of unfiltered commenting doesn’t work for people who aren’t in their 80s. So what are the best ways to go about telling someone you need a receipt so you can get rid of their present as quickly as possible?

First of all, be diplomatic – especially if the gift-giver is not related to you. Do not, under any circumstances, pout, whine, or talk loudly about how much you hate the item. I have faith that none of you would actually do those things but sometimes people surprise you. Try to find something good to say about what you received – “Oh this is so pretty!” even if it’s not your style, “It’s so great to have extra body wash on hand for guests” if you already have 16 bottles sitting at home, “This is so creative” for those gifts that are so unusual you have no clue what they even are.

A lot of times, you can keep the present even if it’s not really something you needed or wanted. Awesome’s grandmother gave me a beautiful silver necklace (loved it!) along with some bath and body gels/lotions.

Do I need more bath lotion? No, but it smells good and I’m sure I will use it at some point, so I’m not going to tell her I don’t need it.

I also received a scarf and some slippers from my aunt. Again, I don’t really need them, but I can still use them in some way.

If you absolutely have to return something, ask them politely for the receipt and give them a reason why you are returning that won’t hurt their feelings. Unfortunately there aren’t that many reasons out there. It’s the wrong size, you already have one, you’re allergic to mohair, etc, etc.

If it’s a matter of taste – i.e., you received a huge glass dolphin with rainbow fins – I think you may be out of luck. Keep that sucker in the closet and bring it out only when the person who gave it to you visits.

Always keep in mind to be respectful of the other person’s feelings. They probably put a lot of thought into your gift and assumed you would like it.

And if you are the person whom people are asking for receipts, then you may want to start thinking about gift cards next year. Or, at the very least, gift receipts.

(This blog first appeared at the Baltimore Post-Examiner)