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Is it OK to tell friends I don’t enjoy their gifts?

Plus, tricks for connecting people’s names to their faces when you have poor face recognition.

Black tea is my preferred beverage. I don’t care for most herbal “teas,” but that is what relatives tend to buy me on gift-giving occasions. I follow up with a rather generic thank you note such as “It was so kind of you to think of me” rather than saying I enjoyed the “tea.” I realize that expecting other people to figure things out is a lesson in frustration, but I don’t know if or how I should say, “I don’t drink herbal ‘tea,’ only black tea!” without insulting people who have given me herbal “teas” in the past.

L.W. / Boston


You could start by dropping the scare quotes around “tea.” No one likes a camellia sinensis plant fundamentalist, get me? Language evolves and, in common usage, “tea” refers both to the plant and, just as acceptably, to beverages prepared in the traditional manner thereof. Stop trying to give us rooibos-lovers an imposter complex!

When you want to put an end to behavior you’ve allowed go on for a while, you can imply your preferences are a new development. “You always give me such lovely herbal teas, but just FYI I’ve started drinking exclusively black these days.” Another technique is to affirmatively request what you do want rather than saying what you don’t: “For my birthday this year, I’ve really been wanting to try the new Whatzit Oolong from SpillTea” or whatever.

Or let it go. Packaged teas are such easily regiftable items and surely you have many other friends who would enjoy them. Direct guests to your shelf of random teas (everyone I know has one) and if someone particularly likes the flavor they choose, give them the box.

(A tip for those who do enjoy varieties of “tea”: Random tea bags can be neatly organized in silverware trays, like an aromatic little card catalog.)


I have poor face recognition, especially in a room full of similar-looking people. I am in a book group with mostly middle-aged white ladies (like myself!) with short hair in comfy sweaters, flat shoes, and long necklaces. We’ve been meeting for a few years and there are three regulars where I know the names but still can’t reliably match to faces. Help?

C.H. / Newton

A total inability to recognize faces (prosopagnosia) is relatively rare, but in my experience a lot of people have the same problem you do. Heck, it took me a full season of Friends before I could reliably distinguish Ross, Joey, and Chandler through anything but voice. (I couldn’t BE more sympathetic.)

You’ve probably already adopted some workarounds, like paying attention to when the Unknowns are addressed by name and remembering “Eileen in red cardigan” for the night. Keep putting forth that effort, but also talk to the group about your problem without singling (or tripling) anyone out. (And maybe choose an Oliver Sacks book for next time!) It’s a relatable problem, and if anyone does think you’re a bit eccentric for it, that’s still better than hurting their feelings unintentionally.

Miss Conduct is Robin Abrahams, a writer with a PhD in psychology.