An Orchestra For Christmas

by admin on December 23, 2013

I have my own story to tell, one that I got quite a few negative comments about my behaviour regarding the matter. I thought this would be nice to know where everyone stands in this story, thanks to your expert advice.

First, let me tell you a little about the actors in presence. There’s me (Dave), and my partner (Gary). Gary comes from a large family. I am accepted in his family, and enjoy my time spent with the “in-laws”.  Among Gary’s family, there’s his brother, his sister-in-law, and their two children, aged 15 and 18. The parents are quite materialistic people, and that behaviour has left an imprint in their children.

It was a few weeks before the holidays. The problem occurred when we were discussing Christmas presents, in a perfectly casual and practical manner. Gary’s niece went to her purse, retrieved a piece of paper, and made the rounds with it. That was her Christmas wish list. The two things that irked me were : 1) She had written extremely expensive items on her list, mostly musical instruments, like a piano, guitar, set of drums, ukulele, etc. 2) I was the first person she handed the paper to and asked me to pick something to give her. While I make a decent salary, it is not one that can let me afford such luxuries for myself, even less for my partner’s niece. And her list was quite unbalanced, with only two much lesser-priced items, which, unsurprisingly, had already been picked out.

Here’s where, according to a few people, I made the first faux pas. I asked her, in a sarcastic tone of voice, if she wanted to have an orchestra for Christmas? She replied, I guess innocently enough, that she would learn to play whatever instrument she would be offered. Why didn’t I think of a kazoo then, I cannot imagine! Her mother intervened, maybe sensing that her little girl was going a bit overboard with her Christmas shopping.

Fast forward to Christmas. I decided to offer my partner’s niece two things, one of which I hate giving, namely a gift certificate of a decent amount, for a music (CDs and DVDs) store. In my mind, those certificates are way too impersonal, and I very rarely use them. The second thing was a joke, namely a Christmas CD of Brian Setzer Orchestra. As I explained to the family, the reasoning was that she got the orchestra she wanted, in a format that would fit in her room! To her credit, she took the gifts graciously enough. But apparently, that’s when I made the second boo-boo.

A few unrelated people present that day told me that I was being rude and downright nasty to make fun of her by offering her a CD. To me, it was less being rude and more about giving, in jest, a lesson in good manners. Guess I blew it.

What do you think? And if I am the offender, what could have been a good way to handle the matter? 0610-11

I’m aghast her parents thought their daughter’s blatant gift demands were not worthy of putting the kibosh on.    Had I been in your shoes, the sucking in of my breath may have created a serious air vacuum in the room.     I may have handed the wish list back saying, “I’m so sorry.  I’m not Santa Claus and fulfilling this wish list is above my pay grade.”    Or a simple, “I’m so sorry, I cannot accommodate your requests.”

She asked for a piano but unless she specified which kind, I might have bought her a $30 kalimba, otherwise known as a “thumb piano”.

The only possible error was in explaining to people why your gift was a joke.   Her greed and presumptions doesn’t give you carte blanche to embarrass her on Christmas Day in front of everyone.   You could have given her the Brian Setzer Orchestra CD but it would have been a private joke between you and her with others merely assuming to know why you gave it.

{ 69 comments… read them below or add one }

helen-louise December 23, 2013 at 5:31 am

Oh dear. Is this the 15 or 18 year old? If she was actually serious about wanting to learn an instrument, then given the cost of even a cheap guitar (let alone a piano or drumkit), it strikes me that the best solution would have been for each relative to contribute a sum of money in accordance with (a) what they could afford and (b) what they were spending on her sibling. Ideally they would give this to a parent rather than the daughter, so the daughter didn’t know how much each relative had given, and then the daughter and parent/s could go shopping for an instrument with the money. That’s what I would suggest in a more functional family.

However, if the parents are really materialistic as well, I don’t know what to suggest. The main problem is that you seem to have let yourself become cowed by your niece’s demands. I would have contacted the parents and said something along the lines of “that list was ridiculous, what does she *really* want?”. You might have been able to offer gift vouchers for a store which sells musical instruments instead of one which sells CDs, and thus contributed towards the guitar (or piano or drumkit) anyway.

The CD? Ouch. The only reasons to give someone a CD in my book are either because they’ve asked for it, or because it is a much-loved album for you. The “joke” was rude. Your niece is a teenager, you are an adult, and there is no need to stoop to her level.

