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Give Presents That Will Please Others

Judith Martin United Features S

Dear Miss Manners: I believe that when someone you know very well - such as your beau - presents you with a gift, it is a sign of mutual intimacy and trust to be honest enough to say if you won’t use that shirt or tie. It is more insulting to accept the gift gracefully but then never wear or use it - your partner will know you don’t like it anyway.

My beau believes in accepting the gift even at the expense of having me notice he never uses it. This politeness should extend to wearing the stuff occasionally. A friend tells me that for the first three years of her marriage, she fished the same unused shirts out of her hubby’s drawer and rewrapped them. It took him three years to notice what she was doing. (Since I’ve already shared a good laugh with my boyfriend about this patient ploy, I can’t use it myself.)

Perhaps because of this overpoliteness, he and his family now ask for specific gifts from each other beforehand.

He hasn’t used the clothes I’ve given him, though I explain that he should tell me and I’ll return the items or exchange them for something he will wear.

If I do accept his gifts politely, but don’t display or use them, isn’t that a worse slight? It isn’t as though I can’t pull out Aunt Midge’s tray once a year when she visits! He’s with me every day! Besides, he hates shopping and needs clothes. His clothes need variety - he’s getting boring to look at. So neither one of us benefits from the unused gifts.

How do we accommodate each other’s styles, short of the boring non-surprise of saying in advance what you’d like?

I find I’m losing patience with the lack of candor I reserve for acquaintances and casually close relatives, but which he feels extends to one’s fiancee and spouse. It seems like a waste of money and time and doesn’t seem honest, given our openness with each other.

Gentle Reader: Miss Manners is alarmed about all this open honesty business. Please allow her to quash it before you drive your fiance to practice it himself. You might hear something like this: “Why do you persist in giving me clothes I don’t like? Have you still not noticed my taste? And speaking of taste, thanks for that ‘boring to look at.’ You used to say you were thrilled at the sight of me.”

Fortunately, he’s too polite. Trust Miss Manners, you don’t want to change that, however eager you may be to change his wardrobe.

If you believe that the purpose of presents is to buy people what they need, your fiance’s parents’ attitude would work best. If you are just doing other people’s shopping, you might just as well ask them what they want.

But if you believe that presents are intended to delight people, they should not be aimed at renovating them. That may be a justified marital aim, but it does not delight the person targeted for renovation, however gracefully your fiance pretends it does.

You claim to want him to be honest, but it seems to Miss Manners you want him to dissemble more than he already does. You want false proof of his kindly faked gratitude in the form of his actually wearing this stuff.

Surely it would be easier, not to mention kinder, to give him presents he likes and work on his clothes separately by frankly taking him out shopping without pretending you’re giving him a treat.


The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = Judith Martin United Features Syndicate

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