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Secret Santa Shame

I was recently reminded of this story when I met an old friend, and decided to share my probably most shameful faux pas ever. I fully deserve Etiquette Hell, to this day I feel embarrassed about it.

From what I remember I was either 13 or 14 at the time this happened, which is old enough to know better. In my country secondary school starts at that age- so I was in a class of people who newly started a new school, a class of complete strangers to me and to each other. Around Christmas we had a secret Santa. Being a school, the spending limit was very low, and with no one knowing their giftee the gifts were bound to be rather impersonal and boring- notebooks, calendars, little stuffed animals.. after the gifts were handed out though, I felt that I got a particularly short end of the stick, as I received a pen. Later while chatting with a few classmates I started to complain what a lame gift I got, I mean, a pen.. cue one of my friends frantically making the shut up face.. and me ignoring her, come on this gift is terrible, everyone got so much better ones.. Only later I found out the girl who drew my name was one of the people I complained to, a sweet, quiet person from a rather impoverished family. I apologized the next day and she never let it slip once that she was angry with me- though I was way too embarrassed to hang out with her after that.  1021-10


Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Ange December 21, 2010, 6:48 am

    I think the last sentence is actually the sadest part. Instead of making in up to her in some way, you dropped her as a friend.

  • boxy December 21, 2010, 8:30 am

    I think all of us have similar experiences we did as kids of which we are now ashamed. It’s one of many building blocks that shapes us into caring adults. Please don’t be too hard on yourself, you (and all the rest of us who’ve done the same) learned a valuable lesson.

    Just a thought, if you find yourself still cringing over this then do something for someone. Donate to a homeless shelter, give anonymously give something to someone, or share an encouraging word. It doesn’t erase what happened years ago but it can help reprogram your brain into more positive thoughts.

  • samihami December 21, 2010, 8:34 am

    Ah, that is a lesson that most of us end up learning the hard way. At least you figured it out while you were still very young!

  • AS December 21, 2010, 8:49 am

    That girl is very classy.

    You have learnt from your mistake, and was nice enough to go apoligise to her. I hope your relationship wasn’t affected by it. So, I suppose you can laugh at it now. I understand how awful you feel – I would have wanted to burry myself too had I been in your place.

  • Chocobo December 21, 2010, 9:01 am

    Aww… chalk it up to the ignorance of youth and put it behind you. I think everyone has a story of the time they caught foot-in-mouth syndrome. At least you apologized!

  • Just Laura December 21, 2010, 9:23 am

    That was good of you to own-up and apologize.
    We’ve all done things for which we should be ashamed, but a graceful person will admit it, and endeavor to do the right thing in the future.

  • Shalamar December 21, 2010, 9:42 am

    No experience is ever wasted, and I bet you’ve never done anything like that ever again. (Plus, I remember that I was HORRIBLE as a 13-year-old – selfish and a complete brat. I like to think that I’ve improved in the 30-odd years since then!) You had the grace to apologize – more power to you. That took guts.

  • Dorothy December 21, 2010, 9:54 am

    Well, we all do stupid things like that in our lives — and not just at the age of 13. And we remember it the rest of our lives. I do think it would have been better to pursue a friendship with the girl to show her your remarks were truly just stupidity, not dislike of her. But, again, you were young.

  • Ms_Shell December 21, 2010, 10:22 am

    OP, I can totally understand your embarrassment, but look at it this way; you learned firsthand the reason behind the rule of being appreciative and thankful for any gift, no matter how small. And who knows? Maybe the gift-giver remembers you fondly because you were classy enough to own up to your mistake and apologize for your bad behavior. Lots of people never learn how to take responsibilty for faux pas, so you’re already ahead. 🙂

  • Enna December 21, 2010, 10:25 am

    OP: you realsied where you went wrong, that you should’ve known better and you apologised for you behaviour and I assume you learnt from it! That you really meant you were sorry is important – compared to some of the shockers that get posted on here this is mild.

  • The Elf December 21, 2010, 10:26 am

    I love that you apologized. We all have foot in mouth moments. How we deal with them really makes a difference.

  • Ruth December 21, 2010, 10:33 am

    Old enough to know better, but young enough to learn…and it sounds like you did.

  • Allie December 21, 2010, 10:35 am

    As someone whose foot loves to live in my mouth, I can sympathize. I’ve got a tendency to say the wrong thing in front of the wrong person. At least you do feel bad about it, which means you care. I wish these things wouldn’t happen to me, but I’d much rather be a goof-up who cares than one of the many rude, mean-spirited people in the world who would actually go out of their way to do things like this. Good for you for apologizing. It’s a shame it prevented you from becoming friends, though. It would have been a sweet story if you had.

  • karma December 21, 2010, 11:05 am

    This is the reason as parents it is important to prepare *our* children for this scenario. Relate that story to your own child if you ever have one so that she will go to her own class celebration prepared to say “Thanks” no matter what the gift.

  • weegee56 December 21, 2010, 11:05 am

    I had a similar experience in elementary school that still haunts me. I can’t even remember the name of the girl whose feelings I hurt, but I can’t forget what a miserable little jerk I was. Since I can’t apologize to the person I hurt, I will take another posters advice and do a random act of kindness.

  • Patti December 21, 2010, 11:18 am

    We had a gift exchange every year when I was in elementary school. The boys brought a boys gift, the girls brought a girl’s gift. I don’t remember there being much of an issue about it until we were in third grade. My mother was room mother for the Christmas party. Her job was to make sure the kids were served, games were played without too much bloodshed, and that gifts were distributed efficiently. When it was time for the gift exchange, we opened our presents (I think there was a $3 limit) and everyone oohed and ahhed at our bounty. One of the girls in our class had only a mother at home who had some kind of really debilitating arthritis so she rarely was able to make it to class parties (pre-accessibilty in public buildings). Anyway, this girls gift to another girl was $3 worth of assorted candy bars (it was the 70s so it was a bit of a mini-haul). I know it was something that her mother put together from our local grocery because our tiny town had very few places to purchase gifts; we had to go at least ten miles away to find the nearest dime store.

