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Is It OK to Take Back a Gift? Our Etiquette Expert Answers

Michelle Buteau gives advice on requesting and giving gifts.

Michelle Buteau is a mother, wife, dog mama, actor, writer, comedian, and TV host. Her book of autobiographical essays, Survival of the Thickest, is now a Netflix series. She also co-hosts the popular podcast Adulting on the Exactly Right network. With all this life experience, we trust Michelle's ability to navigate a number of social quandaries. Here's her advice to our readers in the September 2023 issue of Real Simple.

Have your own social dilemma for Michelle to solve? Tell us about it at modernmanners@realsimple.com.

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Being Positive Without Preaching

MOLLY: You’re the best! I have some gorgeous female friends who, by conventional beauty standards, might be considered overweight. What’s the best way to respond when they say negative things about their bodies? It feels insincere to argue with them. What can I say without preaching to or patronizing them?

MICHELLE: Molly, you’re the friend and shero we plus-size beauties need. I know all too well the long road of self acceptance, because I’m not the size or shape deemed most attractive according to some unrealistic, patriarchal standard. It’s really such a dang shame we’re made to feel less than by simply not being represented in daily life. Here’s what you say: You tell them that we are all gorgeous no matter what, that it’s the world that needs to catch up to us, not the other way around. That beauty comes in all sorts of packages. That they are beautiful. I don’t want to shamelessly promote my content, but I wrote a book called Survival of the Thickest (plus-size essays in a small-minded world) to remind myself and others that we are beautiful, we are worthy, and we are enough. Give it a read.

Related: The Ultimate Guide to Tipping Etiquette in Every Situation—and When Not to Tip

Gifts Are Gifts

TIFFANY: When our twins were born, my generous mother- and sister-in-law gave us many great gifts. Now that the twins are getting older, they’re outgrowing clothes, strollers, car seats, expensive swings, etc. My husband has been slowly selling items. The problem: My mother-in-law recently requested that we return one of each thing she gave us so her daughter can use them for her baby. My sister-in-law is not pregnant or even at a point where she’d be procreating. Regardless, I was taken aback by the request. Gifts are gifts, right?

MICHELLE: Tiffany, there’s so much to unpack here that I feel like we’re at the airport with some severely overweight luggage. As a fellow mom of twins, oh boy (and girl!), can I relate! Having twins is like running a daycare, and sometimes you’ve got to make the baby-to-toddler upgrade faster than you think. Selling your gifts to purchase other items your twins will be able to use is truly the most efficient thing you could do. For her to ask for things back, what?! Your husband has to explain to his mother that once a gift is given, it’s up to the receiver to do what they want with it. That’s the point of giving gifts. I’d also throw in a “What you gave your grandchildren was amazing, but perhaps you should do something different for your other grandchildren to make them feel special.” I wish you all the luck in the world! Y’all got this! Stay twinning!

How to Ask For Gifts

YVONNE: I was invited to a first birthday party. The invitation had a note that said “Education is important to me” and included a website to donate money to the kid’s college fund! While it’s a unique idea, I find it inappropriate to put this request in a 1-year-old’s birthday invitation. Am I completely off base, or is this a new trend?

MICHELLE: Back in the day (I’m aging myself, but hey, I age well, honey!), you’d throw some cash or a check in a card. It seems like that’s not the norm anymore, and that’s OK. But I never know what to give! Every culture is different, so parties that require no gifts, or have a link to specific gifts, or even the ones that have a donation fund? You can’t go wrong! Personally, I love it when the host lays out what I should do. It makes the party experience more enjoyable for me. I’ve been to parties where I didn’t know if I was supposed to bring anything, and then I worried whether my gift was something the kid would actually enjoy. Ah! The pressure! I’m not a mind reader! I’ll tell ya, Yvonne, I love a type A, planning parent. They tell us the expectations so we don’t have to guess. They set everyone up for success. Have fun!

Dealing With a Distracted Friend

JEAN: I have a longtime friend who lives across the country and only calls me when she can do something else at the same time—laundry, food prep, drive, you name it. She’s always distracted, and I often can’t hear her. I tell her I can’t hear, she apologizes, and the background noise gets better for a hot second. I’m starting to resent this behavior, which developed over the past year. I feel like I’m just another thing to check off her to-do list. How can I deal with this without losing a dear friend?

MICHELLE: Jean, I feel you on this one. My mother loves to eat a bagel on the phone with me. It makes me want to run away. Like, our phone calls inspire actual cardio. How? I also have a close friend who will wash dishes, answer other phone calls (also how?), and even take me into the elevator (she’ll ask me to wait for her to get out!). That’s a Costco-size bag of “No, thank you!” I’m not going to lie—for a while it drove me to a snarky, sassy, resentful place I did not enjoy being in. I realized I had to speak up for myself and say, “Catching up with you and sharing my life is not enjoyable for me because it feels like an obstacle I have to go through. So I’m not going to pick up your call if you’re always busy. I’m gonna need your undivided attention.” It sounds cheesier than Domino’s, but say what you mean and mean what you say. It’s rare to have friendships this long. It’s worth the conversation.

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