How do I refuse a birthday present

How we best respond to inappropriate gifts

When it comes to giving, a lot of people want to give something as individual as possible. This sometimes makes the search for the right gift very tedious. And even if we think we've found the right thing, the recipients might have preferred something completely different.

But what is the best way to react to an unsuitable present? “There is no secret recipe. Nobody knows what is right. That makes it so difficult, ”says Frank Adloff, sociologist at the University of Hamburg. In his bookGifts of Cooperation he has dealt with giving.

The ideal present tells something about both sides

“Gifts are interaction and communication. We are thereby strengthening our social ties to one another, ”he explains. Ideally, two things are combined in them: You transport something of yourself with them and at the same time accept the recipient in his or her otherness. So we should strive to give something that the other person likes, but also transmits something of ourselves.

However, a lot can go wrong. “There are people who give something that only they like. Then they don't meet the taste of the other person, who then feels misunderstood as a person, ”says Adloff. In addition, there are people who put themselves in the other person's shoes and give something that that person likes but has nothing to do with themselves. That is then not a special gift.

“Vouchers or monetary gifts can be quite appropriate,” says Adloff. For example, if colleagues didn't know what to give a colleague for their anniversary. Only that she likes to read, but not what. Chocolates, flowers and a sum of money would be the right thing in such a relationship with a certain distance. “But if a husband gave the same to his wife, it would have failed. It would be too impersonal and a gift of money would be strange if you shared the finances, ”says the sociologist. According to Adloff, when it comes to gifts of money, the focus is on the usefulness and the material. The aspect of conveying something of oneself in the gift is then missing.

How should you react to inappropriate gifts?

If you get a gift that you are not really happy about, the reaction to it depends, according to Adloff, on how resilient the relationship with the other person is. In some cases it is better to keep appearances, otherwise the bond will slip. In other cases it makes more sense to openly address the displeasure. In addition to the question of whether to address it, the timing would also be important. Do you say something as soon as you unpack or only when days, weeks or months have passed?

“I may not dare to do it the first time. But if I keep getting something for free that I don't like, that's one way of addressing it. But at some point you missed the moment, ”says Adloff. Some then changed their own gift giving behavior and also purposely gave something that the person did not like. “You have to think carefully about whether and how to address it,” says the sociologist.

It doesn't depend on the price

“There is also an opportunity in every gift, that's the beauty,” says Adloff. He gives an example: Maybe the grandma always asks what she can give and is incredibly happy when the grandchildren say they are happy about money, then the brooding will be over. "And it can just as well be that the grandmother still gives something personal, the grandchild is surprised, is very happy and says: 'Wow, I never thought that I would like that.'" Then the joy is even greater - on both sides.

Incidentally, it does not depend on the financial value of the gift. A study by US researchers Gabrielle Adams and Francis Flynn has shown that giving gifts is not about the price we pay. Whether cheap or expensive, there are many ways to make others happy.