“It’s The Thought That Counts”

by admin on November 17, 2014

I was having a nice chat with a friend on the phone the other day. We don’t know each other very well, but see each other at parties maybe twice a year, and I really like her. Out of nowhere she said, “Do you have a teapot in the shape of a bird?” (she knows I’m a keen bird watcher).

I replied, “No I haven’t”, but I really wanted to add, “..and I wouldn’t want one. I hate that kind of thing!” But of course I didn’t. She sounded delighted and excited with my response, and said, “Ah, then wait till the next time I see you!”.

I’m sure you can see what’s coming. She’s been to a charity shop and found a cheap novelty teapot in the shape of a bird, remembered I like birds and bought it for me. Unfortunately I hate novelty nik-nacks of all kinds. I know some people love them, but I won’t have them in the house. I realize I sound ungrateful, but when she next comes round I’ll have to pretend to be delighted with the gift, so that she’ll be happy she bought it for me, then keep it for a couple of years in case she asks where it is, all the time hating the darned thing and resenting having to look after it.

This isn’t an unusual situation, I know. How could I have politely let her know on the phone that I don’t want this gift? And now how can I receive the gift in a way that let’s her know I like her, and appreciate the thought, but without opening the flood gates to more?

Any advice, gratefully received. 1103-14

I think you are missing the hidden jewel of your dilemma and are focusing on making a mountain from an ant hill.   There are lonely people in this world who would be thrilled that someone, anyone, would have been thinking of them in the midst of their daily life and then taken the extraordinary step of buying a gift the giver felt would be appreciated.  There is not one hint of malice, evil, selfishness or unkindness in what your friend has done that deserves your dread and hatred of the gift.

It may be a cliche to say that “it is the thought that counts” but you would do well to ponder this more fully.   From my perspective, you are entirely viewing this as to how it inconveniences you and focusing on the material.  As I get older, I have become less enamored with material possessions and more appreciative of acts of thoughtfulness and kindness from people.  But there are material possessions that are so intertwined with someone’s thoughtfulness and kindness that I cannot bear to part with them.  As I type I am looking at a small glass rose sitting right under my monitor.  I hate glass work and would never buy it for myself but someone dear gave that to me and every time I see it, I see love.

You can pitch the teapot in the trash as that is your prerogative as the gift recipient but I would suggest examining the potential of deepening this friendship with this person who thinks of you when she’s out shopping.  I read a lot of submitted stories to Ehell from lonely, sad people who cannot seem to find someone worthy of friendship and here you are with someone practically in your lap and you want advice on how to rid yourself of this problem.  There is no polite way to tell someone you do not want their gifts of thoughtfulness.

{ 26 comments… read them below or add one }

Eve_Eire November 18, 2014 at 8:42 am

I’m actually a little taken aback at some of the responses here. Saying the OPs letter makes them sick? Accusing her of manufacturing problems, calling her ungrateful, saying she doesn’t care about her friendships and wants to end this one over something tiny? I didn’t get that from the OP at all.

She has a small problem, which she would like a polite way to address. She would like to know if there is a way to politely accept this gift without giving the giver the impression that she would like more gifts like that. She never said she wanted to end the friendship or that she doesn’t appreciate the thought, she has a minor problem that she would like to resolve politely and decided to ask an etiquette website – I’m not really sure what everyone’s problem is.

The many people telling stories of how gracious they all are because they display ugly gifts in their houses are just fine, but the OP shouldn’t be made feel guilty for not wanting to do the same.

OP, from the sounds of it your friend did give you an opportunity, which you admit you missed, where you could have said you didn’t have one but did not really like those sorts of things. So, if I were you, I would accept this graciously. If you have room, keep it somewhere you can pull it out when she visits, then after some time dispose of it however you wish. Hopefully, if she is inclined to give you another gift in the future, she might give you the same opportunity to have your say before she gets it for you.

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Michelle November 18, 2014 at 4:18 pm

I noticed that some of the responses were a little dramatic, too. It’s not like she threw it in the trash and then told her friend, like one of the previous poster’s friends did.

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Shoegal November 19, 2014 at 1:51 pm

I completely agree. I too thought some responses were a little over the top.

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Margo November 18, 2014 at 9:17 am

A lot of people are suggesting that the OP is ungracious, but she did make clear that she had accepted the gift, thanked the giver and that she would keep it and use it so that the giver won’t be disappointed.

I think she has behaved, and is planning to behave, very graciously.

The question asked was whether it was possible to head off similar gifts, and I think that, too, can be done graciously, *if* you are able to do so before the gift is given or specifically identified as being destined to be a gift for you.

Yes, it is hurtful to have gifts rejected or disparaged, but OP didn’t do that.

OP – I think if you thanked your friend when she gave the gift you are fine.

