Etiquette Guidelines for Gift-Giving

Giving and receiving gifts is one of the most pleasurable pursuits connected with any special occasion. We all have fond memories of Christmases, birthdays, or other celebrations when we have exchanged gifts. We have loved that special feeling when we received something truly special, or someone we cared about obviously loved a present we gave them. There are also those moments, however, when a gift fell flat or we gave or received something totally inappropriate. The etiquette rules in this article will help you avoid gift-giving mistakes and choose presents that everyone will appreciate.

Office Gifts

Some offices forbid any gift exchanges at all in order to avoid potential problems. If this is your company's policy, you ignore it at your peril. In general, this means that your boss can give you a small token of his appreciation, but peers cannot have a gift exchange and you are not supposed to give a gift to your boss. However, if gifts are part of the office culture, keep these tips in mind:

· Find out the specifics for a gift exchange. When does it take place? Who is involved? Is there a dollar limit? If so, stick to it.

· Do not get a gag gift. These usually fall flat and are inappropriate for the office.

· Take the time to wrap the gift well and attach a neat, well-written tag securely to the package. Even something as seemingly insignificant as how well you wrapped the package reflects your attention to detail in the workplace.

· For a gift exchange, if you are not familiar with the person's interests or hobbies, a gift card is fine; but do take the time to get one you know the person will use. If she or he comes to work every day with a Starbucks coffee in hand, a gift card from Starbucks would be appreciated. If your co-worker is an avid reader, a gift card from a local bookstore would be appropriate.

· Do not get anything too personal. Perfume, cologne, or clothing are inappropriate gifts for your co-workers.

· Do not accept inappropriate gifts from anyone you work with or from your boss. If it is too personal or makes you uncomfortable, be sure to say, "I appreciate the thought, but I'm sorry, I just can't accept this." If the person pressures you, simply say that you feel the gift is inappropriate and it would be against company policy.

· If giving a gift to the boss is an accepted part of the office culture, you may select a gift that is related to the office. Do not choose something personal unless it is a gift of food or wine. Gourmet food baskets, something for his or her desk, a photo frame, a leather portfolio, or a nice plant are all good gifts for your boss.

Weddings and Showers

The biggest events of a person's lifetime tend to cause the most stress for participants and guests. Keep in mind that you are there to share in the joy of the day, and the cost of the gift is less important than the thought you have put into it. Some general rules to keep in mind:

· If you attend both a wedding shower and the wedding, you need to get two separate gifts. However, the shower gift does not need to be as costly as the wedding gift.

· Do not worry about what others are spending. Get what you feel the couple will appreciate that fits within your budget.

· Be sure to check the couple's wedding registry to see if you can find something you can afford that they truly want or need. If you prefer to buy something that is not on the registry, only do so if it is something unique, regional, or personal that you know will suit them.

· When writing a check to the bride and groom, it is best to make it out to the groom and send it before the wedding, with a note of congratulations to both the bride and groom. This way it can be deposited before they leave on their honeymoon, making the funds available while they travel. Often, if it is made out to both of them under their married names, they cannot immediately deposit it because her name has not been changed yet on her account.

· Enclose the gift receipt with your gift. It is a thoughtful gesture in the event they get a duplicate gift or the present simply is not the right color or design.

Other Gift Purchases

· When shopping for a gift, keep the recipient in mind. Buy a gift that he or she would like, not what you think the person should have.

· Do not buy gifts that are geared toward self-improvement, such as weight-loss videos, exercise programs, or books on how to improve your public speaking skills. It is never a gift to be reminded of your short-comings.

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· Personal gifts such as lingerie should only be given to a woman by her husband, long-term boyfriend, or fiancé.

· Personal gifts such as silk boxers should only be given to a man by his wife, long-term girlfriend, or fiancée.

· When shopping for children, it is best to check with their parents before purchasing anything that is noisy, requires assembly or has lots of small, moving parts. Respect the wishes of the parents if they say a particular gift idea is not to their liking.

· If someone gives you a holiday gift, but you did not get one for them and were not planning to, simply thank them for the present. It is far better to accept the person's gift graciously, in the spirit in which it was given, than to scramble at the last minute to try to match it out of a sense of obligation. Remember, the person gave you gift because he or she wanted to treat you, not because the person expected something in return.

· Think in terms of time as well as monetary value. Giving the gift of babysitting a few nights to a busy couple with young children may be far more appreciated than another item for their home. Throw in a few movie passes or a gift certificate for a nice restaurant and the pair will be genuinely thrilled at your thoughtfulness.

· Do not spend so much on someone's gift that you embarrass the person. Although there is no competition on the value of gifts, if your friend is struggling financially and you spend hundreds of dollars on an extravagant gift for him or her, you could make your friend feel uncomfortable rather than appreciative.

The most difficult thing for some of us is being on the receiving end of gifts. For some reason, we stumble around when others give us presents and do not know how to be gracious recipients. It is simple, really:

· Say "thank you" with sincerity in your voice. Even if you do not like the gift, you are thanking the person for putting forth the thought and effort to give you a gift and for caring for you enough to want to do so.

· Remark on one specific thing about the gift that you like. If the sweater is the wrong size and color, you could say something like, "Thank you, Aunt Margaret. This is so soft! I just love angora. I'm sure it will be warm this winter!"

· If someone has given you a gift card or money, let the person know how you plan to use it. "This will come in really handy for my school books this semester, Dad. Thanks, I really appreciate it!"

