Navigating Unwritten rules ~ the gift-giving edition

I know it’s a little early for a conversation about gifts, but the subject came up tonight…

Awwww man (the best I could do for a whiny groan in print–FunFact: my autocorrect function had defaulted to the word “prison” as I was typing “print”.  Seriously??  Does the word “prison” come up that often in everyday conversation?  I wouldn’t know, I guess.)

OK, where was I?  Oh yes–back to my whiny groan.

Just when I thought there might be hope for me after all, in terms of getting the world all nice and figured out, society pulls another fast one on me.  Kind of like playing a puzzle-oriented video game, the kind that re-scrambles all the pieces when you unexpectedly advance to the next level.

Totally not fair.

It all started when I was reading Samantha Craft’s excellent book, and I came to the part where she’s describing friendships and some of the etiquette faux pas she’s committed.  One of which is that you’re not supposed to receive a wrapped gift and, before unwrapping it, ask, “is this a framed photo?”

I stopped dead in my tracks and stared at my partner.  “Wait–what?  That’s a no-no?  You’re not supposed to do that?”  (Meanwhile thinking, oh shit to myself, wondering how many times I had done exactly that, and who I might have put off or offended in the process.  Or how uncouth they regarded me as a result.)

He closed his eyes and paused, smiling faintly, the way he does when he’d really like to say, “if you have to ask, you’ll never understand”, which is actually a lot less crass and more good-natured than it sounds, and simply said, “…no.”

Yeah, apparently, you’re not supposed to do that, and apparently, everybody else already–somehow–knows this.

It’s a “given” for everybody else.  It was news to me.

I thought that particular prohibition was silly.  I mean, if someone gives someone else a gift, who is the focus directed toward?  Who is the benefit for?  Whose moment is it?  Aside from a thank-you and a gesture of gratitude, isn’t the moment really supposed to be chiefly for the recipient’s benefit?  Aren’t gifts supposed to be given with no strings attached?  If the recipient can identify what’s in the box, how is that considered rude or a slight of any kind to the gift-giver?

Aye, aye, aye.

I asked my partner these questions. He simply said you’re not supposed to try to guess what it is; it removes the “surprise” part.

To which I replied, “well, duh. If I can tell what the gift is, then by definition I already know what it is, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing; I’m thankful either way and it doesn’t take away from the moment.”

I was shocked to learn that apparently, it does….for the gift-giver.

But it’s not supposed to be about the giver; the benefit is for the recipient.

Except that (or except when) it’s not.

As if I don’t have enough etiquette issues to wade through.  As if I’m not self-conscious enough when receiving gifts, what with the constant self-checking and all.  To make sure I’ve expressed the appropriate emotion within the appropriate time-frame.  To make sure I say the right things and do everything right, to boot.

And now this.  An innocent blurt is apparently off-limits, according to the arbitrary, nonsensical maze that society calls “etiquette”.

I’m sure I’ve blurted out what I think the wrapped package holds.  I’m just as pretty-sure that I was pretty proud of myself for being able to guess correctly, too.  And I was not any less grateful, either.

My partner explained that if you guess, it’s no longer a surprise.  Well of course not, but just who is supposed to be surprised, and just who is the one who is supposed to do the surprising?  The giver already knows what’s in the box; I think would be silly to worry about the element of surprise for the gift-giver’s sake.  If it doesn’t bother the recipient to know what the present is already, then no harm, no foul, right?

Apparently, I’m wrong again.

My partner said, “that’s just one of those unwritten societal rules.”  (I’m pushing 40 and I hadn’t a clue before tonight.)

Half-humorous and half-haughty, I launched into a diatribe about how (I personally think) things Ought To Be.  “Well, if society expects me to know and follow these rules, their rules, well then, they should write them down.  I mean, if they’re so important that people get butt hurt over an innocent faux pas, then it’s important enough to take the time to write them down, right?”

My partner responded, but he didn’t have anything new to say.

Not all of us are psychic, after all.  Some of us just don’t see the logic behind some of society’s silly customs.  (Because often, there isn’t any logic to be seen in the first place.)  But hey, at least it’s amusing.  And (I hope) I probably don’t have to worry too much about dementia, since it learning new things is thought to combat dementia, and well, I’m always learning new things.  🙂


(Image Credit: Tomoki Hayasaka)


  1. Wait, what? Are we not supposed to guess or just not say it out loud?

    I just realised, while reading this, that I’d probably prefer for presents not to be wrapped at all. In fact I don’t really like presents. I don’t know how high to pitch the gratitude.

    I don’t like cards either. Man I’m such a misery guts! 😂

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you for your comment! It made me smile and chuckle to myself; I can totally relate! 🙂 I’m totally with you on the cards especially! In some circumstances they work well (like aging grandparents, etc). But I’d rather get an e-card or email letter. Gosh I sound like such an ingrate! But that’s not it at all; I feel bad for all the people who go through the time it takes to buy, sign, and send a card, only for it to end up in the recycling eventually. They’re only doing what’s conventionally expected, but the effect is limited.

      I admit I still like it when presents are wrapped; I’m like a little kid, with the element of surprise and all. Lol! I don’t mind presents, but I’m pretty practical. Again, not at all ungrateful; I just feel bad when someone gets me a trinket that I feel lukewarm to. Something I can use every day, or when I really need it (books are always awesome! lol And I’m one of those people who loves gift cards), is more worth the giver’s precious time and money. I really feel bad when I feel like they’ve put a bunch of time and money into something that misses the mark. OMG I feel horrible even writing this LOL. But I know that those of us who think this way aren’t bad people at heart; we’re just being honest, I think, and we’re exploring a topic the NTs don’t *dare* talk about lol 🙂


  2. YES!!! All of this! I don’t like resources or people’s time to be wasted. I miss book tokens – used to be my favourite type of present!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Totally agree! Ooh!!–what’s a book token? Is that like a gift certificate? 😊😊


      1. Yes! Book tokens can be (or at least used to be) used in any book retailers. Ahhhh….. so many good memories of hours spent in book shops!

        Liked by 1 person

  3. What. I thought you were supposed to guess. I say ‘is it a framed photo’ and they go ‘it’s a surprise’ and that’s I thought that was socially acceptable and it’s not! I only do it to show the appropriate amount of socially approved gratitude and not just stand there clutching the gift looking awkward. I’m older than you and still hadn’t figured that out 🙀Oh well I’ll just default to looking awkward. That’s not hard to do….

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hehe I’m relieved that I’m not the only one! Lol 😊

      I got the same response, too – “it’s a surprise” – but that doesn’t mean that my brain would give it a rest; I had to keep guessing lol 😉❤️

      Liked by 1 person

  4. This is a rubbish social rule! (No offense …) In my family at Christmas it’s all about guessing what’s in the gift – and the elaborate lengths each of us can go to in disguising whatever we’ve wrapped 😀 This “faux pas” has been an integral part of our family celebrations for absolutely forever – it’s so much fun! How could anyone possibly not love it?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Agreed! Rubbish social rule indeed! Lol. No offense taken at all 😊 My family was/is a little more forgiving than that, which is probably part of the reason why I never learned about it to begin with lol 😊

      Thank you very much for your comment! ❤️

      Liked by 1 person

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