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Gift gaffes - how to prevent them, how to recover from them Add to ...

Tsk tsk, Cherie. And all for a measly ₤98.

That's how much Tony Blair's wife made (about $160) after reportedly hawking her husband's watch on eBay earlier this month. Worse still, the Locman Mare Titanium timepiece (advertised as "unused in its original box with guarantee") is believed to have been a gift from Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.

Getting caught publicly disposing of gifts is mortifying, as the former first lady of Britain now knows. While selling presents online might be a new low, a more common gambit is regifting.

Below, we go through several species of gift gaffes, and recovery tactics. (Crawling through broken glass is not one of them.)


Regifting to the person who bought it for you - sorry, Mom!

"That's always the worst," says Cynthia Lett, author of That's So Annoying: An Etiquette Expert on the World's Most Irritating Habits and What to Do About Them - regifting is in there.

Ms. Lett actually had this happen to her.

"It was something that I was very careful about choosing because I knew it matched their decor. I got it back about two years later in the same box. The box looked like it had been put in the bottom of a closet and then kicked around a few times with a winter boot," says Ms. Lett, director of the Lett Group, business etiquette and international protocol experts and trainers.

Ms. Lett never spoke up: In true etiquette maven fashion, she even sent a thank-you note, but the two never spoke again.


If you're an optimist, Ms. Lett suggests a dash of humour. "Say: 'I absolutely loved this when you gave it to me. I wanted you to have one, too.' "

As for prevention, Ms. Lett recommends keeping a gift list with name, occasion and date received. Write this info on sticky notes and attach them to the objects. Then stash them in a "gift closet" where rejected items are ready to be transformed into shiny new hostess gifts.


Regifting an item that's obviously been used - a stainless-steel cookware set with pasta bits still encrusted inside, anyone?


"I don't think you can recover from that one," Ms. Lett says. "That absolutely points to the fact that you're just too cheap to get me a new anything." If you're really desperate, "Apologize profusely and send something else."


Regifting a monogrammed item: You've actually handed your friend Eunice the monogrammed charm bracelet that jerk Johnny gave you in high school. ("Love you forever Bev," reads the inscription, in soaring cursive.)


"The giver has to give them a really good reason why their monogram should be in the receiver's house. There's got to be a story here. Unless there's a really good story, there really isn't a way of getting out of that one. It's just a mea culpa," says Ms. Lett, suggesting you could try for forgiveness with a second gift.


Leaving the original gift card in. It's Christmas but that pesky little gift card says: "Happy 11th birthday to my big girl. Love, Daddy."


"That one you're probably going to have to tell a white lie on: 'That was something that got mixed up in there during our gift wrapping. I really didn't mean for that to happen. I have something different for you that I picked out. Let me exchange it.' "

Prevention-wise, Ms. Lett suggests changing the box it came in originally and rewrapping everything so it looks new.


Regifting an item to the gift giver's friend - the two see each other often. "Nice scarf, Clarice! Funny, I got the same one for Astrid here last week."


If you're quick on your feet, you can try and claim you loved the gift so much you copied the idea, Ms. Lett says. Preventatively, only regift to people who run in different social circles so there's no embarrassing overlap.


Regifting something the lucky recipient has seen at your place, such as that still life that hung prominently over the mantle.


"If it's something you've displayed in your house and you love enough to have put on your wall, giving it as a gift from you is actually really nice."

That is, as long you haven't pretended you bought it new.


Listing it as new on eBay or Craigslist. Ms. Lett says a lot of people see eBay as being the same as a pawn shop, but it's also "a lazy man's way of doing it."

And unlike skulking in the back of a pawn shop with that wristwatch, "eBay is so visual," she says. "There is no discretion."


Play the I-may-be-destitute card. "Nobody has to explain their financial situation to anybody else," Ms. Lett says. "Put it this way: 'I was very sad that I felt compelled to do that, but I prefer not to explain myself.' "

Prevention-wise, Ms. Lett suggests not posting any personal details about yourself. It's an especially bad idea if the gift is one-of-a-kind, the giver trolls the sites, or you're Cherie Blair.

The only things you can safely regift ...

Booze, says Ms. Lett, or any other "benign" objects - think new and current kitchen items, not clothing.

"If it's a nice pair of gloves and you know the person doesn't have something like that, and they will fit their hands, that's okay. But not the sweater with your picture on it."

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Follow on Twitter: @ZosiaBielski


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