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What to Do When You Get a Chia Pet: How to Receive & Return Gifts You Don't Want

Time to open you present! You remove the paper and pull open the box, only to discover it is not a new wool jacket, ski pants, or at least another robe. Instead, it's a holiday-themed bulky sweater, hand-knitted by your Aunt Sue, complete with snowflakes, laughing elves and dancing reindeer.

What do you do?

Whether you love the gift or not, you should always say something ... anything ... positive.

There are several options, but only one of the following is appropriate, according to etiquette experts.

A. Smile, tell Aunt Sue you love it ... then put it on to prove it.

B. Thank Aunt Sue and tell her that you love sweaters.

C. Tell Aunt Sue that you appreciate the thought, but the sweater is really not your cup of tea.

D. Remind Aunt Sue you're not nine years old anymore, and in fact you have kids that aren't even nine years old anymore either.

The correct answer, if you want to be gracious and "do the right thing," is B.

"If you get a gift you don't like, the most important thing is to say "thank you" and find something good to say about it," says Peggy Post, the great-granddaughter-in-law of etiquette expert Emily Post, in a CBS News interview.

Notice that in response B, you have thanked your Aunt Sue, ensuring that she feels appreciated, then told her an honest comment -- that you love sweaters. It is not necessary to say that you love the particular sweater she gave you; if you don't mean it, it's likely to sound contrived.

The Art of Returning

Unwanted gifts can be returned and, yes, even regifted, but doing so takes a certain measure of craftiness. In theory, though, if you want to be an etiquette icon all gifts should be kept.

"If you get a gift that you don't like, proper etiquette is to store it away and bring it out when the gift givers come over so that they see you are using it," said Amy Cassan, who was certified as an etiquette expert at the Image Institute in Toronto.

In reality, however, most people are pretty lenient about what a person does with their gift. It's absolutely OK to return or exchange an item if:

  • A gift receipt has been included.

  • You receive two of the same item.

Want to be a gift-giving superstar? Include a gift receipt with all your gifts.

However, in the case of a highly personal gift, such as Aunt Sue's sweater, returning is not an option. This is the type of gift that, if given away, could sour your future relationship forever. Such is the power of a labor- or thought-intensive gift. To preserve the relationship you must keep the sweater, and, yes, maybe even wear it when she comes over. At any cost, do not give the sweater to another relative.

The Fine Science of Regifting

Regifting was once something done only by tactless relatives, and certainly was never spoken of. But in the 21st century things have taken an abrupt turn. Not only is regifting OK, but most (not all) etiquette experts encourage it. (Some credit this turnaround to a "regifted" label maker in a 1995 "Seinfeld" episode, which prompted the term "regifting" to be born.)

Says Bruce Weinstein, president of Ethics at Work, "There is no reason to feel guilty for re-gifting. The purpose of giving a gift is to give pleasure, to bring joy to someone's life. And let's say you already own a copy of the 'Godfather' collection for example and you know that someone else would like to have it, what's the point in keeping it? It would be wasteful."

But if you're a regifting novice there are some things you must know before you jump right in:

  • Remember to remove the gift tag.

  • Only regift items to people in different "circles." Regifting among close friends is bound to backfire, particularly if the gift ends up back with the original giver down the line.

  • If the packaging is new, use it. If it's torn, creased or wrinkled in any way -- repackage the gift.

  • Avoid regifting items that are from stores that no longer exist, or that use outdated technology. In short, the sooner you regift, the better.

  • Don't regift an item to someone even though you know they won't like it.

  • It's not recommended that you regift used items, but there are those who have been known to do it with success.

On the other hand, there are those, such as Cassan, who say regifting should not be done. "[Regifting is] highly inappropriate," she says.

Peter Post, director of the Emily Post Institute and great-grandson of Emily Post, agreed. "My personal opinion is it stinks. Everyone knows it's deceptive, and being deceptive is the antithesis of being considerate and respectful. I think people should always use gift receipts; it would eliminate the whole re-gifting question."

A final option if you're afraid of regifting? Donate the unwanted item to charity, as someone will certainly appreciate it.

The Spirit of Receiving

The bottom line is to let anyone who gives you a gift know that you appreciate it. It's not everyday that people shower you with tokens of their affection, so be sure you don't gloss over their gesture, whether you like the gift or not.

Also, if you've ever wondered what to do when someone gives you a gift and you don't have one in return, experts say to just say thank you. You are not obligated to run out and purchase them a last-minute gift (and if you do, they will probably know it was just that).

Finally, remember that etiquette, whether for the holidays or any other time of year, simply means thinking about others, which is what the true spirit of giving is really all about. Says Peggy Post, "Etiquette really is about respect, thoughtfulness and honestly, and if you abide by those principles, you can figure out what to do."

Recommended Reading

How to Keep Your Spirits High During the Upcoming Holidays

21 No-Cost (or Extremely Low-Cost) Ways to Remind Your Special Other of How Much You Love Them

The Morning Call Online December 13, 2005

The London Free Press: The Christmas Plague Unwanted Gifts

CBS News: Holiday Do's and Don'ts

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