They say it’s the thought that counts. If that’s the case, what does it say when you didn’t buy someone a gift at all? There are few things as awkward as a surprise gift from someone, whether it’s a coworker, a neighbor, or a friend.
So how should you handle such a situation? There are several options, so you can choose the one that best fits your own personal style. Some may require a little advance planning, while others will just help you graciously wiggle your way out of the situation.
If it isn’t too late, you can set a policy that prevents these awkward situations. Whether it’s the office or your own extended family, state up front how gifts will be handled. Draw names and have each person buy gifts for one, rather than trying to guess who will be buying something for you. Explain that the policy is in the interest of helping everyone’s bank account this holiday season.
One of the more popular solutions to this annual problem is to accept the gift graciously. After all, a gift is just that—a gift. It shouldn’t bear the expectation of something in return. By simply saying, “Thank you,” and perhaps even sending a note of appreciation after the fact, you’re technically doing what’s socially expected when someone does something nice for you. Next year, if this person is still in your life, you’ll know to have a gift ready and waiting.
Sometimes honesty is the best policy. Some etiquette experts recommend saying outright, “Thank you. I’m so sorry. I had no idea we were exchanging gifts.” In this case, the other person will probably say no gift was expected. You should also express your appreciation for the gift and the thought that went into it. In this case, you can show up next year, present in hand, ready to give whether you receive or not.
Receiving gifts can be awkward when you don’t have a gift to give in return. There are a few things you can do to make the situation less uncomfortable.
One trick some people use is to always have an extra gift on hand for these occasions. It’s a great idea, but there’s one big challenge that comes with it: how do you explain not being able to offer a gift already tagged with their name at the moment theirs is given? You could always keep a gift on hand, tagged, wrapped, and ready to hand out, but you can’t do that for every person who drops an unexpected gift on you.
Perhaps one of the best actions to take in this instance is to simply say you have the other person’s gift purchased but not wrapped, then either rush to wrap it and take it by or say you’ll bring it the next day. But what extra gifts can you have on hand for such situations? Here are a few ideas.
Gift card: Gift cards have the versatility to help with a variety of recipients. You can buy them in multipacks in lower denominations or purchase a couple of larger ones to keep on hand. If they’re gift cards you’d use yourself, it won’t matter if you never end up handing them out. You can buy multipack gift cards for places like Starbucks, Fandango, or Panera, or buy a few higher-value gift cards from popular retailers like Amazon.
Wine: You can’t go wrong with a nice bottle of wine. You can even slip it into a gift bag and have it ready to give at any time. Just hastily write in the recipient’s name and, voilà, problem solved.
Candle: A high-quality Christmas-themed candle is a great gift for that person you only know in passing. It also helps prepare them for the holidays, when they’ll likely have a houseful of guests.
Gift Basket: If you browse the aisles of any store this time of year, you’ll probably find plenty of gift sets and gift baskets for generic giving. Gift sets that include coffee mugs or use creative ways to package the items can help the gift seem even more authentic.
Cookie mix in a jar: Cookie mix jars have become popular for general gift-giving in recent years. In one jar, your recipient receives everything necessary to bake a full batch of delicious cookies.
Water infuser bottle: This water bottle is the gift that recipients will never even realize they wanted until they’ve given it a try. Simply add fruit and water to enjoy hydrating with flavorful water.