    The receiver of this gift threw a big tantrum when she unwrapped it and found that she had just received an assortment of chocolates instead of a cologne miniature or bubble bath or some plastic trinket. Mom watched this tantrum for a few moments then went over there and told her to “stop crying and say thank you. This is a really nice gift. Patti would love this kind of thing.” The gift giver watched and said nothing but this had to sting.

    I really didn’t like my Mom dragging me into it but she was right, I would have liked that gift, as well.

  • Chelsey December 21, 2010, 11:34 am

    As boxy said, we’ve all done something like that as children. At least you learned from it! So many don’t.

  • Kat December 21, 2010, 12:41 pm

    Hats off to you, OP. I would have been too embarrassed to apologize. Way to swallow your pride and do the right thing!

  • Louise December 21, 2010, 1:14 pm

    Ah, the cringe-worthy moments of our youth. We all have ’em.

    OP, I think it took class and guts to apologize at 13. I think I would have been too embarrassed to say anything to the girl, which is worse.

  • SJ December 21, 2010, 1:24 pm

    Good for you for apologizing. Good for her for being gracious.
    You’re right that you were old enough to know better, but I had friends in their twenties do something similar, and I was the one who had given the gift.

  • Ashley December 21, 2010, 1:47 pm

    At least you had the opportunity to apologize to her, so that’s something. And while the actual behavior you exhibited was rude, you DID learn something from the experience, and I’m sure it has kept you from making the same mistake again. Its a shame it didn’t somehow turn into a bonding experience for the two of you. But the wisdom you gained was invaluable, so at least take that for what its worth.

  • QueenofAllThings December 21, 2010, 2:19 pm

    I think, as an adult, you’re being very hard on yourself. Let it go. We’ve all been there and the fact that you STILL feel bad about it indicates that you are a caring decent soul.

    Consider yourself absolved 🙂

  • J. December 21, 2010, 2:25 pm

    OMG, you have almost the same exact story from my childhood. I too ended up with a pen from a church gift exchange. However ours was a white elephant, which in my experience only ends in hurt feelings.

    The important thing is at least you learned something from it.

  • Brenda December 21, 2010, 2:50 pm

    OP, we’ve all done something that was very hurtful to someone, especially as children and teens. We have some natural empathy, but we have to learn how to apply it, and you learned the hard way. The good thing that arose from this is that you recognized how you made someone else feel, and resolved to not do that again.

    I have to say, this is one of the reasons why I seriously dislike organized gift giving in situations, like schools, where people don’t have the ability to opt out without embarrassment. At my office, Secret Santas and White Elephants (which I actually adore) are optional. The few times I’ve felt coerced into participating in an office wide gift giving has always seemed to end up with me getting things that should have been gifted in White Elephants: one unforgettable gift I received was a display of choir children made from recycled soda cans; it actually caused all the attendees at the event to gasp and/or cringe in embarrassment.

  • Elizabeth December 21, 2010, 3:46 pm

    At least you learned your lesson. Unfortunately, by cutting contact due to embarrassment she may have thought your apology was insincere. But time moves on.

  • Tori December 21, 2010, 3:51 pm

    Back in 3rd grade we had Secret Santa. I got a boy in my class. I had no idea what to get a boy so I went to Target and got the first thing i saw in the boys toys aisles. I believe it was a hotwheels set. Race track and a few cars. Funnily enough I got the exact same thing. I didnt like it very much so I gave it to one of my cousins.

  • Lizza December 21, 2010, 4:35 pm

    Echoing everyone who said at least you managed to learn from this mistake, and good on you for having the manners to apologize.

  • LilyG December 22, 2010, 12:05 am

    @Patti-your mom was/is cool.

  • Katie December 22, 2010, 12:44 am

    I did and said so many things even up to my late teens that I cringe to think of now. Kids can be so insensitive, cruel and selfish. The difference between you and me, OP, is that I didn’t always realise until I looked back years later as to what a little cow I’d been! I agree with Boxy’s suggestion. Now I do whatever I can to raise awareness on bullying, disadvantaged kids and various other things. You can’t change what you said years ago but at least you have the knowledge that you apologised promptly and it didn’t happen again. And you can set a good example if you have kids, and teach them about these issues.

  • Alexis December 22, 2010, 8:59 am

    Lesson learned! You said you were sorry, which many adults wouldn’t have done. And it sure taught you the hard way how to be gracious! Another thing many adults never get either.

  • Angie December 23, 2010, 1:31 pm

    I’m in a couple of gift exchanges every year, and sometimes the presents I’ve gotten have obviously had no thought put into them, but all you can do is smile graciously and pretend you like it. Sometimes there’s a hidden agenda though… one year at my work gift exchange, there was a lady who a lot of people didn’t like and she received a roll of toilet paper with a chocolate bar stuck in the middle.

    Classy move on the part of the anonymous gift giver… if you get the name of someone you don’t like, why not just say that you’re not comfortable buying for that person and ask to draw another name. Even the people who didn’t like this woman thought that was awfully low.

  • Asharah December 23, 2010, 2:58 pm

    Tori, your secret santa was probably a boy who didn’t know what to get a girl and couldn’t even find the girls aisle at Target. LOL!

  • OSOD December 25, 2010, 8:33 am

    To the OP – there’s nothing stopping you from tracking down the girl (as an adult) and attempting to strike up a friendship now… with the internet people are much easier to find…. and often the people we didn’t like as kids – are actually good people as adults to become friends with.

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