They tell me to borrow money to buy them gifts

DEAR MISS MANNERS: I am asking your guidance on how to respond when a gift is not what the recipient would prefer.

Judith Martin 

I love giving gifts, but there is one young couple in my husband’s family for whom I just can’t get it right. I now offer them a nice gift card or the equivalent amount of money, but they always respond with a gift request that I can’t afford.

When I say that I would love to give their requested gift but I legitimately can’t, they always suggest that I can borrow enough to buy it. When I say that perhaps a gift of that size would make a good group gift and I offer the same amount of money, the answer is always “never mind” or “just forget it.”

That leaves me at a loss as to the correct response. The gifts they ask for are always in the few-thousand-dollar range, and my best possible gift offer is only a few hundred dollars, which offends them. I always just end up giving them the amount of money I originally offered, but they aren’t happy about that.

Do you have any suggestions as to what my best behavior should be when I want to give a nice gift but I can’t meet the standards of the recipients?

GENTLE READER: Those are not standards; they are demands, bordering on emotional and financial blackmail.

Miss Manners has long been trying, without success, to explain to people that they are not in charge of ordering their own presents. Gift registries and other commercial interests prey on their greed to persuade them otherwise.

That this couple responds to your offerings with displeasure instead of gratitude ought to be enough to make you stop offending them. Your best behavior would be to wish them a happy Christmas with no mention of the possibility of your doing their shopping.

DEAR MISS MANNERS: I have decorated holiday towels hanging on the racks in my guest bathroom. Having a party with 40 people. Is it correct to offer a carrier of holiday paper towels in addition?

GENTLE READER: Sure, as your guests probably are all fervent believers in the faux taboo against guests using guest towels. Just promise Miss Manners that you do not also subscribe to that ridiculous notion, and will not therefore be upset if some guests actually do use your decorated (whatever that might mean) towels.

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