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Mind Your Manners: Always receive a gift with gratitude

By Pam Harvit
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- "Oh honey, who wouldn't love this?!" exclaimed my mother-in-law to my then 5-year-old future husband. He had just presented her with perhaps the ugliest gift ever: a brown ceramic pigeon figurine hanging from a rope.She told me how excited he was when he gave it to her, and how she wouldn't, for all the money in the world, let him know that it was hideous. She graciously thanked him, and proudly hung it in the window above the kitchen sink, where it remained until we were married.Shortly thereafter, my mother-in-law happily re-gifted the pigeon to me, and I reacted with the same gratitude. In fact, it now has a special place in my house -- the basement, covered up, in a corner, in the dark.Why am I telling you this? To make a point that no matter what the gift, one should always receive it with kindness and gratitude. After all, isn't it the thought that counts?What brought the pigeon to my memory was a conversation that took place during a holiday cocktail party. Several people involved in the conversation commented on how rude and unthankful some people are after receiving a gift.They told of seeing gift recipients roll their eyes after opening a present, to others not even mumbling an expression of thanks. In fact, one person said that after she presented a gift to someone, they immediately said that they were going to re-gift what she had just given them. How rude! One should never make the gift giver feel bad.During the holiday gift-giving season, be sure to graciously receive a gift, no matter how ugly or unwanted, by remembering the following:
  • Never allow yourself to show visible disappointment. Try to appear just as thrilled receiving a gift, as the giver was when giving it to you. At the very least, smile and say thank you.
  • If you are not sure what the gift is, then try to optimistically describe something about it such as, "I love the color."
  • Avoid asking "What were you thinking?" Instead, try to make a positive comment such as, "I have never seen one of these before" or "How interesting."
  • Ask about its history. Perhaps there is a special meaning surrounding the gift. There may be a great story behind it, which may help you to feel more appreciation.
  • If the gift is handmade, then treasure it with your heart. Value the dedication, time and effort that went into making something just for you, instead of the gift itself.
  • Receiving gifts requires humility and grace. In fact, in some countries there is a strict protocol. In Singapore, for example, gifts are not unwrapped in the presence of the giver so as not to appear greedy. In China, a gift should be refused three times before accepting, and in Russia, gifts for adults are opened in the presence of others, while those for children are done in private. The Japanese custom is to refuse a gift at least twice. When it is received, it is done so with both hands.Our ability to receive a gift is just as important as giving one. Make sure your acceptance is genial and kind. Also, remember to write a thank-you note. After all, isn't that what good manners are all about?Oh, and the brown pigeon? It comes out of the basement and is proudly hung over the kitchen sink ... when my mother-in-law comes to visit.Pam Harvit MS is a certified corporate etiquette and protocol consultant. Email her at
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