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Miss Manners by Judith Martin, Nicholas Ivor Martin and Jacobina Martin

The Gift Card Debate Rages On

DEAR MISS MANNERS: Every year around this time, I find loads of people, online and off, arguing that gift cards are thoughtless gifts. I’m sick and tired of this debate and would like it to stop.

If a gift card is bought at a place someone actually shops at, I don’t see how it could possibly be thoughtless. Especially if it’s a store the giver themselves would normally not step foot in. For instance, there are stores that I despise, but if the person I’m getting the gift for loves them, then by gum, I’ll get them a gift card there and not force my favorite stores on them.

So-called “real” gifts can be incredibly thoughtless. The shirt that is too small to encourage the receiver to lose weight, for example. I’ve had many people give me things they know I hate, such as CDs of singers I would never listen to or DVDs of movies I’ve already said I cannot stand, and they try to bully and force me to like them. I’d much rather have a gift card, thank you.

People also need to consider that not everyone can spend hours shopping for the perfect gift. My mother, who is disabled, finally realized that it was just better to give gift cards because she can’t get around like she used to and many salespeople treat her terribly, simply because she’s in a wheelchair. One even made her cry after being extremely high-pressure while treating her as less than human.

So can we PLEASE put an end to this fight once and for all? Gift cards are not thoughtless -- unless you get it for a store the receiver hates, but you love.

GENTLE READER: What an appalling amount of nastiness you have experienced in connection with the supposedly kindly practice of exchanging presents.

Must you keep up the custom with horrid people who delight in giving you things you hate? Was that unspeakable clerk who insulted your mother reported to her superiors?

And now can we talk calmly about gift cards?

Yes, they are minimally more thoughtful than outright cash. But all you have done is to limit where the amount can be spent -- and sometimes when, because those cards may have expiration dates. Industry reports show that many go unused.

But Miss Manners wants to be helpful to you, and there are other options. It seems unlikely that you would know people’s shopping habits without knowing anything more important about them. It is only a small leap, then, to choosing something that might please each one -- and that is likely returnable, in case not. That is what thoughtfulness means.

Miss Manners would like to see more thoughtfulness applied to your mother’s situation. Can you help her shop, perhaps online? Can you and her other usual recipients acknowledge her situation to the extent of continuing to give her (thoughtful) presents while discouraging her from sending anything other than her good wishes?

DEAR MISS MANNERS: Is it presumptuous of me, as a retired, tenured professor, to use “emeritus” in my signatures?

GENTLE READER: Not in correspondence connected with your academic work. In a text to the pizza delivery service, yes.

(Please send your questions to Miss Manners at her website, www.missmanners.com; to her email, dearmissmanners@gmail.com; or through postal mail to Miss Manners, Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106.)