Q: We had a couple show up this past weekend at our holiday open house and the wife had the flu so bad, she spent most of her time in the bathroom upchucking. It was totally embarrassing! My other guests had “I can’t believe this” looks on their faces. Many of them, I think, left early because they didn’t want to catch what she had. I had to spend a lot of time not only trying to take care of her and cleaning up my bathroom, while I should have been attending to my other guests and monitoring my food table, etc. During that process, she tells me she started getting sick on Christmas Day. What is the proper thing to do or to say to a couple like this who are obviously too inconsiderate or too stupid to know they should have stayed at home?
A: My goodness! Yes, obviously to everyone but her and her husband, she should have stayed home. In order for you to protect you and your guests from this sickening situation, you could have politely gotten their coats and told both of them, “Thank you for coming, but I know you will feel much better being back in your own home and in bed.” Offer or give her a cold cloth for her forehead, a bunch of tissues and a non-returnable burp container of some kind, then usher them out the door. Tell her you will be calling to check on her later.
Q: Do you send a thank-you note to someone for a Christmas present you know you don’t like and that you are going to return?
A: Yes, a thank-you note is necessary. However, you must be very careful in the wording so as not to offend the giver. Of course, honesty is the best policy. However, there can be some options if the gift is from someone who does not live near you, whom you do not see very frequently or who may be very sensitive to being told you are returning or exchanging a gift he felt was the perfect gift for you. Here are some examples:
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▪ If the gift is a clothing item that does not fit, by all means, explain to the giver you are going to try to exchange it as soon as possible for the correct size. If the item is in a size you provided to the giver, explain that apparently it is made a little differently or the size varies a bit with various designers. You do not want the giver to think you gave him the wrong size. Do tell the giver how much you like the item and appreciate his thoughtfulness and fashion choice.
▪ If the gift is a duplicate of something you already have, such as a book, a serving piece or a pair of boots, then by all means explain that to the giver and tell him you are going to exchange it. This is the easiest type of thank-you note because you will not be causing him to feel his choice of gift was not on target, you just already have it. Again, be sure to thank the giver for knowing you so well and how much you appreciate his thoughtfulness.
▪ If the gift is from someone with sensitive feelings, and someone you see so very infrequently, such as once or twice a year, perhaps it is more considerate not to explain you are returning or exchanging the gift. Do, however, tell the giver how much you appreciate him sending the gift and how beautiful or something specific about how nice the gift is.
▪ If the gift is something personal, such as a purse, but the purse is a style or color you would rarely use, but it is from a person you may see rather often, you must be very careful in telling this person you are going to exchange or return the purse. If the giver never sees you using it, there may be some uncomfortable questions such as, “I never see you using that orange purse I gave you for Christmas. Don’t you like it?” Then you will be faced with telling the truth such as, “Oh, before I could use it, I was at the store (where they have this brand) and I saw one in a deep brown color and I exchanged it because I would get more use out of the brown one. I apologize for not telling you sooner.”
Then be sure to have the purse with you the next time you know you are going to be seeing this person. If your choice is to return it, you can send the thank-you note, exchange it and then either send the giver a second note or call explaining what you did and why. Or be certain to show it to this person the next time you are going to be with him. It is far better to be honest from the very beginning rather than face trying to explain later
▪ If the gift arrives broken, explain the circumstances of why you will be returning it, yet thank him for his thoughtfulness.
▪ Let’s say the gift is an expensive box of chocolates, which contains nuts, to which you are allergic. If you do not explain you are returning or exchanging it, you may receive this same box of chocolates for the rest of your life from someone who is so happy about sending you this gift. You, on the other hand, will then have to take the time to exchange it each year or give it to someone else who does not have the same allergy. It is far better to thank the person and then explain.
Dianne Isbell is a local contributing writer. Send your etiquette questions to Lifestyle Editor Patrick Kuhl, Belleville News-Democrat, P.O. Box 427, 120 S. Illinois St., Belleville, IL 62222-0427, or email them to firstname.lastname@example.org.