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Surianne November 18, 2014 at 12:03 pm

I agree, I don’t think the OP has done anything wrong here — sounds like she was friendly and gracious to me. I think some of the comments insulting the OP are a little much.

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Anonymous November 18, 2014 at 3:01 pm

I’m finding that that’s a common trend on here. If someone says, “I didn’t like the gift,” or “I felt inconvenienced by the funeral procession/screaming child on the airplane/whatever,” but they go on to say that they acted polite on the surface, people jump on them for sharing their (maybe not perfectly E-Hell approved) inner monologue. I compare it to the concept of “thoughtcrime” in George Orwell’s “1984,” which is a dystopian novel that’s not meant to be realistic. So, I think we can do better than that.

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Daquiri40 November 18, 2014 at 9:43 am

Accept the vase graciously. Even if it is not your taste, your friend chose it for you. Obviously this woman does not know you that well. She is going on your love of birds.

My mother was not a good gift giver but that is different, she was my mother. She knew me very well.

Distant relatives do not know you well. They pick gifts you really don’t like. So? Accept them graciously.

Graciously accepting gifts you do not like, do not want, or have not use for is an etiquette skill every person should learn or know.

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Lady Catford November 18, 2014 at 1:38 pm

We have a Free Store at our local Dump & Recycle place. One year just before Xmas we found several boxes of gifts that looked like the stuff that would be given to someone by coworkers. Lovely items that had been given and received and thrown away. How very sad that the recipient had thrown away more than things but also people.
I have a number of ‘gifts’ in my house, one of which would ‘scare the horses’. All have been given to me by loving friends and all are treasured for the thoughts they give me every time I see them. I have been truly blessed and no matter how ‘awful’ the gift may be I will love and cherish the friend and the display the gift always.
My son visited and pointed to one of my treasures and asked me where I got that less than lovely item. He made it for me when he was 16 years old. The look on his face was priceless, shock , delight, and love. Another thought to remember every time I see the ‘thing’.
It may be more blessed to give than receive, but if you graciously receive a gift (wanted or not) you are also making the giver a receiver of love.
If you don’t want unwanted gifts, don’t have friends.

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Anonymous November 18, 2014 at 4:19 pm

Just curious, what was the “thing” in question? When I was in grade eight, I made my dad a wooden duck, and my brother once made my dad a small mirror with a shelf on it for a comb, in grade ten wood shop. He still has both, and honestly, I don’t think I’d care if he got rid of the duck. It wasn’t something I made specifically with my dad in mind; it was a school wood shop project (we had very basic shop classes due to cutbacks), engineered as “let’s make Father’s Day gifts.” We had maybe three or four different wooden animal designs to choose from, and the duck was the easiest. Even then, it was my second attempt, because the first time, I accidentally cut the duck’s head off. Anyway, I wouldn’t really be offended if my dad got rid of the duck, because it doesn’t mean anything, except that I dutifully completed my grade eight wood shop project. Even then, I remember thinking, or even saying outright, “What would my dad want with a wooden animal? Well, he likes golf, and I suppose there are ducks at the golf course, and the duck is just a body and two wings, and no skinny legs or anything, so I’ll make that.” Also, looking back, one of the options was a pig, which a few people chose. I can’t help but think that some people might be mildly offended at being given a pig as a gift. Anyway, my point is, I don’t understand why the school didn’t have us make something useful.

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NostalgicGal November 19, 2014 at 12:07 am

I was 8 and mom did a lot of yarn and on multiple color projects her yarn would tangle. I wasn’t supposed to but I used a single edged razor blade, cardboard boxes, ruler, lots of tape mostly on inside, and built a 2×2 skein box with dividers, a lid, holes for the yarn to come out, and some washers taped on the inside of the lid to keep it shut. It wasn’t pretty as I wasn’t THAT good a crafter but. I was very proud of that birthday present made by me; and it actually worked. My shock was coming home from college the first time and finding it still existed AND SHE WAS USING IT. It had survived over a decade, I didn’t know it was still around. A parent’s love….

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Library Diva November 24, 2014 at 1:34 pm

I remember doing a school project to make your mom a necklace using paper clips linked together and then wrapped in brightly colored tape. I must have been really little — maybe only four or five. We found it in her jewelry box this year after she died. She kept it for more than 30 years.

In nursery school, I also had to make pumpkin decorations for Halloween. They were made from a coat hanger bent into the shape of a circle, then covered with orange tissue paper (I think the teachers did all that). Our contribution as little ones was to decorate the faces. It still comes out every year. It’s my parents’ favorite Halloween decoration, and my mom always said she wouldn’t feel like it was Halloween without it.

