Giving a gift is supposed to be a generous, well meaning, thoughtful and selfless act yet sometimes it can be awkward, create uncertainty and just all go terribly wrong. Receiving a present can be complicated too. Here are some potential pitfalls.

Asking people what they want

Consulting someone about what he or she would like to receive as a gift seems a kind gesture but it's not entirely straightforward. It puts pressure on the recipient to think of suitable options and you run the risk that they'll ask for something well outside your budget. Many years ago, about six weeks before her wedding I asked a very close friend what she'd like for a wedding gift. Despite a few gentle reminders she didn't let me know until three months after the wedding and I felt really bad that whole time for not getting them a gift. I'd felt that I couldn't just choose something I thought was suitable because I'd promised to get what she wanted. It was awkward.

Being rude and ungrateful


Never greet your party guests at the front door, wrestle the presents off them and lock yourself in your bedroom to play with your new toys while your mother entertains your friends. I haven't done that since my sixth birthday. Yes, it was terrible behaviour. My manners have improved a lot since then. Okay, they've improved a little bit.

Communal gifts

Every time I started a job in a new company you could virtually guarantee there'd be a collection going around for a farewell present for some guy who was leaving on Friday. "You cannot be serious," I'd want to shout. "This is my first day here, I haven't got a rubbish bin yet and don't even know the guy. Why on earth would I want to chip in for his gift?" But it was my first day and I was on my best behaviour so I'd grit my teeth and grudgingly donate $5 or whatever was deemed the minimal acceptable sum in such circumstances and start looking for a new job. Not really but it was so annoying. For the record: new workers should be excused from such appeals for at least 20 working days.

Decorative gifts

Gifts - such as ornaments and artwork - that involve aesthetic judgements and need displaying are difficult. I can spend months deciding if an object truly belongs in my home. I'll inspect it, measure it, photograph it, view it in different lights and generally assess its merits before finally deciding it's worthy of purchase. So it's somewhat discombobulating when a random object someone else has chosen makes it inside under the guise of being a present, without having undergone the standard rigorous quality control procedures. For this reason I like giving people consumables such as champagne, chocolates, flowers, perfume, scented candles and stationery - things that you don't have hopes of seeing proudly displayed on the mantelpiece next time you visit their house.


It used to be widely frowned upon but re-gifting has weirdly become socially acceptable.

Many etiquette sites claim it's perfectly fine to take an unwanted gift, re-wrap it and present it to another unsuspecting recipient - as long as it's not likely the original giver will find out about it. Well, I think it's wrong because it's duplicitous to both the other parties. You're pretending to someone that you considered their tastes, thought about the options and then went shopping for them - when really all you've done is be an opportunistic cheapskate. It's perfectly okay to not like or want a gift but if you're going to give it to someone else then tell the truth. Just say: "Hey, I was given this but it's not my style. If you'd like it, you'd be doing me a favour if you took it."

Wedding gifts

At some stage between receiving a wedding invitation and the wedding date itself your gift should be delivered to the happy couple - by person, post or courier. I understand that it is one-hundred-per-cent not right to totter along to a wedding or reception venue holding a beautifully wrapped parcel and looking around for the special table on which to put your gift - thus forcing the newly-weds to transport them all home. There are "present tables" at five-year-old birthday parties but, evidently, there should not be present tables at grownup weddings unless you are in America's Midwest. But, hey, what do I know: perhaps there are pockets of New Zealand society, too, where such things are fine and dandy. Whatever works, I guess.

Have you ever made a gifting faux pas? Have you experienced an awkward gift giving or gift receiving moment? Are you a re-gifter?