Concerned gift-giving at Christmas is fraught with danger? You have every right to be worried, according to The Good Manners Company etiquette expert Anna Musson, who says she’s lost count of the number of horror stories she hears at this time of year.
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“There’s the classic gym membership or weight loss program that wasn’t requested in the first place which, in my book, is top of the pops for gift-giving awkwardness,” she says.
“But I’ve also heard of lingerie vouchers from employers to their employees, domestic items such as an iron or non-stick fry pan between spouses, and plenty of other items where there is clearly an agenda attached instead of a card.”
To help make your Christmas a success this year, Musson has the following shopping tips to avoid potentially tricky situations:
Awkward gifting scenario #1: the relative you can’t stand
Thinking about purchasing your mother-in-law a soul she can finally call her own, or a muzzle for your sister? Musson recommends backing away from the ugliness and looking deep within your heart for the true spirit of Christmas.
“It doesn’t matter if you don’t like someone, the last thing you want is for your true feelings to come out in the gift you choose, as it will reflect poorly on you,” she says.
“You don’t have to search the globe trying to find the perfect present, but try to be generous.”
Kill your arch enemy with kindness by finding a quality generic product – be it an expensive candle or leather wallet – and gifting it with a massive smile. You can be the better person here.
Awkward gifting scenario #2: your friend with expensive tastes (and unrealistic expectations)
When your friend is gifting Chanel and the best you can do is a half-dead pot plant from Bunnings, it can feel incredibly uncomfortable, but Musson says bulking up mid-range gifts with a side of homemade goodies could be the best way around this scenario.
“Not everyone can give eye-wateringly expensive presents, but then not everyone can spend time making something that others will enjoy so it’s a point of difference well worth looking into,” she says.
Buy the pot plant, but add some homemade fudge – or if your friend is the sentimental type, consider putting something together that will have a lasting emotional impact such as a lovely photo frame complete with a photograph of you together.
Awkward gifting scenario #3: your boss
Not sure if you should bother purchasing the person who keeps you in a job a gift? Musson says it’s not a scenario even worth second-guessing.
“No matter how great or poor your relationship, you must purchase them a gift as a way of saying thank you for the life you currently lead,” she insists.
Though even if you get on well, this isn’t the time to whip out an inflatable love sheep either – you will need to think about their family set-up and interests before you go shopping. Musson recommends purchasing two gold class tickets to the movies or a lovely dinner for two if your boss is married and could do with a date night.
“Just make sure it’s made clear that the dinner or movie is for your boss to enjoy with his or her spouse; you don’t want them getting them the wrong idea.”
Avoid anything too personal such as a massage voucher, lingerie or an expensive tie, and always, always ensure you include a card with a lovely handwritten message.
Awkward gifting scenario #4: random people who turn up uninvited
If you’ve ever been in that situation where you open the door to find an unexpected visitor bearing gifts, you’ll only know too well just how awkward the situation can be if you don’t have a ready gift for them. You’re unlikely to ever make that mistake again of course, but for everyone else, Musson recommends keeping a handful of generic gifts, gift bags and cards on standby so you can quickly excuse yourself and quick;ly get something together for them .
“Scented candles are always good to have on hand, as are boxes of good quality chocolate and bottles of wine or Champagne, and if you’re going to a Christmas event, carry a couple of these in the car so you don’t get caught out,” says Musson.
Awkward gifting scenario #5: the person you began dating two weeks ago
Whether you’re still unsure of where your new relationship is headed, or you’re already Pinteresting the bejesus out of your future wedding (in your head), you’ll need to tread carefully with how you approach gift-giving this Christmas. Obviously this isn’t the time to start shopping at Tiffany, but Musson advises you don’t veer too far into the mindset of ‘don’t really care’ either.
“Even if things are still a bit too new and/or confusing, giving the person you’re dating a Christmas gift sends the message that you care about this person and the sets a lovely tone for you as a couple moving forward,” she says.
Aim for something quality, yet not too personal such as a lovely shirt, or beachwear.
Awkward gifting scenario #6: your child’s teacher
You may not have seen eye to eye this year, but you should still get your child’s teacher or childcare worker something small – even if it’s to avoid being the only (petty) parent who hasn’t made a contribution, says Musson.
“As a rule, you should always put in for class presents, but if it’s a private gift, there’s no limit to how much or how little you should spend,” she says.
“In the best case scenario, you can buy a bottle of single malt or similar, but if it’s been tough, a quality box of chocolates should do the trick.”
The take-away lesson? No matter your true feelings towards a person you’re expected to gift at this time of year, rise above it and keep it classy.
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