Receiving a gift is always fun. It doesn’t matter how old you are, there’s nothing quite like the thrill of tearing through wrapping paper or digging through a gift bag in anticipation of what lies within. But what the package reveals doesn’t always live up to the hype.
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So, what should you do if you open a gift that’s not quite your style but you’d like to exchange it for something else?
“The only thing to do when you open a gift is to smile graciously and say thank you,” says Sharon Schweitzer, a cross-cultural business protocol consultant. “It may not be a gift you need or want, but you have to be gracious about it.”
Most people today will include a gift receipt but if your package doesn’t have one, asking for it from the gift-giver is a tricky situation.
At the end of the day, Schweitzer says, once someone gives you a gift, it’s yours, and they can’t dictate what you do with it. But if you want to ask for a gift receipt to exchange it, you have to present it in such a way that doesn’t convey that you don’t like the gift. However, you also have to be prepared for an answer that takes the control out of your hands.
“If you need to exchange an item because it’s the wrong size, start by saying, ‘I love this sweater, but it’s not the right size. Would you happen to have the gift receipt?'” she says. “But now, the gift giver has three options in how they respond: yes, here’s the receipt; no, I don’t have one; or give it to me and I’ll exchange it for you.”
In other words, lying about the reason you’d like the gift receipt (i.e. to exchange the size) could blow up in your face. And you need to ask yourself if it’s really worth it to jeopardize your rapport with this person just to exchange an item of clothing or a tchotchke that isn’t to your liking.
“You always have the option to donate the item or re-gift it, just as long as you re-gift in a different social circle,” Schweitzer says. “The fact is, telling the person you’d like to exchange the gift could cause hurt feelings. Is it really worth it?”
This is much trickier territory when the gift giver is someone like your mother-in-law — a person with whom a tense relationship could cause serious friction in your marriage. Before doing anything, consult with your partner. This is a problem that needs to be addressed as a couple.
“Your partner has known their mother a lot longer than you have, and they know how best to handle a situation like this,” she says. “Maybe the solution is for your partner to speak privately with their mother ahead of time, and offer some suggestions on what you’d like. They could even go shopping together.”
There are a number ways of getting around an unpleasant gift from your mother-in-law without causing any problems, however. If it’s something for the home that simply isn’t your style, only put it out when you know she’s going to visit.
It’s even easier if it’s a personal gift, like an item of clothing or an accessory.
“You don’t see your mother-in-law every day, so she doesn’t know what you’ve been wearing. In the case of something personal, I wouldn’t say anything at all to my mother-in-law or my partner,” Schweitzer says. “It’s more important to keep the peace and harmony within the family. It just takes some creative thinking.”