DEAR MISS MANNERS: I have two great-nieces, ages 6 and 3. Ever since I can remember, the 6-year-old has insisted on “helping” people open their gifts, to the point of opening the gift and giving it to the recipient.
Everyone thinks it is so cute. I do not; I think it’s ill-mannered. When I buy a gift for anyone, I want the person receiving it to open it and know it’s from me.
For the 3-year-old’s birthday, I bought her something I knew she would love. I prepared for the 6-year-old to zoom in on the opening of gifts, and, sure enough, she started to open my gift and the card. As gracefully as possible, I went over to the 6-year-old and said, “Please let her open her own gift and card.”
The children’s mother and grandmother insisted she was just trying to help, and tsk-tsked me as everyone looked on. The 3-year-old enjoyed her gift with such delight and was oblivious to any of the silliness that occurred. She happily continued “opening” her gifts after the 6-year-old had already opened them and passed them to her.
Later, the mother, my niece, called me aside and said the 6-year-old was crying and upset that I asked her not to open the gifts. (This was after she “helped open” all the other gifts.) I said, “When I give a gift to your girls, or anyone, I want them to enjoy opening them, respectively. If you want me to talk to the 6-year old, I will explain how I feel.” She said, “No, it’s OK.”
I think it’s wrong of my niece and her mother (my sister-in-law) to continue to promote such bad manners. I now hear that the 3-year-old is passing the same ill manners down to their 1-year-old cousin.
GENTLE READER: This is a problem that will soon solve itself, as the children get older, decide that they are tired of being outranked and start to fight back.
For now, however, Miss Manners recommends that you stay out of it, except when it comes to presents given to you. Then you may say, “Thank you, but I like to open gifts by myself, just as you do.“ If you want to expedite the process, you may add conspiratorially to the youngest victim, “Right, Millie? Isn’t it fun to open your own presents?”