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Green123 December 23, 2013 at 6:58 am

I don’t think giving the CD was rude! Personally I’d have bought her a comedy inflatable guitar, or yes, a kazoo… :)

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Lex December 23, 2013 at 7:08 am

I don’t think you were intentionally malicious, I just think it was a case of your attempt at humour and a sense-of-humour failure on the part of the rest of the family resulting in a joke falling flat on its face and some bad feeling.

It was very very rude of your niece to ‘do the rounds’ with a demand list – any gift lists or demands lists are terrible unless they are given as IDEAS (I regularly put a wide variety of things relating to my hobbies and interests into an Amazon Wishlist which is shared with my Parents and Sibling as an IDEAS list for them – the items on the list usually range from a book costing less than £10 right up to expensive ‘inspiration’ items).

Her mother should never have allowed her to start doing the rounds, although you mention that she intervened fairly swiftly. I think any attempt to draw attention to the outrageous price of the items on the list would have been bad form and although the admin has suggested a response along the lines of ‘this is above my pay grade’ I have to disagree with the admin on this one in that your finances are nobody’s business but yours and if I had been in this position being put on the spot by a demanding relative, I’d probably have responded (minus sarcasm) with something along the lines of:

“Wow, that’s a lot of instruments – you could be a one-man orchestra with all these! Let me think about it for a while.”

I would then have explained privately to Mum that you cannot accommodate Niece’s extravagant requests and asked Mum to give you some ideas (If Mum and Dad were buying her an instrument for example, there are a few accessories and practice books you can buy to accompany it).

At this point Mum would likely have been horrified at the list, apologised profusely and dealt with Niece privately regarding her expectations. Drama averted.

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Charliesmum December 23, 2013 at 7:18 am

I don’t see how the CD or the joke was rude in and of itself, unless she was deeply hurt by your sarcastic remark about the orchestra when you made it initially.

I can’t believe you were ever expected to get her any of the big ticket items on her list, anyway. Big gifts should be left to the immediate family, or possibly the grandparents, not an uncle. I think the gift certificate was a nice gesture on your part, and a good way to help her to her goal without breaking your own bank.

Also…I just have to laugh because buying a kid an instrument is such a gamble, because what are the odds they are going to really enjoy learning it? My own son went through several instruments (That I thankfully DIDN’T have to buy) until he recently settled on guitar, which he does seem to be sticking with.

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clairedelune December 23, 2013 at 8:07 am

Wait, wait, wait–not only did she present you with this appalling list, but she asked you, in front of everyone, to declare ahead of time, on-the-spot, exactly which enormously expensive item you planned to get her?? I would be absolutely speechless.

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Lo December 23, 2013 at 8:16 am

If it was the 15 year old I think it was a little mean spirited to explain the joke. The presents themselves were perfect and I believe it was a lesson she needed to learn. I just don’t think it needed explaining to the family, that was kind of over the top. She was probably mortified. I strongly believe that teenagers, though old enough to know better, should be given a little wiggle room with etiquette when their parents are so obviously clueless. (who doesn’t step in when their kid does something like that? Honestly.)

That 3 years makes a huge difference psychologically.

If it was the 18 year, nicely done, adults get what they deserve.

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Markko December 23, 2013 at 8:29 am

With all due respect, any child that is entitled enough to hand out such a list and expect responses isn’t going to take any joke about what is on it well. I certainly understand the shock initially, but given some thought you could have understood she is a product of materialistic upbringing; on Christmas a CD, and perhaps some nice sheet music without comment would have been better. I think gifts that are a joke or “tongue in cheek” are fine for adults, but not for children. After all she literally doesn’t know better than to do and act the way her parents have shown her.

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LizaJane December 23, 2013 at 8:40 am

Gift card to a music store, with no expiration date. That way she could use it for sheet music, or toward an instrument.
This really sounds like something a 9 year old would do, maybe not understanding how much things cost.

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Abby December 23, 2013 at 8:54 am

Wait a minute…this girl not only made a list of expensive items, but also, prior to Christmas, passed out the list and asked each person to “commit” to an expensive item to give, and started with her uncle’s partner? In front of everyone?

OP, I don’t know a graceful way out of that one. It seems that little practice was specifically designed to extract an expensive gift out of someone who is not even a blood relative, probably banking on the fact that OP, who earns a decent salary and wants to make a good impression on his partner’s family, will not want to make waves.

If it were me, I’d probably say something like, oh I want it to be a surprise, I can’t tell you now what your gift will be. If she insisted she needed to know so didn’t get duplicates, I’d probably respond that what I was getting her was not on the list. If she wanted to throw a tantrum about not getting an expensive item simply because she’d demanded it, I would refer her to her mother.

