It is better, they say, to give than to receive. Ever wonder why?
Mrs McIntyre had the answer, When we went to Mrs. Macintyre's to play with her grandchildren we had to dress- for lunch. Being the incipient little queer that I was I loved It. Mrs MacIntyre allowed me to stay overnight (I was the only friend allowed to do so.) She told my mother I was a "gentleman by instinct" Talk about coded messages. That was 50's speak for the boy is likely queer and he has to do well by instinct because as far as training goes..... I'm not sure that's entirely fair but it went right over mom's head in any case. She was impressed that the august woman liked me and I got to go through a Complete set of National Geographics. It was a fine romance.
Seriously though, Mrs McIntire did have the answer, and it was a good one, so I thought I would share it. I've been guided by it my whole adult life, and it has made many aspects of social interchange much easier.
I had been paid a compliment and was standing there in her music room (2 concert grands and a baby if you don't mind) blushed to the eyes with had a mouth full of marbles. here it is:
"Michael, the most difficult thing for a gentleman to do is to receive a gift or a compliment gracefully."
That's it. Think about it for a while and you'll find she was exactly right. It's a little hurdle, let me help you over it.
In the realm of manners what are your obligations when someone gives you a gift or pays you a compliment? (note that these rules do not apply if you made a request that is now being granted- the level of obligation is a little higher then, but we will assume you had figured the obligation out before you asked.)
In the first case your obligation is limit to a sincere"Thank You" (it must be sincere but need not be too present specific,) and that my, friends, is all. A useful extension of the form is "Thank you, it was very kind of you to think of me, I will always treasure that you gave me this."
A clever person can always find an honest path through bad presents. I will point out that you avoided all mention of the whale covered tie. you did not thank them for thinking you would like a tie from that new place at Prudential mall that sounds like a winery but sells clothing for the capen isands (do you know it took me two years to figure out where they are, and I come from Rhode Island, as Blossom Dearie told you all. And Rhode Island is famous for, in addition to me, being only 40 miles away. I am digressing.
It was very kind of them to think of you. Very kind indeed, and there is no way around that. If you are going to have relationships with people you must honor their sentiments. There are no moral values associated with taste or design and to put those concerns ahead of the personal values of your friends, associates or relationships is frankly immoral.
Managing your wardrobe in such a way as never to appear in their vicinity in an appropriately colored outfit however, might require planning-
"Oh! That lime green tie with the blue whales would go so well with that suit!"
"I agree, but I left it in P'Town so it would be there for New Years... You are going to NYC again?"
You also have not said that you will treasure the tie, only treasure that they thought to give it to you which is indeed the true gift.
NEVER demean the gift or contradict them, and contradictions include that old saw "Oh, you shouldn't have" We now come to the heavy work. The phrase implies that either you know better or that you feel entitled to judge their actions; or that you yourself feel unworthy. It is one of those phrases that can only lead to tit for tat which is the very essence of bad manners. Unless of course they decide to agree with you. I know you mean well but you are being obnoxious- whether they realize it or not.
Many people get their nickers in a knot over questions of reciprocation and obligation. This is a way of demeaning their gift. It is not a "Deal" or a bargain, it's just a gift. Perhaps you didn't get them anything. So be it, accept theirs with true appreciation and keep your mouth shut. you might spend some time chatting about the new swing set in the playground or go to the bar for them. That really is a far is it goes. If they expect something else it's their karmic problem.
Being concerned about the value, coolness, or stylishness of the gift is superficial and insincere- it says that style is more important than your friend. Perhaps you should ask yourself that question before continuing the relationship.You might consider going to Neiman Marcus to buy your own gifts. Some people find their relationship with themselves so fulfilling that one wonders why they bother others at all.
So taking all this together you see why giving is so much better than receiving- you do of course know the art of gifting so well that we can assume no awkward little moments- yes? "Where fools rush in.." But all joking aside this requires some habits very difficult to develop: security in oneself; absence of a need to "top" people, true sincerity in social exchange, generosity of spirit, and even humility. This is the heavy lifting of manners.
It's just easier and safer to give. Laurence Sterne once said that "we love people not so much for the good they have done us as for the good we have done them"
But let me tell you the way in which Mrs MacIntire is really right on: When you learn to look in someone's eye and say "Thank You" sincerely, without embellishment, without protest or apology, "The social whirl" will whirl at your feet. try it, you'll like it!
Enjoy the season, my friends