Modern Etiquette: A holiday gift quiz

(Reuters) - All the buzz in London of late, if I can believe my recent holiday experience, is focused on Christmas plans – the presents, the restaurant reservations, the cash...

A couple window shop at the DeBeers diamond boutique on Christmas eve on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills, California California December 24, 2008. REUTERS/Fred Prouser

I was reminded of a cartoon some time ago wherein a shopper laments, “Oh dear, I was so busy shopping that I forgot to have fun.”

Admittedly, my personal bias is to avoid the ‘Seduction of Christmas as Consumerism’ altogether. Nobody needs yet another rant on how the true spirit of Christmas gets lost at the shopping malls.

Instead, let me provide the following Holiday Gift Quiz as a means of personal reflection. It helps me focus my energy on the receiver of the gift and get my ego out of the way. Maybe it will help you:

- Why am I giving this gift?

- Is it sincere?

- Am I giving without strings attached?

- Does it reflect the receiver’s taste – not mine?

- Is it too extravagant?

- Is it kind? (beware of gag gifts)

- Is it appropriate? (e.g. no candy for a dieter)

- Can I present it in person?

- It is beautifully presented?

- Do I feel good about giving it?

The first point really is the most important consideration. The very first question to ask is why we are giving the gift in the first place.

We give gifts for lots of reasons: to say thanks to a business associate for an introduction, to someone who entertained us in their home, to a person who provided information that helped us land some business, or to someone who treated us to a meal.

This just scratches the surface of the many reasons for gift giving. Let’s not forget simply honoring someone who is always there for us, for advice, a cheer-up, or to talk us down from the ledge when we are having a meltdown.

I flunked arts and crafts in school, and I am no competition for Martha Stewart. Nevertheless, I believe that the value of any gift is enhanced by the fact that it arrives on time and is nicely wrapped.

Personally, I am big on re-purposing the Sunday newspaper comics and using colorful yarn instead of ribbon. It’s less expensive and better for the environment, which is a gift in itself.

Handwritten notes embellish the gift. They set us apart because it’s clear we spent our time and attention to let the receiver know why we are giving the gift. Especially in these tough economic times, the personal dedication goes a long way to overcome modest material resources.

Having attended to the points above, I come full circle to the final one: Do I feel good giving this present? Chances are that, when I really pay attention to the person who will receive my gift, my answer is a resounding yes.

(Mary M. Mitchell has written several books on the subject of etiquette, now in 11 languages, most recently “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Modern Manners Fast Track” and “Woofs to the Wise”. She is the founder of executive training consultancy The Mitchell Organization ( The opinions expressed are her own.)

Editing by Michael Roddy