I’m not fond of birthday wish lists or gift registries that only include expensive items, but at least it’s optional to follow them. Demanding that someone not only buy you an expensive item but asking them in front of everyone to confirm what it will be is absolutely appalling. Shame on her, and shame on her parents.

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Huh December 23, 2013 at 9:02 am

I don’t understand why it’s rude or impersonal to buy a gift card. “I know you like this particular store, so here’s a card to pick yourself out whatever you like there!” I like receiving gift cards! Maybe it’s because I’m a single mom who never has much money for things other than necessities, so giving me a gift card for somewhere I like to eat at or somewhere I like to shop when I normally probably wouldn’t do either is nice.

As to whether or not the Brian Setzer Orchestra CD and comment were rude (I have that CD too, BTW) I think it depends on how you normally act with her. My uncle has been teasing/joking with me from childhood, so I can see him giving me something like that, “so now you have your orchestra that will fit in your room!” and I would have laughed and been happy with my gift card. Now in contrast, my other uncle has always been very serious, never really jokes around, and never really talks to me all that much beyond usual small talk pleasantries. If he had done the same thing, I would take it as a dig at me and my behavior and feel bad.

And I think she needs to rethink pushing her high-ticket wish list on people. It’s fine to have a wish list if people ASK what you want for Christmas, but you should also have a variety of price ranges on there and not just inform them what they are getting you! (Personally, I would never ask ANYONE for high-price items as gifts.)

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acr December 23, 2013 at 9:14 am

I agree with the Dame. I don’t think gift of the CD itself was rude. I think your comment was rude, and perhaps even spiteful.

Unless you want to go from being an “in law” to an “out law” you need to let Gary handle any negative interactions with his family if at all possible, ESPECIALLY any commenting on or correcting of the kids behavior. (Even if they are 15 and 18, they are still the kids of the family.)

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Wendy B. December 23, 2013 at 9:19 am

I think explaining yourself made you the boor. Just give the gifts, smile and let it go.

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Stacey Frith-Smith December 23, 2013 at 9:30 am

There are two issues in play but they are quite separate- the first, her somewhat embellished vision of musical “sugarplums” and the second, your gift to her. As to the first, her parents are the ones to address it (or not). As to the second, you overstepped. Your gift was heavy handed and the humor you used to cover the attempt at correcting her doesn’t play well in the larger family. It might have been funny had she actually taken the bait and fussed about your gift. Since she acknowledged it with thanks, that leaves you looking a bit like Scrooge. And that is the risk you take when you seek to offer an object lesson in a public forum.

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AMC December 23, 2013 at 9:43 am

I agree with Admin. She was out of line with her extravagant wish list, but as OP alluded to, this is a learned behavior that she got from her parents. It is the parents’ responsibility to teach their kid gift etiquette, not the OP’s. I actually think an orchestra CD is a great gift for someone interested in learning about music. It didn’t have to be treated like a joke.

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Marie December 23, 2013 at 9:47 am

Is it just me or is the first rude thing to “make rounds” with a Christmas wish list? I have been raised to only provide my list when people ask for it, and I always included something like “gift voucher for books/cd’s”. If my choices were difficult to get or too expensive, it provided a gracious opening for a relative to get me a gift card for the sum that they preferred, and didn’t have to feel bad about it because I had written it on my list.
But going round with a list… to my (European) ears it sounds a bit tacky and gimme-piggy.

Secondly, OP did not handle the situation very well. The comment OP gave when he received the list wasn’t very nice, and it would have been better to just say “wow , these are quite expensive gifts, I don’t think I can manage this, but I’ll think about something nice for you”. That way it would have been pointed out that the gifts were ridiculous, but in a nice way.

The CD itself was… not really a good idea. You only gift prank a person that is a really good friend and who can appreciate the prank. Not your husbands niece – regardless if she’s an entitled child that needs to get a reality check. I’m glad she was also raised with manners and accepted the joke with grace.

Faux pas on both accounts here, in my opinion.

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Michele K. December 23, 2013 at 9:54 am

OP, I think your intentions to teach her “a lesson in good manners” came out in your gift choice and the explanation you gave everyone during the gift opening.

You may have thought it was a “joke” but, to me, it was passive-aggressive. Instead of just quietly giving her a gift like you probably did everyone else, you had to make it a public production/statement because you felt her wish list was out of bounds.

Was her gift list out of bounds? In my opinion, yes. But, your reaction was also out of bounds.

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The Elf December 23, 2013 at 9:56 am

I have a huge pet peeve with Christmas Wish Lists as a whole. I understand their utility, because much like registries it’s handy to know what the person really wants. Guessing the wants and needs of teens can be especially difficult. However, like registries, people need to handle the Christmas Wish List carefully and with much the same rules.

