Remember the 1995 classic "Seinfeld" episode, "The Label Maker"? It's the one where Elaine realizes that Dr. Tim Whately has given Jerry the label maker that Elaine had previously given him. Elaine makes her accusation as a proclamation, while her eyes just about pop out of her head: "He's a Re-gifter!" she exclaims. And with that, "re-gifting" became a dirty word.
But in this age of green giving, when many of us have accumulated way too much stuff, re-gifting seems to have become a bit more socially acceptable. Giving away things that we know we will never use -- and that someone else would like -- that's admirable, right? But where is the line between being cheap and being practical? Do you need to come clean when it's a re-gift? Are there rules?
- You're certain that the gift is something the recipient would really like to receive.
- The gift is brand new (no cast-offs allowed) and comes with its original box and instructions.
- The gift isn't one that the original giver took great care to select or make.
I'm sorry, but that re-gifting advice is lame. I followed EP's advice to the letter, and still messed up.
If my story were a "Seinfeld" episode, it would be titled, "The Wok." Though it played out a decade before the "Label Maker," my story has also become a classic -- at least among family members -- as one of many Aunty Ronna mess-up stories my brother enjoys re-telling.
"The Wok" episode occurred in 1984, when I was newly married. Mike and I had received two woks as wedding gifts. My brother was turning 28 at the time, and he was still single and had recently moved into a new apartment.
"I really want to get you a birthday gift this year," I told him.
"But we never do birthday gifts."
"I know we don't usually do gifts, but I found the greatest gift for you. It is so perfect -- I just had to get it for you. Really, I know we don't normally do gifts, but I really wanted to get you one this year. I am feeling so close to you."
"That is so nice, thanks so much. Really, I am touched."
On his birthday, I dropped the gift off at his house, beautifully re-wrapped in manly wrapping paper. He called that night. "I just want to tell you how much I love the wok. But I especially loved the card -- it was so meaningful."
Hmm...the card? I didn't remember the card. He went on to read it, nice and slow:
"Ronna and Mike,
Congratulations on your wedding! May you have many years of happiness together!
All our Love, Michael and Susan"
Busted. But this wasn't my fault, was it? I followed the rules! The wok was brand new! Who the hell heard of anyone slipping a card inside a sealed box?
There should be better guides to re-gifting, and I would like to take some time this holiday season to suggest a few:
1. Thoroughly examine your re-gift. Even if the gift is brand new and comes in the original box, take a sharp knife and plow neatly through that Scotch tape and make sure there is no damned card inside. Inspect that gift just "like you are a CSI investigator" to be sure it can't be traced back, according to last Sunday's Today show. That's the spirit!
2. Avoid gift-giving foreplay. No verbal or written build up before giving. Just shut up and give the gift, and then cross your fingers and hope for the best.
3. Re-gifting a monogrammed or personalized item is in its own category of wrong. My friend re-gifted her nephew Adam a book that her own son, Jake, had received as a birthday gift. Turns out it was one of those personalized story books -- the "imagine your child's delight as they read about themselves in a special adventure with their own name, birth date and address" kind of book. Imagine the mom's delight when she opened the book and realized she could give her sister-in-law sh*t about the re-gift for years to come!
4. If you are the recipient of a re-gift, relax. We've all done it, right? Not you? That bottle of wine someone gave you at your last dinner party that you just brought to someone else's dinner party? That counts. But no worries. By the time that bottle is re-gifted again, finally opened, and the recipient realizes what crappy wine it really is, you won't even be vaguely associated with it.
5. Don't give away something you had a good laugh over when you received it. In other words, don't re-gift the fruitcake. Except to me -- I actually like fruitcake.
6. Take special care not to give a person the exact gift they gave you. Especially if that person will soon be your daughter's mother-in-law.
7. If you are not feeling the re-gift karma, don't take any chances. There are a lot of wonderful charities that would be happy to receive your re-gift.
8. If you get busted -- and know you will at some point -- use the story to delight your family and friends. These stories are really the gifts that keep on giving.