DEAR MISS MANNERS: I have two in-law relations who don't think twice about asking you to return a gift. They have done it on several occasions. Whether it be the wrong size, style, fragrance or they just want the cash. Isn't it rude to do so? I don't mind returning it once but not every time. Shouldn't they return it themselves? (Or just shut up?!)
GENTLE READER: Rather than announcing that you have failed to please, and are going to have to keep at this until you get it right if it takes until the Fourth of July?
Well, yes. Miss Manners agrees that this is not a gracious reaction to someone's going to the trouble to select and find presents with the intention of pleasing. They are, after all, free to exchange, sell or give away your offerings, as long as they protect you from knowing about their dissatisfaction. Cynics who make it blatantly clear that it is the stuff that counts, not the thought, sabotage the point of present-exchanges when they treat you as their personal shoppers.
Miss Manners does not believe in paying off such people, however tempting it is to encourage them to shut up. Rather, she assumes that they find presents a burden and recommends the mercy of ceasing to plague them. The first time they complain, she suggests saying, "I'm so sorry; I had hoped to please you," and making an end of it. You are not obliged to try again by making exchanges, issuing refunds or forcing your choices on them in the future.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: I was recently separated, by mutual and amicable agreement, from my husband. We have a 2-year old together and, therefore, there is still contact between us and between myself and his family, albeit long-distance, as we are in different states.
I have received a check in the mail from one of his aunts. It was made out to me (of course, as my son is only 2), but the note in the Christmas card that accompanied it advised that this was a "little gift for (my son) and (me)". It really wasn't a little gift and I wasn't sure how to handle it.
My mother was horrified that I might even consider keeping my "ex-in-laws" gift, for fear that I might "owe" them something. She feels that I should return the check with a note saying, please send back what you want (my son) to have.
I feel that is an incredibly rude approach and do not want to offend these very sweet people. I also do not feel, however, that it is appropriate that my "ex"-family feel that they should have to continue to send me holiday gifts.
GENTLE READER: These are your son's relatives, not his ex-relatives. Miss Manners is not fond of money as presents, either, but criticizing or returning what was given is rude and cruel.
She assures you that the aunt is well aware that she could have nothing further to do with you, but she chose to extend her bond to her nephew to include his mother. You handle this by thanking her and by sending her a bit of news about your son and perhaps a picture.