The maker of the list needs to pull from a wide variety of price points, making sure that most of it is widely available. My family has a few members with fairly esoteric hobbies, and there is no way I’d know exactly what thingy is needed and would be used. I’d be completely lost with anything musical. Anything that isn’t widely available should be described as specifically as possible with a note of where to buy it.

Most importantly, the list needs to be “pulled” out of the person instead of presented as a “BUY ME THIS” sort of thing. It shouldn’t be passed around or made to be mandatory. It should be more like “Oh, you want to give me a gift? That’s so nice! You’re stumped on what to get me? Hmmm…. You know, I’ve been interested in music a lot lately. Do you want me to send you a list?” Or, left with parents so that Gary can call as ask what Neice wants. It should never be assumed that someone has to buy you a gift.

Also, husband’s neice? You’re supposed to buy her a present? Even if it was family tradition to pass a list around (ugh), it should have gone to Gary. My husband’s neices and nephews get gifts from us, but they get them from us as a couple. You know “Merry Christmas DeNeice! Love, Uncle Orc and Aunt Elf.” It’s his responsibility to pick them out; it’s his side of the family.

So, the sarcastic “orchestra” comment was unnecessary and I can see a bit how she was hurt by the joke when explained. The explanation was too much; you should have just said that you could see how inspired she was by classical music and hoped the CD would be enjoyed.

But the first and biggest faux-pas still goes to her for passing around a list. Sorry, but that sort of thing should end with the belief in Santa.

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The Elf December 23, 2013 at 9:58 am

Good point, Clairedelune. I missed the part about declaring RIGHT NOW what you’re going to get. Like the adults can work these things out to avoid duplicates. That is the icing on the cake right there.

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Lilac December 23, 2013 at 10:13 am

In this situation a gift certificate is the best bet. Many music stores also have music lessons available. A gift certificate to such a store could have been used for lessons on the instrument of her choice.

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Barbarian December 23, 2013 at 10:30 am

OP may have lacked tact by making the joke about the gift, but the niece has hopefully learned a valuable lesson about greed and materialism that nobody else in that family would teach her.

Hopefully this girl will think twice about forcing high priced wish lists on OP when she graduates or get married.

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Whodunit December 23, 2013 at 10:34 am

I think the gift(s) you offered went over and above to a “niece” in a family you partnered into. I think maybe your partner may have had more of a reason for gift giving than you ( just like I think my husband does with his nieces ( who are mine only by marriage, were older when we married and lived far away from us– in other words I never knew them)

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Mae December 23, 2013 at 10:41 am

I think they way you handled giving her the gifts was rude. The explanation for the CD was a bit um, how to put this politely…smart-alecky. I’m sure it was meant as a joke, but children rarely understand that type of humor.

However, I think her “list” was simply ridiculous! If she was interested in expensive instruments, I think that falls squarely on the parents. Most especially since it seems as thought she is still trying to decide what instrument she likes.

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Libby December 23, 2013 at 10:57 am

So where was Gary in this scenario and why didn’t he back you up? Or did he go along with the wish list? Seems to me Gary should have run interference for you since it’s his family. Since he didn’t, I think an attempt at humor (It’s above my pay grade was suggested) at first would have been the polite thing and then a flat no, I’m not going to do this if she kept on pressing. Evidently, subtlety is lost on this family so unless you want to be cast as the patsy for any future request no matter how outrageous, you need to put your foot down now. And tell your partner to back you up.

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WillyNilly December 23, 2013 at 11:19 am

I have a blanket response to kids who ask for outrageous things: “its good to want things” said with a big smile. If asked to explain the say “wanting things gives you the drive to achieve success and get them yourself.”

I think if I were presented with a list of musical instruments my response would have been to say “oh I can’t choose anything off this list, but it does give me an idea of where your interests are, thank you.” And then I would have gone with a musical something or other to give her.

I think your rudeness was in mocking the child, and essentially the whole family, so publicly. It was a wish list, and kids should in fact *wish* big, so long as their reality is grounded and they are gracious about receiving smaller gifts.

