How to say thank you: Comedian Rebecca Front advises on the etiquette of receiving gifts

Don't offend friends and relatives this Christmas – show your gratitude for their gifts. And here's how...

Ok, so here's my gift to you this festive season: it's an article about saying thank you. I hope you like it. Please say if you've already got one; I've kept the receipt and you can always swap it for, say, a few hundred words on recycling turkey or New Year's resolutions. Oh, and I wasn't sure about the size, so I went for a sort of medium length. I could make it a bit longer if that'll fit better. Or shorter. Or funnier. Just say. Actually now that I look at it again, I can already see that I've got it wrong, because it's supposed to be about how you receive gifts, not about how you give them. But then, of course, the two are closely related.

The paragraph you've just read is a fairly accurate representation of the way many people, my lovely mother included, give a present: wrapped in apology with a shiny ribbon of guilt squeezing all the pleasure out of it.

Don't for one moment fall for that, "Tell me if you don't like it" nonsense. Do so, and you might as well stab them straight in the heart, because they knew it was wrong, just knew it, and they're kicking themselves for wasting your time as well as their own money. This sort of negative gifting requires not just a thank you, but a reassurance.

"Oh my goodness, it's perfect. How could I possibly already have one? It looks unique to me. I did once see something similar, though nowhere near as good, and would have run into the shop and bought it there and then, but it seemed somehow, you know, too good for the likes of me. It's a gift fit for a king. It's a marvel. You shouldn't have." Nothing less will do.

At the other end of the spectrum is the casual, less-is-more approach to thanking. This is the one favoured – until I drummed it out of him – by my equally lovely husband. You unwrap the present, you look at the contents, you raise an eyebrow, smile and say: "Brilliant. Thanks." Which should suffice, of course, if the present has been handed over in a similarly casual, confident manner. But the latter type of response to the former type of giving is a deeply uncomfortable juxtaposition, take it from me.

Before I re-educated him in this matter, never a Christmas or birthday passed without my stomach clenching as my mother handed over her parcel, her apologetic preamble colliding head-on with his laid-back response. Before she'd even completed the ritual of fishing the receipt from her bag and proffering it to him so that he could swap what she now believed to an evident pile of crap for something a human being might actually want, he'd have opened it, thanked her and helped himself to another chocolate truffle.

It was to avoid more of this sort of social trauma that I tried, when our children were younger, to teach them the art of adequately thanking. Their birthday parties at Clown Planet (or some other bleak netherworld of primary-colours, Wotsits and vomit) are a dimly remembered blur to me, as I passed each one sitting in a corner with a notebook compiling a database that would connect each child guest to the gift they'd brought with them. This was, of course, so that my children's subsequent thank you cards could be as detailed and personal as possible. Because, let's not forget that the very word 'thanking' is etymologically tied to 'thinking'. How you thank someone connects deeply with how they think of you.

It was when I discovered an entire stash of these bread-and-butter letters crumpled at the bottom of my son's school bag some months after his birthday that I realised that all his friends' parents clearly thought of him as the ungrateful product of a mannerless mother anyway, so I might as well chill out about the whole thing.

Naturally, I consider my own thanking style to be flawless. I won't, however, say that that I haven't had my challenges. One of the greatest was when our son was a few weeks old and my brother bought his first-ever Christmas present as an uncle. Described on the box as a "fishy friend for bathtime fun" it was – I now see – a googly-eyed plastic goldfish. Indeed, if you held it the right way up, it looked like a googly-eyed plastic goldfish. Unfortunately, I opened it the wrong way, so the present I thought my brother had bought his baby nephew was a blood-red, wild-eyed, scrawny-necked, flayed severed head; a frankly terrifying friend for bathtime or any other conceivable type of fun, except perhaps the sort that you might find on some arcane, special interest websites. How do you say thank you for a gift like that?

