How an Etiquette Expert Reacts to Bad Christmas Gifts

You're bound to receive a gift this holiday season that you would never have bought for yourself—here's how to handle it like an etiquette expert.

It’s the thought that counts when it comes to Christmas gifts. Not every present is going to be the best Christmas gift, but sometimes it seems like people don’t put any thought into their present at all. So there’s always a possibility of receiving a gift that’s not right for you. Prepare for the worst, and hope for the best, with these tips from etiquette expert, author, and Golden Rules Gal, Lisa Grotts.

What do you do when you receive a bad Christmas gift?

The first step is to try your best to accept the gift with politeness and gratitude, so you don’t insult the gifter. The proper way to always respond to any gift is with a simple “thank you.” Say it with sincerity and eye contact, even if you’ll never use their gift. The last thing you want is an awkward pause, according to Grotts. It might be helpful to practice your responses while smiling. Bottom line: Practice the golden rule and treat others the way you would like to be treated. “Would you want your feelings hurt by someone reacting negatively to your gift?” Grotts says. It’s hard to shop for some people, which is why there’s a list of Christmas ideas for people who are impossible to shop for.

What do I do with the bad gift?

Many retailers include a gift receipt, so returns or exchanges are discrete. It’s totally OK to return or exchange a bad gift, but according to Grotts, don’t ask for the receipt if the gifter didn’t include it. “It’s implied that you will be returning the gift if you ask for a receipt,” Grotts says. You might be able to get away with asking for the receipt if the items are clothing that won’t fit. You’ll want to return those at this time. If that’s not the case, however, there are two other options—re-gift or donate. Just make sure to cover your tracks, so you don’t accidentally re-gift within the same circle of family or friends. Otherwise, it may get back to the original gifter, Grotts says.

Is it OK to ask for specific gifts?

It’s impolite to send out a wish list unless you are a child sending it to the North Pole, according to Grotts. “Overindulgence is common over the holiday season, and sending out a wish list is thought of as gift-grabby,” she says. So how can you get what you want for Christmas? “Save up for it yourself, but don’t put a head trip on friends or family,” Grotts says. It’s a big etiquette no-no to share a list. Remember that along with these other pieces of gift-giving etiquette you need this holiday season.

Bottom line: It’s the season of giving, not receiving

To be anything less than gracious about any type of gift is unacceptable, Grotts says. “It’s the season of giving, not receiving,” she says. Always show gratitude and appreciation for others, especially when they take the time and money to purchase something just for you. Some of the most meaningful and inspired holiday gifts a tiny, but priceless.

Emily DiNuzzo
Emily DiNuzzo is an assistant staff writer at Reader's Digest who previously wrote for INSIDER, the Food Network, POPSUGAR, Well + Good, Westchester Magazine, and more. There's also a 90 percent chance Emily is drinking tea right now, but when she's not writing away about food and health with a cuppa by her side, you can find her lifting heavy things at the gym, listening to murder mystery podcasts, and liking one too many astrology memes.