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Cat December 23, 2013 at 11:23 am

This was a chance to do a fast shuffle. You should have taken it, “Oh, my dear, I never tell anyone what they are getting for Christmas. You’ll have to wait and be surprised.”
I would think that a gift card from a music store with a note explaining that she should purchase the music for whatever instrument she actually received would have been a supportive and thoughtful gift .
I often teased a friend’s young son that I was giving him a Barbie doll for Christmas. I am thinking of getting him one now that he is past thirty. And for your second-childhood, which will begin shortly…

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Anonymous December 23, 2013 at 11:40 am

Did this girl specifically want to learn to play a musical instrument, or would voice lessons have been okay? If it was the latter, I would have put my foot down about the musical instrument requests, because a decent musical instrument costs a fair bit of money, and a cheap one isn’t worth it, because they break easily, don’t sound good, etc., etc.

So, my answer to this debacle would be to put my foot down and say “I’m sorry, I can’t afford that/that’s not in the budget,” but then speak with the other adults privately after she’s left the room (or gone to bed for the night), and asked about everyone chipping in to get her started with private voice lessons, or to sign her up for an introductory youth choir or glee club (or something with a start and end point, like a music day camp), or even do some research and find a musical ensemble that doesn’t cost anything to join–like my steel band, for example. The steel band I’m in provides the drums, and it runs on donations and volunteering, and whatever outside organizations pay us for gigs. Actually, I remember doing a Canada Day party once at a private home, and that was pretty fun. I personally don’t have a lot of money to give to the steel band, but I contribute by helping to arrange music, which helps, because our teacher doesn’t read music as well as I do, and he doesn’t really know how to write a chord progression–he just does it by guesswork, with varying levels of success. So, it helps him to say, “I want to play XYZ. Here’s the melody; can you give me the chords, and make up a bass part?”; and most of the time, I can.

Anyway, back to the story at hand–I’d push the singing option, or something that doesn’t involve buying an expensive instrument that the girl might not like, or that she might give up on if she’s not good at it right away. If there is a way to say “yes” to her desire for music in her life, within your limited budget, then I’d want to make that happen. I play the steel pan drum (tenor), and the clarinet, and I’ve gotten a lot of benefit from music. I actually think the gift card to the music store was a great gift, because then Niece can put that towards a musical instrument. Maybe her parents could pay the rest, or maybe she could put her allowance/babysitting money/whatever towards the rest, or maybe some combination of both, but either way, I’m glad you didn’t just say “no” outright. I would have advocated the “no way” approach if Niece had asked for a video game system and multiple expensive games, or Barbie’s Dream House and the entire extended family, or (given her age), a luxury car like on My Super Sweet 16, but a young person wishing for something that can better their life, is a bit of a different story.

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Allie December 23, 2013 at 11:42 am

Perhaps I’m missing something, but I don’t see anything rude and nasty in what you did or said. Nor do I see how it would be embarrassing to her that you explained the gift, which was unnecessary, but not rude or mean. The only possible embarrassment was if she realized you were subtly pointing out that she was being an entitled, selfish brat with her list, and one hopes she got that message. If this happened to me, I would have ignored her list (by saying something noncommittal like “how nice” when she showed it to me) and given the gifts without explanation. I suppose it would have been “mean” if you’d decided to give her a donation in her name to a charity for underprivileged children.

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AED December 23, 2013 at 11:49 am

I am an over 50 adult and I was quite ticked when my brother got me a kiddie type DVD about learning music one Xmas. He claims he meant it “as a joke” – the way he laughed as tears ran down my face when I opened it belies that. ( This Sesame Street or Baby Einstein level) I’ve never trusted him since. Your partner’s niece expressed a dream to all those who she handled that list to- you chose to mock it. Yeah, I would call that rude.
And really a student ( beginner) guitar can be had on Amazon can be had for about $70, a ukele starter kit for around $40, a piano is not needed to learn as you can get a keyboard for $150, ect. Why not ask your partner to go in with you, or another adult for that matter and rather than “joking” with her – encourage her. Everyone of every age needs their dreams encouraged.

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EllenS December 23, 2013 at 12:03 pm

I think this was a case of retaliatory rudeness, which is never OK.
It is not your place to “teach a lesson” to anyone except your own children – which these are not.
The gracious and appropriate response to an inappropriate gimme list, would be to either a) give her nothing, or b) give her a gift within your means and value system, that you thought she would enjoy.

If you had reason to believe she would see the CD as a joke, or would enjoy the music, then it would be an OK gift- without the mocking.

I think the OP went out of his way to humiliate this teenager, as well as make a commentary to her parents about how they have raised her. Snarky and mean – not OK.

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Anonymous December 23, 2013 at 12:06 pm

Oh, okay, I missed the part where it was a CD’s and DVD’s kind of music store, as opposed to a store that sells musical instruments. That kind of gift is fine, but I would have found out if Niece really wanted to learn to play a musical instrument (or sing), and tried to find a way to make that happen, even if it wasn’t exactly what she’d envisioned from the outset.