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NostalgicGal November 24, 2014 at 5:41 pm

The paperclip/contact paper necklaces… made them in girl scouts. (around brownie, 1-2 grade). A lot of mothers have them somewhere and I know a few still wear them. Christmas present of recycling colorful Christmas cards, cutting the front art into rectangles and squares and making a collage that was stuck to contact paper (Kleer-Adhere) front and back and trimmed with pinking shears, for placemats… I made a friend here with homeschoolers and preschoolers; and last year she was trying to come up with craft-presents that they could all do, and I dredged the corners for all that. So I know there was another generation of that funstuff made… 🙂 Also punch edge of Christmas card fronts with hole puncher after laminating with the KleerAdhere and crocheting around them with yarn then crocheting them together into boxes or penholders…. ah, memories.

NostalgicGal November 24, 2014 at 5:44 pm

Oh I forgot the ever returning glossy magazine triangle beads. Made with the cheap paper drinking straws and long triangles cut from glossy magazines. Glue coat one side with white glue and roll up carefully on the straw, then trim the bead off and make another one. Could get more than a few off one straw. …

lakey November 18, 2014 at 5:25 pm

I do not think that there is a way to head off gifts you don’t care for without hurting the person’s feelings.
Part of gift receiving is getting something you wouldn’t have picked out yourself, also the surprise and fun of opening it. You will never reach a point where every gift you receive is something you actually want. So accept it with good grace, then after she’s gone do whatever you want with it.

If she asks about it later, you can always say you broke it, which isn’t technically a lie if you put it in the trash. I’m not saying that to be mean. I have a very small house and I regularly get rid of things that I don’t use.

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clairedelune November 18, 2014 at 8:39 pm

Amen! Be gracious, then do with it what you want.

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AIP November 18, 2014 at 7:06 pm

The only way I can think of heading them off at the pass in this instance would be to say “Good heavens, no!” With a bit of a laugh to indicate that the OP wouldn’t be enamoured with a big bird teapot. It depends on the actual wording. But once she indicated that it was bought or you receive it, then you should be polite and gracious about it.

Admin is correct, there are plenty of us who don’t get a second’s thought when it comes to gifts. Each Christmas I normally get one gift (one relative gives a generous money gift) in the tradional sense. The family I get it from mean well, but it’s almost always a regift (unless it’s a repurposed “free” gift). no issue with that at all, toiletries come in handy etc. However, it’s usually either so old the contents of the bottles have gone off, it’s caked with dust (unfortunate as I’m very sensitive to dust), it’s missing pieces or, my favourite, the box was covered in mould, (ut at least I’m remembered, which is more than can be said for many others, so I’m not entirely ungrateful!).

A bird teapot may not be to your taste, but it was chosen with care, with your interests in mind, and not out of a sense of obligation. That gesture is worth more than all the clean lines and uncluttered surfaces in a year’s worth of the Architectural Review!

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Tara November 18, 2014 at 11:37 pm

Accept it while appearing pleased, but not over-enthusiastic. Obviously you don’t want it in your house, and normally I would say to give it to Goodwill, but since your friend seems to shop at thrift stores, that would probably be a bad idea. So throw it out after a few weeks, and if she asks about it (and she probably won’t, if she has manners) tell her that you sadly dropped it and it broke into a thousand tiny shards. Maybe you have an office or cubicle you could put it? On top of the cabinets or something where it would be out of the way. Someone once gave me something that didn’t match my decor, so I got rid of it, but then later I realized that it would’ve been nice to have in my boring cubicle at work, where there is no need for a decor theme.

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Anonymous November 19, 2014 at 8:32 am

Yeah, I was going to say. If you’re going to give the teapot to Goodwill or the Salvation Army or similar, pick one that’s out of town, so your friend won’t find out.

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Callalilly November 19, 2014 at 12:02 pm

She can always say — truthfully — that someone else she knows wanted it so badly that she had to give it away. (The someone being Goodwill or Salvation Army or whoever).

Even if she doesn’t want it, it was a sweet gesture on the part of the lady who bought it for her, so some gratitude is required. I’d suggest that if the OP wants to avoid having this lady buy her something again, then she should instead steer her toward a bird sanctuary or bird rescue, and tell her that while you’re not a fan of knick knacks because of how much dusting they require (to say you don’t like them is guaranteed to hurt her feelings), but that you love to help support bird organizations.

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Syn November 19, 2014 at 12:23 pm

While even with unwanted gifts I always fake gratitude, I personally feel like the “it’s the thought that counts” falls flat when the gift is a clear sign that the giver didn’t actually put any thought into who you are and what you like. This sounds like OP’s friend saw something she herself thinks is great but gives no thought to the fact that, let’s be honest, it’s a bit of a quirky item and most people would probably think it’s weird and possibly ugly. “She thought of you and wanted to give you something nice!” doesn’t work when the giver is showing they don’t want to spend time on considering what the other person is about.

