Emily Postmodern: How To Receive A Gift You Didn’t Really Want

It’s happened to all of us: someone you love mentions they have a gift for you and all of a sudden, you’re filled with dread. Maybe you open a box and see that someone has selected a gift for you that is…uh..how shall we say it…just not your taste. It feels a bit silly to try to be excited about something that you know is destined to collect dust until it’s eventually Kondo-ed out of your apartment. How to handle this ungraceful situation with decorum?

The unwanted gift general falls into one of three categories the off-the-mark-but-thoughtful object; the clearly re-gifted; the gag gift/tchotchke. Regardless of what kind of unwanted gift you’ve received, you still need to show appreciation for the gesture. In these situations, it’s great to be armed with some vague niceties to exclaim upon unwrapping.

“What an unexpected gift!” is a personal favorite. You aren’t exactly lying(unless you expected a two-in-one trowel/bottle opener), but you also aren’t exposing your distaste. “I know just what to do with this,” is also great, especially if you know you’ll be turning around and re-gifting it!

At this point, certain clichés that seem fine in any other situation will expose your indifference to the present. “You shouldn’t have” or “How thoughtful” are code for “Oh crap, another weird gift from my wacky aunt.” Maybe you’re trying to subliminally suggest that this person stop giving you unwanted things. If that’s the case, go for it — but don’t be surprised if you find yourself in the same situation next year.

The gag-gift category is the least stressful of the unwanted gift categories. The gift is literally a joke. It can be recited with sarcasm and eye-rolls. It also tends to carry the expectation that it’ll be discarded, given away or re-gifted in the near future — after a few jokey Instagrams or pranks ensue. Plenty of friends have decades-long white elephant traditions that involve the same novelty t-shirt wrapped and exchanged year after year. In that setting, being the person stuck with the unwanted is almost a badge of honor. A gag gift is risky when it isn’t part of a long-running inside joke or #squad tradition. At best, it’s odd; at worst, it can result in hurt feelings or poke at insecurities. When you’re on the receiving end of the joke, and you don’t quite get it yourself, just laugh politely, shrug, and ut the gift aside for your next gift swap.

The re-gifted gift is probably the easiest to handle. If it clearly wasn’t selected with you in mind, you’re under no obligation to swoon over it.

Being caught in the act of regifting can be a little embarrassing, but you shouldn’t feel any shame about repurposing something that you know started off intended for someone else.  Maybe it will continue to be repurposed as a present until it finally finds the right home. Perhaps it will become that recurring joke gift that circulates through your friends or family for the next few holidays. Be gracious about receiving this strange present, but don’t feel too bad if you don’t manage to act super excited about it.  

I re-gift as a way of handling the thoughtful but wrong gift.  When unwrapping gifts in person, there’s an expectation of praise after the reveal. If you don’t act excited enough, you risk looking ungrateful. Fawn or gush too much over the gift, in an attempt to cover your displeasure and you find yourself later dealing with the second of these uncomfortable situations.  Honestly even if you don’t sing its praises, it’s possible at a later date someone will ask after the gift. If you did regift it, the best way to admit to that is saying “You know, my friend so and so was over and got so excited about that XYZ I just knew she would get more use out of it than I did.”

Ever the New yorker, I always make my small apartment take the blame. “I loved that rice cooker, but I just didn’t have the space for it as well as the crockpot you gave me!” You can’t use that excuse in your sprawling suburban ranch house, but you can say something along the lines of “After you gave us that Crockpot, I was never using the rice cooker so I donated it to the church rummage sale.” Whatever your reason for getting rid of the gift, be honest about not having it anymore.

Recently, the internet has made a bit of a to-do about gift exchanging between adults being a consumerist chore. We can all hope that our extended family and friends read up and decide this is the year we all exchange handmade cards and nothing more, but since that is probably not the case it can’t hurt to be prepared to graciously receive a gift you hate. But remember no matter what, take the time to write a thank you note.