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Last Updated: Saturday, 25 December 2004, 01:17 GMT
The etiquette of unwanted presents
By Emma Griffiths
BBC News

'A fondue set, how delightful'
From porcelain dogs and novelty teapots to musical socks and beaded car seats, the chances are most households will be receiving a few unwanted gifts this Christmas.

The cost of this year's unwanted novelty Christmas items and other presents will reach a massive 1.3bn, says the Abbey bank.

Debrett's, publishers of the Guide to Etiquette and Modern Manners, recommends you should accept them with good grace.

But if Auntie Sue says: "If you don't like it, I've kept the receipt", is it polite to take her up on the offer?

It all depends on the present, say the etiquette experts.

You know, I love this sweater, but I think a different colour would work better with my wardrobe
Clothing makes things easier because there is always an excuse on hand to save people's feelings.

"If offered the receipt you may (very politely) say: 'You know, I love this sweater, but I think a different colour would work better with my wardrobe, perhaps I'll see if they have it in red?'," says Peggy Post, US author of Emily Post's Etiquette.

"You have to decide if the person who gave it to you won't have hurt feelings if you exchange it."

Debrett's agrees and points out that "the gesture of giving is more important than the present itself".

But a spokeswoman suggested using the "it's not the right fit" excuse as the most diplomatic way of getting your hands on the receipt.

Oh lovely, a plastic Santa pig
"I think it's an invitation for you to say: 'I do like it, but...' - you still have to be quite careful about it," she said.

"But for general presents, like a vase, if it's just that you don't like it, it is best to accept it with a smile, keep it, then after a certain amount of time 'regift' it."

"Regifting" is the American term for putting it in a drawer until someone's birthday comes along, then wrapping it up again and passing it on. With love.

But this itself comes with its own set of rules.

Handmade or one-of-a-kind items - such as a knitted jumper from gran - should never be "regifted".

Cards which betray a gift's origins should be removed, the packaging must be intact and it must be something its new owner will love.

Most importantly - there should be no way to spot it has been "regifted", so do not circulate it within the same group of friends.

Ms Post adds: "If you meet these guidelines and still feel uncomfortable, then say this when you regift: 'Sally, my client gave me this lovely box of chocolates. I know how much you love chocolate, so I wanted you to have them."

For those who cannot muster the courage to ask - charity shops across the UK are on standby, waiting for your donation.

We store some items for seasonal promotions, but we do put stuff out for sale immediately and it does shift
Anthony Waller, Help the Aged
At Help the Aged last year, about 4,000 items were donated - "smellies" topped the list of donations, but Christmas novelties were not far behind.

"We store some items for seasonal promotions, but we do put stuff out for sale immediately and it does shift - people are more savvy about buying things in for Christmas next year because it is cheaper," said Anthony Waller, Help the Aged's retail PR manager.

"There is a drop [in donations] in December because people have other things on their mind, stocks can be quite low, so it gives us an extra boost - it's very important."

For the less charitable among us, auction website Ebay is offering to turn your unwelcome gifts into cash and is running a special section for trading unwanted Christmas presents after Boxing Day.

Nation of hoarders

And Which? - formerly the Consumers' Association - says that while there is no automatic right to a refund unless products are faulty, most shops will offer an exchange on a present in saleable condition as a sign of goodwill.

But if a survey by a home insurance company this year is to be believed, Britain is a nation of hoarders, with 451m worth of unused foot spas, as well as millions of pounds of bread makers, sandwich toasters and fondue sets.

So for those stuck with that navy kipper tie, the most polite thing to do is grin and bear it.

Ms Post advises: "First say thank you. There's got to be something you like about it. Say, "What a lovely shade of blue." "How unique!" Say it sincerely. You must also write a handwritten thank you note."

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