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Ellex December 23, 2013 at 12:06 pm

Wow, yeah. Sarcasm at your future niece and beating the dead horse during a present exchange.

We all put our foot in our mouths sometimes, the tick is to stop swallowing when you hit ankle.

Also, if you have to explain the joke, it’s not funny.

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Harley Granny December 23, 2013 at 12:22 pm

In defense of the child….if this is what she’s done her whole life and has never been corrected, then she has no idea how rude it is.

Now…you as an uncle (in-law BTW) are in no position to teach her. My suggestion to you on that aspect is to tell your partner and he in turn can address the parents. For future reference the list could be viewed as an idea list…not a gift on demand list.

What you should have done is as another suggested give her a gift certificate to a music supply store. There is nothing impersonal about giving a GC to a store you know the person will enjoy.

My personal opinion is that by the choices you made in both the gift and the comments, you came off as a pompous donkey.

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Dee December 23, 2013 at 12:27 pm

Well, to me this is “cause” meeting “effect”. The girl is plenty old enough to know better, whether she’s 15 or 18. She may be influenced by her parents to continue the rude behaviour but she’s certainly of an age where she can handle the results of that behaviour. She endeavoured to be rude in order to get expensive presents; this is what happened because of it. I don’t think anyone should sugarcoat it, as her learning this life lesson depends on it being delivered whole. So, I am with the OP. Maybe I wouldn’t have bought a CD as a joke, but this is his – not rude – response to her, and the chips have fallen. As long as he continues to try to have a cordial and pleasant relationship with her otherwise I can’t see why this should change their relationship. Plenty of adults have given of themselves over time to shape young people who are not their children. Their positive influence is priceless.

More interestingly I am amused that admin, in a reply to a very recent submission, declared not believing in Santa Claus, and then in the reply to this submission makes mention of Santa as if he is a real person.

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DanaJ December 23, 2013 at 12:39 pm

@Markko – unless you know what instrument someone is playing, sheet music is a risky choice for a gift. A bass player’s music will be radically different than a piano player’s. Trumpet and cello play in different ranges. A metronome might work though. Some of the digital ones have an assortment of different click tracks, and mine has a hilarious “angry German woman” voice that counts “And one! And two! And three!…” with such intimidation that you’re afraid she’ll leap out of teh metronome and rap your knuckles with a ruler if you screw up.

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Wild Irish Rose December 23, 2013 at 12:55 pm

I understand the sentiment regarding gift cards, and I rarely buy them for others, but when I do I make sure it’s either a generic, non-specific Visa gift card or a card to a store or restaurant that I know the recipient really likes. So I think the gift card was a great idea.

And frankly, I think the CD was a great idea as well. The comment might have been a little snarky, but if delivered in a humorous tone, it didn’t have to be. A child of any age past about six should know better than to hand out a demand list to ANYONE, regardless of what was on the list. This girl’s list was ridiculous, and she needed to be taken down a peg. Don’t care how old she is, she should not have expected her uncle’s partner (or her uncle, or her parents, or her grandparents, or . . . ) to comply with her demands. Maybe a gift certificate for lessons once she picks her instrument would have been more in keeping with the spirit of her list, but nobody is obligated to buy anyone a freakin’ piano!

By the way, I have a percussion kit I’m trying to sell. My kid decided she has no rhythm so she no longer needs the drums. Go figure.

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Chicalola December 23, 2013 at 1:30 pm

I would think the CD would be a great joke idea if you have that kind of relationship with her…..and if you were trying to establish that with her, it probably was too soon :) I think it was funny, and if you had given it to me, I would have laughed.

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DanaJ December 23, 2013 at 1:43 pm

AED wrote: “…a piano is not needed to learn as you can get a keyboard for $150…”

Unfortunately, that is not the case. Electronic keyboard keys and piano keys are very, VERY different. Keyboards are not recommended for learning unless they have “weighted keys”, which means they have the weight, feel, and response of a piano. If you hit a piano key softly, you get a soft sound, if you hit it hard you get a louder sound. A keyboard for $150 does not behave like that. And I’ve never met a respectable piano teacher who has considered a keyboard acceptable for practice. Touch and feel are very important when learning.

This is why, in general, instruments should be very careful and well-researched choices and best done after you’ve definitely decided on an instrument and consulted with a music teacher. One of the common reasons instruments are abandoned is because kids try to learn on their own with an inappropriate instrument (some gifted people take to it like ducks to water, but they are a minoirty).

