Two weeks ago, SM invited me to his 50th birthday party. I was happy to accept. I then received a second text explicitly telling me not to get any gifts. We had an SMS exchange where I tried to convince him of the virtues of accepting and giving gifts…he didn’t change his stance, though I did make him promise not to not get me a gift on my 50th.
I love accepting gifts and to a slightly lesser extent, giving. The problem of course is when the “giving” goes wrong, especially during Diwali or festival time, typically when the gifts involve perishables.
Last week, SW, an orthopedic colleague emailed me, “We received two boxes of sweets from a dear colleague, one a Ferrero Rocher and the other containing Chinese peanut candy, packed almost identical to the Ferrero. Both were stale (manufactured in March 2013)! Do we quietly throw them away? Do we call him (he is a close friend and is probably unaware of what he has bought in bulk for distribution) and let him know it was old stock? Do we send it back to him so he can take it to the vendor and demand a refund? Do we just believe he is a common mortal and has recycled gifts he received and by letting him know would we only hurt him?”
SW sent this email to a few friends and he received five varying replies. First, “When I find myself in times of trouble, BLOODY MARY comes to me, speaking words of wisdom, Let it be, Let it be…” Second, “I would keep quiet and forget about it. Probably a case of recycling! Not worth creating a crack in a friendship for 2 boxes of chocolates.” Third, “If your ‘dear colleague’ is one of the recipients of your e-mail, you problem is solved. If not, resend this email by ‘inadvertently’ including him.” Fourth (the only non-doctor), “Always tell the truth. If he is your real friend he will be offended but not for long or let it go.”
This is a seemingly tough call, simply because we are always worried about offending the other person. Gifting and receiving gifts are sensitive issues and I know people who actually make lists of who has gifted or not or reciprocated and then remember all this (I don’t reciprocate, but I will gift if the occasion allows!).
I find it difficult to believe someone would recycle perishables. Having said that, I suspect I have sometimes received stale, probably recycled chocolates! Do people actually do this? I know it happens with crockery and crystal, but with food items?
The other issue here is of how close you are to the “gifter”. With very, very close friends (school and college friends, etc.) and family (parents, siblings and children), it is quite straightforward. You could tell the person right away. With those who don’t matter at all, there is also no issue, because you could just throw the gift away and not bother to tell, because it’s not relevant or worth the effort. The problem is with “close”, but not “bum-chum close” friends and family, close colleagues and co-workers…essentially people you care about.
My advice was, “Throw it away without doing anything right now. One day in the future when both of you and especially him are suitably drunk, bring up the topic of the chocolates and ask him where he got them from, etc. See how and where the conversation goes and then drop the ball and tell him.”
SW did take a decision. What would you do?