A Gentleman’s Guide to Receiving Gifts

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So your gift sucks. Damn.

But the person who gave it to you matters — whether it’s Mom, your wife, or even a colleague — and you don’t want to hurt them by being that guy, the ungrateful jerk who already forgets to call on birthdays and never pays for the team’s coffee. And depending on your reaction, the happiest time of the year can quickly turn into the complete opposite for everyone involved. “At the root of manners is empathy,” says Amy Alkon, science-based advice columnist and author of Good Manners for Nice People Who Sometimes Say F*ck. “There’s this idea that honesty is the best policy. Well, yes, except when lying your ass off is a better policy. And what makes it better is it’s kinder.”

There’s a good reason for your bad gift. “It comes out of a lack of what’s called perspective taking, which is our ability to think about, ‘I wonder what that person would like’ — to put ourselves in their shoes,” Alkon says. “Some people are just bad at that. So what we do is we get somebody what we’d want instead of what they’d want.” Or, that person ran out of time or they’re “stingy and re-gifted you.” With that in mind, follow these steps to get through the holidays, one misguided but thoughtful present at a time.

Plan Your Lie
You’ve done this before. Everyone draws a name, and the the group might set a budget. Sure, maybe opening the box won’t somehow end up with you in a bunny costume (not this year, anyway). But you know you could get something you never asked for. “You pre-plan to lie,” Alkon says. “Be prepared to lie if you’re ever opening gifts publicly.” 

Say Something Nice First
It sounds easy, but you can’t predict how you’ll respond. “With most people you just say, ‘I love it. Wow, that’s great,'” Alkon says. But what about when you’re completely thrown off by what you open? For that, Alkon suggests shifting your focus to the gift. Mention how you’ve been wanting something like it even if it’s completely wrong, like if you get a coffeemaker when you drink tea, or maybe it’s a watch or piece of clothing. “If it’s your girlfriend, for example, she’s going to want you to wear that thing.” Even if you don’t like it, say you do from the beginning, Alkon suggests. “And then you edit it later.”

In other words, you can still get the stuff on your wish list, but you have go about it the right way. “Include her in the process, and don’t make it like she was bad and wrong,” Alkon says. “But if keeping the gift is going to be like, ‘Oh shit, I really wanted the other thing,’ you have to tell somebody. But you do it in a way that makes them feel good. It doesn’t make them feel wrong and stupid and like they got you a bad gift.”   

But Don’t Ramble
No one likes a rambler. Keep it simple to avoid looking insincere or even saying something you’ll regret. According to Alkon, sometimes using good manners simply means “just shutting the hell up.”

A Lie Goes Beyond Your Words
Your facial expressions can ruin Christmas, too. And using the excuse, “My face just looks like this!” probably can’t save you. But you don’t need to go to the mirror and practice. Just pretend you’re looking at the thing you really wanted, Alkon says.

Forget the Receipt
Seriously. However, Alkon offers one exception: If you’re close enough to the gift giver and you are confident he or she would rather you be upfront about your feelings, then you can be honest about it.

And if all of these tips fail you, look on the bright side: They’re probably going to hate your gift, too. Happy holidays!