A musical instrument is a significant investment both in terms of the cost of an appropriate, decent-quality instrument as well as the cost and time demands of lessons (and noise considerations for the neighbours). It can be a pretty big decision for a family. Picking the shiniest guitar out of a catalog is like buying a car because it has a cool paint job. You might end up with a lemon, more horsepower than you can control, or you end up with a race car but don’t know how to drive a stick-shift.

Asking an uncle to help contribute to a gift of music is one thing, but her gimme-demand list was also asking the OP to randomly choose whether her future would be guitar, drums, or piano? That’s crazy. It doesn’t sound like ANYONE was thinking that through.

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NicoleK December 23, 2013 at 2:03 pm

Usually beginners rent instruments… maybe a contribution to a rental would have been a good gift.

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Abby December 23, 2013 at 2:09 pm

I don’t think asking her in jest if she wanted an orchestra for Christmas, nor giving her a CD as kind of a gag gift was really that out of line, but if the purpose of the CD was to ‘teach her a lesson’ I do believe that is overstepping.

That being said, this particular line just makes me see red: “I was the first person she handed the paper to and asked me to pick something to give her”

If OP was at all rude during this exchange, I put the blame squarely on both the 15 year old and her parents, who should have been aghast at their daughter’s gall . The OP says the mother eventually intervened, but why did she not do it the second Daughter demanded to know which of the following high priced items she could expect to receive? I would be absolutely mortified if my daughter did that.

I also like the poster who pointed out that if the parents aren’t going to teach their daughter manners, she’s going to learn it the hard way. But people aren’t just going to coddle her her whole life just because her parents chose to treat her that way.

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Abby December 23, 2013 at 2:14 pm

@Willy Nilly-“I think your rudeness was in mocking the child, and essentially the whole family, so publicly. It was a wish list, and kids should in fact *wish* big, so long as their reality is grounded and they are gracious about receiving smaller gifts.”

But it *wasn’t* a wish list. She asked him, in front of everyone, to pick something off the list that he would give her. That is a “demand” list. She essentially said, Uncle Dave, here is what I want. What on this list are you giving me?

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Angel December 23, 2013 at 2:25 pm

I find it appalling that at ages 15 and 18 the kids still think they are getting everything on their Christmas lists, no matter what the costs! My 5 and 8 year old even know that there is a limit!

And when the subject of Christmas presents came up–I find it odd and a little presumptuous that the kids’ first response was to go get their lists of extremely expensive presents and go around the room essentially “shaking down” their family! Too right it wasn’t a “wish list” but a list of demands!

Honestly I think that these kids are well old enough to be schooled. Good for the OP for doing so with as much humor and good grace as she could muster. The CD idea was a good one. The parents and the kids deserved to be embarrassed.

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Jane December 23, 2013 at 3:06 pm

My personal feeling is that it would have been nice to have handled this with grace, kindness, and maturity. When she handed you the list, you could have said, “oh I don’t know, these things look a bit beyond my wallet, but it’s good to see you like music. What about ideas like sheet music, etc?” That would have addressed the issue immediately, with good grace and the chance for people to learn but still retain their dignity. She’s a kid. We’re all idiots when we’re kids. I bet you did plenty of stupid, maybe even rude, things when you were that age. And when you did them, did you deserve to be “taught a lesson” infront of your whole family in a mocking and belittling fashion? Did this girl, really?

I think that you as an adult had a choice about how to act and what kind of person to be. Regardless of her own attitudes and how they were shaped, you had an opportunity to engage thoughtfully with a young woman about her interests and maybe encouraging her positively, instead of mocking her. And you had an opportunity to take the high road and be a mature and gracious adult. She herself was gracious when she got your joke gift.

Having said that, I actually think you were very thoughtful giving her those music vouchers, and I’m guessing your heart was, deep down, in the right place.

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Rosie December 23, 2013 at 3:21 pm

The most confusing part of the story for me is that she asked for so many different kinds of instruments. If she was serious, wouldn’t she pick one instrument to start with and take lessons? Trying to perfect the guitar, ukelele and piano simultaneously doesn’t seem very logical to me. She said that she would learn any instrument she was offered, but if she was circulating the list among several relatives, wouldn’t she end up with several instruments? Sounds really unrealistic and half-baked to me, so I would have said something non-committal, then checked in with my partner and the girl’s parents to figure out what she really wanted to do and if all the relatives could coordinate on a single musical instrument.

Speaking of wish lists generally, my brother and I always made them growing up. My grandma was very insistent that we give her specific ideas, including the catalog numbers and sizes, colors. I certainly learned to include a mix of items at different price points, and that I wouldn’t get everything on my list. I never thought it was rude to make lists, but again, my grandma specifically asked for them.

