Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:
I’m getting ready to retire and trying to budget. Before the holidays I
talked to all the folks in my extended family, many of whom are trying
to do the same – some from necessity and others from choice –about
not doing gifts in the traditional way. We talked about various options,
like limiting them to under $10, or re-gifting things we weren’t using,
recycling things we loved and knew others needed, donating to
charity, or anything other than spending hundred of dollars on
unwanted and unneeded more things.
It worked great.
Then, last week at synagogue, one of my newer friends, with whom I have
never exchanged anything, handed me a jewelry box. When I demurred she
insisted that I open it and inside was a pair of earring that have
nothing to do with my folksy style. I thanked her and put them on at
her insistence. But I am uncomfortable both with the gift and any
perceived sense of obligation.
You have a range of choices from full honesty and disclosure to polite
avoidance. Only you can decide what’s going to get you close to where
you want in this friendship, and whether this person gets different
rules than the folks you’ve known and loved for years. There seems
something askew to gift out of obligation rather than love. But you’ll
decide at least in part based on your knowledge of the friend. If she’s
the formal type and doesn’t see you wearing the earrings regularly in
public her feelings are going to be hurt no matter what. Ditto if you do
not gift her something, if not for the holidays then for, say, her
But if you are genuinely trying to get off the merry-go- round
of gift buying and giving, you’re going to have to risk her disapproval.
My suggestion is to bring them with you, box and all, when you next
meet. Say you were very tempted to break your resolution for her,
since you are new friends. But that after much thought you have
decided to tell her what you should have said when she gave you the
gift: from now on you are not gifting blah blah blah. You can
acknowledge that her values are different than yours. And be sure to
praise the earrings. But say you would not feel comfortable keeping
them and that she should give them to someone who will be able to
enjoy them. You’ll know how the friendship is going by whether she
moves closer or further from you after the convo.