When I give someone a present, it's the product of more research and inspiration than go into the average Booker-winning novel, so I don't think it's unreasonable to expect a proportionate measure of appreciation.
I have therefore devised a handy cut-out-and-throw-away Gratitude Guide. Upon receiving a present, follow these rules and you won't go far wrong.
Don't stint on your initial reaction: first impressions last. It is apposite in most cases to sob with gratitude so vigorously that a coughing fit and, ideally, hospitalisation will follow.
Don't say: "Great! Just what I wanted! Have you kept the receipt, by the way?"
Don't say that it's the thought that counts. You might as well add, "which is just as well, because the present's crap".
Do say, a few days after you've received the gift: "Actually, I shouldn't tell you this, but yours was the best present I got. Everyone else gave me a pile of old dross. I mean, it's impossible to drive in London anyway, so what's the use of having a car? The frisbee you got me was much better."
Don't worry too much about a thank you letter. A simple essay of no more than 1,000 words should suffice, just to detail which aspects of the gift you like most of all. Accompanying photos of you with said item are always a welcome touch.
Do have the gift displayed prominently in your house when the giver comes to visit. For instance, if I give you a T-shirt, I expect you to wear it. I don't expect to have to empty out your drawers and cupboards until I find it, as I have had to do so often in the past. Should you neglect to have the gift on your coffee table / wall / mantelpiece / person when the giver visits, you may be able to salvage your friendship by saying that the present is so precious that you keep it hidden in a safe place where you can sneak a look at it whenever life seems bleak.
Do, when talking to the giver at a later date, drop the gift into conversation absent-mindedly, forgetting for a moment that it was a present from the person you're addressing, ie: "I was listening to my all-time favourite CD the other day - it's Oranges And Lemons by XTC - when I got a call from ... hey! That CD was a present from you, wasn't it? How embarrassing!"
Don't buy the same gift for all your friends, because that tarnishes the idea that the giver invested incredible quantities of time, thought, effort and expense to secure the perfect article for you and you alone. However, the polite and gracious recipient should be prepared to bribe their friends to rave about the gift jealously, and to hunt in vain for it in the shops, perhaps settling on an inferior imitation.
Do mention it years later, the more years the better. As I always say, a present is for life, not just for Christmas, and there is no statute of limitations on gratitude. A recommended time to bring up the subject is when you're thanking the giver for another present, eg: "Nick, you've excelled yourself. I didn't think you'd be able to top the balloon modelling kit you got me for my birthday in 1992, let alone Christmas 1989's Captain Scarlet calendar, but this is the best yet!"
Do send a thank you gift in return for the gift.
Remember that the same rules apply if I invite you to dinner or to a party, so don't think you can take those for granted either, you ingrates.
I agree that at first these measures seem extreme, but if I'm spending upwards of pounds 4.99 on someone, I don't see why my generosity should go unrewarded. Sadly, my friends haven't all been so clearsighted. Since I distributed copies of the above list to them, some have even said, or rather shouted, that they would prefer it if I didn't buy them presents at all. So I don't.
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