Gifting Etiquette – Advice From An Expert

December 20, 2017

Is it really the holiday season without opening up at least one questionable Christmas present? Whether its a random ornament or a tacky mug, what do you say when you open a gift you just don’t like?

According to Toronto Etiquette Expert, Lisa Orr, the answer is always ‘thank you.’ 

“Even if it’s the worst hand-towel you’ve ever seen be gracious because it’s not about the gift itself, it’s about  the intention in the act of giving.” 

Remember the saying, ‘it’s the thought that counts?’ 

As one of Canada’s most recognized etiquette experts, Lisa -founder of Orr Etiquette- confirms that the number one rule for the gifting season is to show gratitude. She also reminds us to follow these important gifting tips: 

Consider the recipient: 

When picking out a gift always keep the recipient in mind. Orr says, “instead of asking yourself, ‘what would I like to get,’ consider what the recipient might like instead.”

Taking the time to find a gift the recipient will appreciate shows that you care, “you can find out a lot about a person on social media and doing your research will help you come up with a thoughtful gift,” Orr says. 

And if you are gifting someone who you don’t know well and who doesn’t have an active social media profile, Orr says consumables-gifts are a good idea.

“Consumables are items like teas, coffees, candles – items that you don’t have to own for the rest of your life. You can enjoy it or serve it to other people.”

Orr adds that it’s always good practice to include a gift receipt if you can.”This is good insurance especially for sizing or duplicates…ideally they shouldn’t have to use it.”

And If you receive a gift without a gift receipt Orr says it’s not polite to ask for one. 

When Should you refuse a gift?

While Orr stresses the importance of showing gratitude when receiving a gift if you are given something that is inappropriate or offensive you don’t have to accept it. 

“If you receive something inappropriate, like lingerie, from a co-worker you can thank them but say you can’t accept it because it makes you uncomfortable,” Orr explains.  



Orr believes that regifting has become a more acceptable practice but re-gifters must make certain considerations.

“Regifting is not about getting rid of something you don’t want. A re-gift should still be thoughtful,” Orr says.

The item you are re-gifting must be unused and something you would use yourself or buy for someone else. “Wine, a book, un-opened teas are the types of items you can re-gift.” 

And Orr comments that if there’s a possibility for the original gift giver to find out that you have passed the gift on to someone else, you should let the original gifter know.


When presenting a gift, cards and wrapping are just as important as the gift itself. “I think a beautifully written card really tells somebody you care. The gift can be totally wrong but with this added effort it’s clear that they were thinking of you,” Orr says. 

Does alcohol make an appropriate gift? 

According to the etiquette expert, gifting alcohol is tricky.

“Unless I know the recipient will like it, I won’t gift someone a bottle of alcohol because some people might not drink it for religious or personal reasons.” 

Orr applies the same rule to baked goods. “Unless you know the person well It’s hard to know if their home is allergen free or not, so as a safe practice I would stay away from baked goods. 

Orr says to consider a lower-risk gift like teas, candles or coffees. 

Don’t forget about the holiday parties. 

Chances are you’ll be making an appearance at a holiday party or two and Orr says you should be prepared. 

The Etiquette Expert keeps a collection of hostess gifts to give out throughout the year, “It’s a lovely gesture to give a little hostess gift when you attend a party. It’s not the scale of the gift it’s the act of saying thank you, and ‘I appreciate you for having me.'”

Keeping thank-you notes in your bag or in the car is also a nice practice that Orr recommends.

“I got this tip from a friend who would, before leaving a party, present the host with a thank-you card… It really does make an impact and it’s very thoughtful.”

If you don’t have thank-you cards with you, you should always make it a point to thank the host afterwards even if it’s electronically. “Digital thank yous are better than no thank you at all,” Orr explains. 


So you’ve done your gift research, you included a card, you’ve wrapped it beautifully and your recipient tells you they don’t like it, what do you do? Orr says the best way to tell someone they are being ungracious is by being gracious yourself. “Show them the right way to receive a gift… be thankful when receiving their gift.” 

Lisa reminds us that the act of giving is the best gift of all, so if those well-intentioned gift givers miss the mark this year remember to smile and say thank you. 

You Might Also Like


  • Reply Monica December 20, 2017 at 8:18 pm

    This was soooo interesting! We should always think what the other is going to like, not what we are liking! Great work! 💕

  • Reply Janice McLean December 20, 2017 at 8:25 pm

    OMG you interviewed Lisa Orr?!? I saw her on The Social. She is awesome! I think it’s so important to review these holiday tips. Last year I put a lot of effort in gifting my rotten MIL a beautiful quilt and she totally hated it… I am going to send her your link lol. But really, great tips… Thank’s Lisa for your input.

