Bad Gifts

Don't like it? Let the experts help you deal with it

Remember that ugly Elvis Presley 30th Anniversary commemorative tapestry an old friend gave you last year for Christmas?
You know, the one stashed in the basement. Under the stairs, next to the oil burner.
You told him you loved it and now he's coming back for the holidays and wants to see where you put it. Uh-oh. What do you tell him?

"The Truth but in a nice way", said Debbie Mandel, a New York stress management expert, radio personality and author of the recently published book, "Addicted to Stress" ($23, Jossey-Bass).
    "Some gift recipients would prefer to tell a white lie to avoid confrontation since they feel they need this people-pleasing ploy to maintain the relationship," Mandel said. "However, a real relationship is one where you can express your truth, express yourself naturally as opposed to resorting to deception."
    It doesn't mean you should be nasty about it, slinging a barb or expressing your dislike of the gift in intense language. Just get to the point quickly and without a lot of clarification and do it, "in a calm assertive manner using a subject verb object," Mandel said. "Then compassionately add your appreciation for the 'spirit' of the gift that is really the heart of the matter before moving to another topic to deflect and distract."
    Not everyone would take that approach.
    Paul Siddle, president of Executive Protocol Group, a Florida company that trains corporate personnel in business etiquette, said a "little white lie" is acceptable under such circumstances. "Etiquette dictates that you need only show appropriate gratitude when receiving the gift. Common courtesy, not ethics, guides us when answering the question, 'May I see the Elvis Presley 30th Anniversary commemorative tapestry I gave you for Christmas?'"
    Put in that position, Siddle says he would respond with, "Bill, my son-in-law who lives in London was so taken by it I felt compelled to offer it to him...and he accepted!  What a unique present, and it will remain in the family!"
    This accomplishes two things. "It protects Bill's feelings and 'placing' the gift in London minimizes the chance Bill will ever discover the truth," he said. As a result, "you don't burden yourself with guilt when asked by the person who gave you the gift if he or she might see it. You have protected a friendship."
    Internationally-known manners expert P.M. Forni believes words of appreciation and a smile may be enough to get you past an awkward gift-getting moment. "If you get a gift that you don't like, simply acknowledge it with a 'thank you' and a smile," said Forni, professor and founder of the Civility Initiative at Johns Hopkins University and author of the new book, "The Civility Solution: What to Do When People Are Rude" ($20, St. Martin's Press).
    Forni, who teaches courses on the theory and history of manners, said, "it is rude to tell the giver that you don't like the gift, as it is rude of the giver to ask you how much you like it." And, he noted, "The polite person's gift comes with no strings attached. The person receiving it has only one obligation - that of being gracious."
    You receive a lawn gnome and lawn gnomes are not your thing? Smile, give thanks and move on, emphasized Forni. "You have no obligation to display the creature. This is why we have storage space," he said.
    The giver, Forni added, is not supposed to grill you about its whereabouts. If that person does, he would use an answer that is both truthful and obvious: "You know, we haven't found the right place for it yet. When we do, we'll let you know."

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