I know you’ve had one of those awkward situations when you open a gift and just know your face is saying all the wrong things. You clearly do not want to hurt the gift-giver’s feelings, and you know it’s the thought that counts, but you also know you’re not that good an actor. Great gift-opening etiquette is tough! These tips will release you from feeling stress over opening gifts from here on out—graciously and authentically, I promise. It won’t even matter if the gift is something you will cherish or return the next day!
The Etiquette of Opening Gifts
Know the intention of saying thank you
Excuse my mini rant when I say, I am tired of seeing people (myself included) spend their hard-earned money and valuable time to purchase the perfect gift for someone when the recipient barely even says thank you, nevermind expresses appreciation by sending a thank-you note, or at the very least, mentioning later how much they are enjoying the gift. With so many people using registries these days (which are great and very practical), they are clearly receiving a gift they specifically wanted and also know the value, so all the more reason to be gracious!
From a recipient’s point of view, saying thank you typically costs you nothing. It doesn’t mean you like the gift; it simply acknowledges that someone has extended you a kindness. When you look at it that way, regardless of whether you like your present, sending thanks will always be genuine.
Open the card first
Even if you are super excited about a present, opening the card first is a gracious act that shows you are more interested in the thought behind the gift than in the gift itself. You can also personally connect with the gift-giver while you open their present. If you’re opening gifts at an event such as a baby shower or birthday party, announce whom the gift is from: “This gift is from Kim.” This is very important as it also gets guests’ attention who may be engaging in side conversations, and you want to give equal importance to every gift opened. Next, read the card to yourself. The sentiments from the person are private and should not be shared. After reading the card, make eye contact with Kim, smile, and say thank you. If she wrote something that touched your heart, let her know right then, or wait to tell her in private during the event. “Thank you, Kim. What you wrote means the world to me,” is a simple and genuine acknowledgment.
Open the gift in front of the gift-giver
Gift-givers are kind enough to search for, buy, wrap, and bring you gifts they hope will bring you joy. It’s gracious to open presents in front of them so they are there for the opening and so you can thank them in the moment.
Give thanks in this tried-and-true way
To give a thank-you with maximum impact, include these four elements:
- Use the gift-giver’s name
- Mention the gift by name
- Say something nice about the gift and the gift-giver
- Actually say the words “thank you”
Put together, it will look something like this: “Janet, you know me so well! You remembered that I love gold and white. Thank you! These dessert dishes will look great in our home. You picked a special gift, and I’ll think of you every time I use it.”
“That’s great, Kay,” you’re thinking, “but what do I say if I don’t like the gift or if it is way off?”
What to say when you don’t care for the gift: Truthfully, it’s tough! But just stick to the four elements above, and you will get there. You don’t have to gush or be disingenuous, but you can find something nice to say about every gift.
I remember when a good friend gave me a ceramic figurine of a bulldog, which was the breed of dog she had for years. Everyone knows that I love golden retrievers—or so I thought! I don’t remember exactly what I said when I opened it, but it was something like this (I’m not using her real name): “Martha, a dog figurine—you know how much I love dogs. Thank you. You gave me such a personal gift, and the figurine is so realistic looking.” In this way, I was able to authentically and genuinely acknowledge her gift. If you search hard for the good, you will always find it!
Deal graciously with duplicate gifts
It’s not often you open duplicate gifts at the same event, but when it does happen, it can be stunningly awkward for you and both of the gift-givers (especially the second person, who has been dreading instead of excitedly anticipating your opening their gift.) Receiving two of the same item, such as your favorite body lotion, can be a bonus, so be sure to mention it as you offer thanks. But when the duplicate item is less useful, such as a second rice cooker, be sure to thank the second gift-giver just as authentically and enthusiastically as you thanked the first. You can add on something like, “You and Leslie are both great gift-givers! I’m blessed with friends with such good taste.” You can deal with the duplicate gift later, so for now, open the next gift. It’s important to keep things moving during gift-openings, which can be tedious times for guests.
Keep the gift in its packaging
Keep the gifts moving! People don’t need to see your new AirPods or all the spices that came with your new spice rack, so leave them in the box during the party. If a gift is a unique item (jewelry, something handmade, or anything with delicate details), you can certainly pass it around for everyone to see up close.
Write down gifts and givers
You’re having such an intimate event, you’re sure you’ll remember who gave you which gift. Some time later when you’re ready to write your thank-you notes, you may not be so sure. So whether it’s a small group or a huge soiree, recruit someone to write down who gave you which gifts, so you can properly thank everyone afterward.
The Final Word on Gift-Opening Etiquette
By following these gracious tips for opening gifts, people will welcome an opportunity to give you another gift! When presents are graciously opened, people know you appreciate their gifts, and, even better, they’re certain you appreciate them. That’s what great etiquette is all about: making someone feel awesome. And great gift etiquette feels wonderful for everyone!