  • Reply Tina Rago December 20, 2017 at 8:37 pm

    I agree with Lisa’s note about cards and wrapping. I most appreciate gifts that are wrapped beautifully and come with a hand-written card that to me means you care. Someone can get me a tacky set of cat-themed oven mitts and I’d still love it if it was presented nicely. It really is the thought that counts. I can’t believe there are people who would actually say they don’t like something they’ve received… how rude!

  • Reply Shelby Borton December 20, 2017 at 8:43 pm

    This is great especially now because people can be so self centered and wont care if it hurts someone’s feelings to say that they don’t like a gift. Thanks for sharing!

  • Reply Renee Chambois December 20, 2017 at 9:21 pm

    I was wondering if there are any exceptions to telling someone you don’t like their gift? I told my friend this year to stop giving me mugs … she’s gives me one every year and while they are all different one only needs so many, so I told her not to gift me one again. Is that wrong of me?

    • Reply Lisa Orr December 21, 2017 at 3:51 pm

      Renee that’s such a good question, my two cents is that your approach isn’t wrong but there might be a slightly kinder way to go about it. For example if you said to your friend, “I’ve loved your mugs but this year I thought we could do something different like take each other to lunch or plan to go to the movies together – the real gift would be to get to spend more time with each other “. That way you don’t get mugs, your friend feels more special and you both get what all friends need more of , time to hang out together:)

      • Reply Renee Chambois December 28, 2017 at 12:48 pm

        And this is why you’re the expert and I am not lol! That is a great idea, I am going to try it next year, thanks for responding to my inquiry!

  • Reply Joyce December 20, 2017 at 9:28 pm

    The truth is I’m not the best person in picking a gift, I always think of what I will like lol. this is great

  • Reply Charlie Smith December 21, 2017 at 2:15 am

    Great tips! I’ve never thought it was a good idea to gift someone alcohol or baked goods so I’m glad I’m in-line with your experts’ recommendations! Wishing everyone a very happy gift-giving season. And ALWAYS SAY THANK YOU… the nerve of some people…

  • Reply Cassie December 21, 2017 at 2:50 am

    This is great advice and could be helpful to so many people! Great read for around Christmas time especially

  • Reply Lisa Orr December 21, 2017 at 3:55 pm

    Thank you again Angela for the opportunity to be a part of your blog and best wishes for a wonderful holiday season!

  • Reply Bee December 21, 2017 at 11:39 pm

    This was a great read and perfect timing right before the holidays. Really like the part about accepting/ how to politely not accept inappropriate gifts, very good etiquette guidelines!

  • Reply Sarah Dean December 22, 2017 at 2:44 am

    Great tips! I love gift-giving and try to always find something personal to that person. I am always gracious when receiving a gift even if I don’t love it, or I already have it… I know what it’s like when someone receives a gift and says “Oh, I already have this!” Sigh.

  • Reply Alicia @ What a Difference a Day Makes December 22, 2017 at 2:47 am

    I really enjoyed your post! It’s so practical, and has some great ideas to consider. Love the thank-you cards in the car idea!
    Sharing this!

  • Reply Karen December 22, 2017 at 3:05 am

    Good advice. I am always gracious when receiving a gift. Even if it’s something I don’t like or would never use I truly believe it’s the thought that counts. And I am honest when re-gifting. I will tell the recipient that I cannot use the gift but I know they would like it.

  • Reply Cris December 22, 2017 at 3:21 am

    I actually loved reading this post! People forget easily that what matters is the intention and love put in a gift 🎁

  • Reply Samantha December 22, 2017 at 3:57 pm

    This was such an interesting read- full of really great advice! Samantha xx |

  • Reply Jessie December 22, 2017 at 4:36 pm

    It’s old but true…it’s the thought that counts. A thankful heart isc appropriate.

  • Reply Crisly December 23, 2017 at 6:00 pm

    This is such a great advice. Little things matter, and it’s the though and gestures that count, not the price of the gift.

  • Reply Twinkle Gaur January 3, 2018 at 9:05 am

    This is such an interesting post. These are some of the great tips. I really enjoyed reading this article. Thanks for sharing! 🙂

  • Leave a Reply

    CommentLuv badge