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Lizajane November 21, 2014 at 10:06 am

But she kind of did because she knew the OP likes birds.

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Samantha C November 20, 2014 at 12:07 am

TBH, rules like this are why I can never quite feel confident that I’ve done well at gift-giving.

If I’m a casual acquaintance, sure, tell me how much you liked it and then throw it out. I’ll probably never know.

But if we’re friends? If you tell me that gift X isn’t quite great because Y but you appreciate the thought…well, I’ll be a little embarrassed, and I’ll feel a little bad, but I’ll get you something different next time.

If I find out five years down the road that you’ve never liked gift X and you’ve just humored me? I’ll be crushed. I’ll wonder how I could possibly not have noticed that you hated it. AND, more importantly? I’ll never trust your ‘thank you’ again. I will never believe you when you say you really did like gift Y, because that’s what you said about gift X.

To me it’s a lot more polite to just let me know the first time.

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AngePange November 20, 2014 at 8:59 pm

This is one of those times when I wish there was a “like” button for admin’s response.
I have been badly hurt by ungracious gift recipients. I am the kind of person who puts a great deal of thought into gift giving, matching gifts to personalities and hobbies. I find that I selfishly derive joy in seeing a friend’s face when they open a gift and are touched by the thought that went into it. Perhaps it is wrong of my to derive enjoyment from this, but I feel happy when my friends and family are happy. I have one friend, however, who won’t open gifts in front of other people because she is afraid she won’t like it and doesn’t want you to see her face if she hates it. This is something I will never understand. A gift is more about feelings and sentiment than a “thing”. A gift is a token you didn’t have before. It costs you nothing to be kind about it. It may be a horrible knick-knack that clashes outrageously with your other possessions but SO WHAT?
My husband is a person who hates gawky, tacky things. A few years ago my mother found a milk jug in the shape of a cow and, as a joke, gifted it to him to go with all our “tasteful” items. This became a family joke and my mother ended up collecting everything bovine. We have her the milk jug for her collection and she now has everything “moo” shaped, short of an actual live dairy cow. It warms my heart when I see these “nasty” tacky items because it reminds me that we have a fun inside joke.
You cannot put a price on the fact that someone has cared about you enough to think of you when buying you a sweet little trinket, even if you don’t like the item. I would advise the OP to warmly thank her friend for the thought, to have a good giggle at the teapot, and enjoy that someone has enough affection for her to get her something “just because”.

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Enna November 21, 2014 at 1:43 pm

I don’t think the OP should be too harshly critiscised for wanting some advice. The gift has been given he/she should be grateful. Maybe next time the firend says “oh do you like the sound of this?” the OP pipes up and says “I’m not keen on ABC”. Then if the firend mentions the teapot, OP can say “one or two bird items is fine, I feel anything more and it ruins the effect. Having a bit of nice chocolate is lovely, a whole big bar or box is sickly”.

The only time that that is acceptable to refuse a gift is if it is SERIOUSLY made in bad taste. For exmaple buying an 18 certificate film for someone under the age of 18 – any parent would have the right to say “that is not acceptable” (it would be different if the film was a gift for an 18th birthday). Or say buying someone a spider brooch which could be very beautiful – but if the reciver is scared of spiders, she might not want to accept it or be able to!

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Chris December 1, 2014 at 4:01 pm

I do believe it’s good to accept the gift graciously, but you could always add “Thank you for thinking of me, but I have enough bird themed things now.” My best friend has a friend who always gave her purple things, because my best friend loves the color purple. Eventually she said “I have enough purple things, thank you.”

Maybe if you offered suggestions of things you would appreciate, she’d take the gentle hint and at least get things within that category. And if she doesn’t, you can always donate some of the items to Goodwill.

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Raven December 2, 2014 at 11:09 am

I like Admin’s sentiment, but I don’t think it’s wrong for OP to not want to keep the teapot. DH and I are desperately trying to purge our house, and the thought of it being filled up again with well-intentioned “stuff” exhausts me. Some people are “stuff” people and some people are not. Those of us who are not “stuff” people are not soulless – just not into cramming every part of our homes with things we don’t absolutely need or absolutely love. There’s no shame in that. It was lovely for the friend to think of the OP, and the teapot was a lovely gesture. However, after keeping it for a while, it’s ok to get rid of it. Buying someone something for their home is a huge risk. I’d rather give (and receive, truly) e a tin of homebaked cookies or tarts, or a bottle of their favourite wine, or tickets to a show. Something they can use, enjoy, and not have to dust around (while disliking).

I would be careful, too, with someone I didn’t know all that well who was insisting on buying me gifts. Personally that would seem a bit too intense for me. I bet it doesn’t stop at the tea pot.

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