Gift giving and etiquette expert helps with holiday shopping

The holiday season is upon us -which means carols, mistletoe and Winter Break. But it also means exchanging gifts, which can equal stress- the stress of what to give, to whom and how much to spend. And don’t forget there’s still the stress of final exams, packing up dorm rooms and making travel arrangements. And, on top of that we’re college students, which means one very important thing: tight budgets. But never fear, Peggy Post, etiquette expert and great-granddaughter-in-law of the original etiquette expert, Emily Post, is here.

“First, make a list of who you ant to give gifts to and then take it from there. The amount that you spend doesn’t have to be parallel to your affection for them. Think about matching up an idea with the person,” Post said.

Suggestions for students on any budget include food, like candy (Post suggests a brand called Merci that is available at the Super Target and Wal-Mart for only $5.99) or giving a little piece of South Florida with a basket of fresh citrus fruit-perfect for sending to family up north. Fruit baskets can be ordered easily online at Other best bets include books, CDs, specialty soaps or a picture of you and the recipient in a nice frame.

“You don’t have to break the bank to find something that people would like,” Post said.

The most important thing to remember is to keep the gift personal. For roommates or acquaintances who seem difficult to shop for, Post suggests finding out who their favorite band or singer is and then making or buying a CD, or consider notecards or stationery with his or her initials to give a personal touch.

Stray away from giving gifts to professors, however, at least in most situations.

“I would think of a professor as parallel with a boss in a business situation. It’s best not to give your boss a gift because it looks like your trying get on his good side.Wish the professor a happy holiday. Perhaps send a card. The only exception is if you are very close to your professor; say he has been professor for last four years. [In that situation] perhaps give a group gift with other members of class; something not too personal, like gourmet food, or something from the bookstore,” Post said.

Likely, you’ll be receiving gifts, too. Great, right? Not if Aunt Mabel gives you a magenta holiday-themed wool sweater-again! You’re bound to get gifts you don’t like, but don’t let that get in the way of your gratefulness.

“You can always find something positive to say,” Post said.

Sometimes the awkward situation arises in which you receive a gift from someone you haven’t yet prepared a gift for. While this can be uncomfortable, Post offers this solution: “Some people like to have kind of generic gifts that can be given to anyone on hand, but make sure its not something [the recipient] wouldn’t like.” However, there’s no rule stating that you should then feel obligated to then give him/her a gift. According to Post, as long as you have thanked the person properly, you have followed the appropriate etiquette.

Post strongly encourages sending thank-you notes.

“Just buy some note cards and jot a quick note to the person. Get those notes out ASAP. Be enthusiastic, be sincere, and mention the gift,” Post said.

Post has the answers to these and all your other etiquette questions in her new book, Excuse Me But I Was Next (Collins), for only $19.95.

Happy Gift-Giving!

Dani McNally may be contacted at