The joy of giving should be in making others happy, not in "keeping score" or trying to best someone else. If we keep in mind that we are supposed to be giving gifts because we want to, not because we are obligated to, the recipients will receive them in the same spirit.

Appropriate Behavior for Children

All parents believe their child is wonderful and endlessly fascinating. In truth, all children are amazing and lovable if they are well-behaved, but in today's society, many children have been raised with little structure and even fewer rules of conduct. They have no manners or sense of respect for other people's boundaries, feelings, or property. These same children will be shocked to discover as adults that others are not willing to tolerate their sense of entitlement. As parents, we need to teach our children manners at a young age and understand that certain behaviors in our children do not need to be tolerated by other adults.

How Children Should Interact with Adults

Children should always show respect to adults. Talking back or showing off a smart mouth is never cute or funny. If you find it amusing when they are 2 years old and laugh about it, you will regret it as they grow older because your children will not understand why you are changing your tune and disciplining them for disrespect when they are 5 or 6. Be consistent.

There are so many situations when children and adults interact, from family get-togethers to being in a restaurant, that children need to understand early what is acceptable behavior. Here are some key etiquette rules children should begin learning from the time they are young:

· Say "please" and "thank you" whenever an adult gets them anything, whether it is a glass of water or a toy off of a shelf.

· Address an adult by his or her proper name. The child should use the adult's title and last name, such as "Mr. Morgan" or "Mrs. Greir," unless asked by the adult to use a first name.

· Never interrupt an adult conversation. This is one that seems to be falling by the wayside. So many children today tug at their mothers constantly, chirping, "Mom! Mom!" while their mothers are trying to carry on a conversation. Let your child know that this is rude and will not be tolerated. Children need to respect your conversation with other adults and wait their turn. To let children know you are aware they are there, put an arm around them or put a hand on their shoulder, but ask them to wait until you are finished with your conversation. When you talk to them, give them your full attention.

· Children should be respectful when visiting other people's homes, including wiping their feet or, if it is the custom in that house, taking off their shoes before entering.

· Chew food with mouths closed. This includes gum. Kids chomping on gum with their mouths open are rude and unattractive but very common these days.

· Encourage your children to always allow an adult to go before them in line and to always open the door for any adult, particularly one who is carrying something or who is disabled or pregnant. Children who rush through a door in front of an adult are perceived as self-absorbed and impolite.

· When visiting someone else's house, children should never disrupt the home by picking up or disturbing breakable objects or exploring rooms they are not invited into. It is not their home and curiosity is not an excuse; children need to understand boundaries and respect for other people's privacy.

General Behavior

Respecting the rights of others in the home will carry over to how children treat people outside the home. If you demand respect from your children and demand that they show respect to their siblings, it will carry over into the way they treat others in their day-to-day interactions.

· Responsibility for their mistakes is essential for children. If an older child damages something that belongs to someone else, that child must apologize and offer to compensate that person for the damage done. If the child is old enough, he or she should work to earn the money to pay for the item.

· Teach your children to be punctual. Chronic lateness is a sign of disrespect for the other person's time.

· Cleaning up after themselves is a lesson that must be taught from a young age or it does not stick. Many parents of teens complain that their kids are slobs but admit that they never expected these same children to make their beds or pick up their clothes when they were 8 or 10 years old. Manners and respect must be taught early on.

· Teach your children to always knock and get permission to enter before going into a room with a closed door. This includes their siblings' rooms. They must also ask and get permission to use personal items belonging to their siblings. For example, if your daughter wants to borrow her sister's new sweater, she has to ask.

· Children should understand that they should never discuss family matters outside the home or discuss a family problem with others in order to discourage gossip.

· Children should always clean up after themselves after making a snack or using the bathroom.

· Sharing is the rule of any house, including the phone, television, and video games.

· Teach your children the rules of fair play and sportsmanship early on, including being a good loser and a charming winner. They should not gloat when they win and should always tell the other team or their opponent that they played a good game. If children lose, they should congratulate the winner or winners graciously.

· When children are in a group situation, at the playground, at a party, etc., your child should include other children rather than excluding them.

Your Responsibilities as a Parent

In addition to teaching your children proper etiquette, you have the responsibility to control their behavior to some extent, particularly during their younger years. Toddlers cannot be expected to understand all the rules of good behavior or exhibit self-control all the time. As a good parent, however, you can keep an eye on your children in public and control their behavior or remove them from the situation.

· When dining in a restaurant, do not let your child run wild. You may enjoy being able to relax and talk with friends, but other diners do not want to be subjected to your children's antics. They have paid for a relaxing evening out as well, and that did not include screaming toddlers careening around the restaurant. Your children should be either seated at your table or supervised by you at all times.

· If your children have a meltdown in a public place such as a restaurant, the mall, or a movie theater, remove them. A child throwing a temper tantrum disrupts the enjoyment for everyone around you. Step outside and calm your child, then return. If you cannot calm your child, go home and try another day.

· When visiting someone else's home, keep your children under control and supervise them. Do not allow them to touch breakables or climb on the bookshelves, etc. Ask the host or hostess which rooms are off limits and be sure your children understand the rules.

· Never, ever let your children touch someone's pet without permission from the owner. It can be dangerous if an animal is not used to children and may be upsetting to the animal. Also make it clear that taunting or teasing the animal is unacceptable.

· Be sure that children show their excitement in appropriate ways. Laughter and enthusiasm are wonderful; shouting and running about in public places usually are not.

The best way to instill good manners in your children is to lead by example. Your own conduct in public and private will teach your children good manners instinctively, giving them the etiquette tools that will help them as they go out into the world as adults.