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MISS CONDUCT

My relative wants to compare what we all got for gifts. Help!

Is it rude to ask family members what they got for holiday gifts?

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How would you respond to a family member asking at Christmas dinner what everyone got as gifts? This family member asks every year and I never know what to say. We are all adults and honestly who cares? I find the question bizarre in that “what you got” is not the point of the holiday — or am I being a grinch? Do you find this question as rude as I do?

L.P. / Westwood

No, I don’t find it rude, and it’s certainly not “bizarre.” Gifts may not be the point of Christmas, but they are one of the holiday’s more universal and tangible manifestations, and make a smoother on-ramp to conversation than . . . well, whatever the point of the holiday is, since the reason for the season is an abstract concept, different for each individual, and potentially controversial.

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It sounds to me as if your relative is just trying to get some small talk going. People like to talk about their stuff, you know? Where they got it, why they like it, how they found out about it in the first place, what they plan to do with it. (Once I truly internalized this fact, making conversation with small children became much, much easier.) So say what you got, and follow up that plain fact with why you wanted the thing in the first place: an air fryer, because somehow you missed out on the huge craze of 2020; a shiny shirt that you plan to wear to an upcoming concert; a book you’ve been meaning to read for the longest time because you’ve always wanted to learn more about ducks. Or whatever. Our possessions reflect our personalities and enable our plans; it’s not a bad thing to ask at all.

Unless it is! I do not know your relative, but I do know that even the most innocent-sounding question might contain passive-aggressive subtext. Is this what they’re about? Are they a perpetual one-upper who thinks air fryers are for slackers and shirts must be made of 100 percent linen and ducks aren’t worth reading about — or who will instantly develop such opinions the moment the opportunity for superiority presents itself? If this is the case, well . . . answer them in the exact same way, utterly deaf to whatever they’re implying. You got A Thing! You like Your Thing! Ignoring the obvious subtext of people who are trying to bully you without direct confrontation is delightful and if you haven’t tried it yet, I envy the joy of your discovery.

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And though I think you need to loosen up, don’t bully yourself with the g-word. How the Grinch Stole Christmas is a wonderful special, but the word has started to be weaponized. No one is “grinch” for having a budget, dietary restrictions, an inflexible work schedule, or a lack of energy at Christmastime. If anyone calls you a grinch, tell them they’ve underestimated you — you’re Krampus, and you’ve still got room in your sack. Better watch out!





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