Fortunately, I could honestly say that we didn't already have one, that it was really... unusual, and that we wouldn't be taking it back to the shop – I wasn't planning to go within a mile of wherever the hell that came from. But he could tell I was hedging. I saw his face fall. He knew I hated it, and he couldn't see why. He was baffled. I was frankly a little disgusted. Christmas was frostier than anyone could have anticipated. Perhaps I should have thanked him profusely even if I did find his choice of gift repellent.

A friend's grandmother reputedly always expanded on her thank yous by adding a demonstration of the myriad uses for whatever she'd been given. So if she received a scarf, she'd put it on her head and say: "You can do this with it", then put it around her neck, then around her waist, her wrist, her ankle, finding increasingly improbable uses for this fabulously versatile new item. Maybe that's what I should have done with the bug-eyed death's head.

The fact is that no thank you is ever going to be right. Too little and you sound spoilt; too much and you sound like you're taking the mickey. Maybe we should do away with them altogether and carry out both the giving and receiving of gifts in private, featureless cubicles like they have in sex clubs... apparently. It's not an ideal solution, but it's the best I can offer, so I hope it'll suffice. Do say if not. I can always change it. Oh, and there's no need to thank me. Really. No need at all... What was that? Oh, you didn't. Honestly, some people are SO ungrateful.

THE ETIQUETTE

"This is one instance in life when lying is critical," explains Liz Wyse, etiquette adviser at Debrett's. Disguise all disappointment.

Send your note within a week of receipt. "Start by saying 'Thank you for...' then follow up with a comment that will convey your enjoyment of what's been given you," Wyse suggests. Failing that, use generic platitudes: "Such a lovely thought" or "How kind of you to think of me".

Always send a note – "No matter how small and unliked the gift". Unless, of course, the giver handed you a present in person and you opened it in front of them, in which case this would be vulgar over-elaboration.

If your children are too small, write a note for them. But as soon as they're old enough to pen a sentence, get them to write it themselves. "You need to get them into the habit as soon as they're competent."

Beware re-gifting. In theory, recycling is to be encouraged; in practice you must think carefully about the provenance of the gift. "Do not re-gift within similar social or family circles. This is an atrocious faux-pas".

By Charlotte Philby

News
Actor Burt Reynolds last year
peopleBurt Reynolds, once among the most bankable actors in Hollywood, is set to auction his memorabilia
News
Gordon and Tana Ramsay arrive at the High Court, London
newsTV chef gives evidence against his father-in-law in court case
News
people

Watch the spoof Thanksgiving segment filmed for Live!
News
The data shows that the number of “unlawfully” large infant classes has doubled in the last 12 months alone
i100Mike Stuchbery, a teacher in Great Yarmouth, said he received abuse
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Arts and Entertainment
The starship in Star Wars: The Force Awakens
filmsThe first glimpse of JJ Abrams' new film has been released online
Arts and Entertainment
The cover of The Guest Cat – expect to see it everywhere
books'It's a simple, sweet and charming tale; it’s very heartfelt'
News
i100 Charity collates series of videos that show acts of kindness to animals
Arts and Entertainment
One of the installations in the Reiner Ruthenbeck exhibition at the Serpentine Gallery
artCritics defend Reiner Ruthenbeck's 'Overturned Furniture'
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Opilio Recruitment: UX & Design Specialist

    £40k - 45k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: A fantastic opportunity ...

    Opilio Recruitment: Publishing Application Support Analyst

    £30k - 35k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: We’re currently re...

    Opilio Recruitment: Digital Marketing Manager

    £35k - 45k per year + benefits: Opilio Recruitment: A fantastic opportunity ...

    Opilio Recruitment: Sales Manager

    £60k - 80k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: A fantastic opportunity ...

    Day In a Page

    Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

    Christmas Appeal

    Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
    Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

    Is it always right to try to prolong life?

    Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
    Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

    What does it take for women to get to the top?

    Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
    Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

    Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

    Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
    French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

    French chefs campaign against bullying

    A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
    Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

    Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

    Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
    Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

    Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

    Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
    Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

    Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

    Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
    Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

    Paul Scholes column

    I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
    Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

    Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

    So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
    Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

    Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

    The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
    Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

    Sarkozy returns

    The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
    Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

    Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

    Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
    Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

    Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

    Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game