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Amanda H. December 23, 2013 at 3:45 pm

I have no problem with wish lists, and also have no problem if they’re posted in a public location so long as the intention isn’t to *demand* the gifts on them but merely provide an easy-to-find list of suggestions. Even wishlists on Amazon and Facebook and the like, at least in my circle of family and friends, are presented as “Here are ideas if you’re having a hard time thinking of things for me” lists rather than “This is what I want and nothing else is acceptable” lists. I know for a fact that all of my friends and family would accept a selection of snacks must as much as any of the more permanent items on their lists. But then that’s my family.

The teen in OP’s story wasn’t presenting a list of gift suggestions to help out anyone who was planning to get her a gift but having a hard time deciding on what. She was presenting a list of things she wanted and actually *expecting* people to commit to gifts in advance (and expensive ones at that), and that’s where she overstepped what I consider acceptable wishlist behavior. To her credit, when given the gift card and CD, it sounds like she was fairly gracious at receiving items not on her list.

I think the OP really only acted poorly by explaining the orchestra CD joke, especially once the teen accepted it with thanks and didn’t throw a fit. As a previous commenter said, if you have to explain the joke, then it probably wasn’t very funny. A better response would have been along the lines of “I thought she’d like it.”

And agreeing with DanaJ that just any old keyboard won’t do for learning piano, and unfortunately the nice ones with the weighted keys tend to cost more (unless you’re willing to gamble with Craigslist). I play the piano, and I’ve tried low-end keyboards before and universally disliked them. Not only do you have no control over sound dynamics (playing soft and loud and whatnot), but many low-end keyboards have far fewer than a piano’s 88 keys, making it very difficult to play certain selections of sheet music that actually go more than two octaves away from middle C.

I’ll second the recommendation of future gifts of certificates to music supply stores (rather than the CD/DVD stores), as that’s more relevant to learning to play an instrument.

And DanaJ, your Angry German Woman metronome sounds awesome and now I want one. ;)

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Kristin December 23, 2013 at 3:53 pm

Maybe the wish list itself was a joke from the niece.

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Elizabeth December 23, 2013 at 4:00 pm

I don’t think you committed any offense here. The girl put you on the spot and her parents let her. Poor child; ignorant parents and she is paying the price. I wouldn’t explain further – let it go.

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Jane December 23, 2013 at 4:08 pm

I agree with the others who’ve asked where Gary was. Did you each give her separate gifts?

I think the joke could totally go either way – just depending on the culture/dynamic of the family. I could see people being offended, and I could see others laughing it up. This is where Gary should have came in with guidance.

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Kate December 23, 2013 at 4:44 pm

My parents didn’t really believe in smacking, but I can tell you now, if I had walked around a family gathering with a list of items worth several hundred dollars asking people to sign up to buy them, my mum would have gone after me with a wooden spoon. That is just incredibly rude and I can’t believe the parents were OK with it.

I do agree with Admin that the explanation of the joke might have embarrassed her, and was probably best left unsaid.

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WillyNilly December 23, 2013 at 4:49 pm

@ Abby, its only a “demand list” if she ends up getting everything or even anything off it. Until that happens though it’s merely what she *wants*, not what she actually get. A demand hardly counts as a real demand if its totally ignored.

We cannot ever control others, not even through teaching. All we can do is control ourselves and how we react. So if the OP (or anyone else placed in a similar situation) treats such a list as merely a wish list, to the OP that is what it becomes – a list of the child’s wishes. Which is why I suggested a way to react that recognized the list in an appropriate way.

Lots of kids put ridiculous or never-going-to-happen things on their Christmas lists – ponies and fairy castles and state of the art electronics, or even the heartbreaking stuff like a cure for a family members illness, or the return home of someone who cannot return. Children, heck even adults, IMO should not be discouraged from wanting these things and wishing for them, even on lists. I think the clarification and verbalizing of big dreams is important for people to do. But just because they do, does not in any way shape or form obligate anyone else to even remotely try to fulfill the specific big wish. Instead we should all read between the lines and recognize the wish list is representation of the dreamer’s broader interests.

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Abby December 23, 2013 at 6:25 pm

@willy nilly-

Once the girl stood over OP and said, pick a present off this list and tell me right now what you’re getting me, it became a demand. Demands do not have to be met in order to be demands, by the basic definition of demand. Her etiquette breach was not making a list- it was demanding everyone not only buy her something off that list, but tell her ahead of time what it would be. Her parents should be embarrassed.

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