Modern Manners: Gracious Guesting, Re-Gifting with Caution

Hello again! Modern Manners is back to answer your burning etiquette questions after a relaxing jaunt to the West Coast last week. I apologize for not bringing sunny Southern California weather with me, but it simply would not fit in my luggage.

Today, we will discuss being a gracious guest (at all times!) and the controversial issue of re-gifting.

First up, ashbey writes, “If you are going to visit a family member, is a hostess gift still required? What would I bring? Is a nice candle sufficient if the hostess loves them? Help me mm.”

Help is here, ashbey! A gracious guest always shows appreciation for being welcomed into somebody’s home, regardless of whether that home belongs to your mother, cousin, evil step-sister, et cetera. So, Modern Manners advocates that you should offer a little gift of some kind. Don’t obsess over size or cost. If your favorite cousin loves candles, why look any further for the perfect gift? Does your uncle have a weird jones for kitschy magnets? Airport gift shop to the rescue. Don’t forget, there is no shortage of nice chocolates or DC-related merchandise at Union Station (plus the new Smithsonian gift shop!). All of the above make for acceptable gifts. Remember, you are demonstrating appreciation with your gift, not purchasing power.

You can offer the gift when you arrive, mail it ahead of time if you really want to impress, or send it after along with your thank you note, preferably within one to two weeks of concluding your visit. However, giving a gift at the front end of the trip does not excuse you from sending a thank you note after. Always send a thank you note if you ever want to be invited back—and even if you don’t!

Next, Shirley writes in on similar topic: “Can I re-gift a hostess gift?”

The answer, Shirley, is yes… but only very, very carefully. There are generally two motivations for a person to re-gift an item: 1) the gift is not desirable, or 2) the person does not have the resources to buy new gifts for others. If your reason is #1, then it is a horrible idea to re-gift the item to someone else. Why on earth would you deliberately give a bad gift? The inevitable exception here is “one person’s trash is another person’s treasure,” but you should only go that route if you know that the person you are re-gifting to has a particular affection for the thing that you don’t want. If that is not the case, the next destination for Bad Gift should be Craigslist, Salvation Army or your trash can.

On the other side, if #2 is your reasoning and the gift is something that you would not be embarrassed to attach your name to, then re-gift with caution. Re-gift the item to someone in a different social circle than the giver to avoid embarrassment to the whole trifecta involved (that’s the original giver of the gift, you & the new recipient). Also, a re-gift needs a re-wrap. Nothing says “used gift” like crinkly packaging.

Now, there is also motivation #3: laziness/miserliness. If you cannot manage to expend any of the energy or disposable income you possess to purchase a thoughtful gift when the occasion calls for it, then follow the advice for those righteous #2’s and re-gift with caution, you lazy bum.


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