MV Ps & Qs: No thanks for that gift

Illustration by Kate Feiffer

Dear Nicole,

A houseguest who visits annually gave me a host gift this year straight out of Baby’s First Beach Cottage Collection. It’s the kind of accessory meant to be prominently displayed, like a portrait … or Big Ben. If they stay with me again and look for it, should I tell them the likely truth: that it found a new home at the Dumptique? Should I keep it to bring out (i.e., install) only when they are there? Is this white-lie time?

Confidentially yours,


Dear Ungrateful,

Host gifts (gifts a houseguest gives to their host) are an expression of gratitude. The actual giving of a gift is the important part of the transaction; the object itself is not as important in this case as it is in, say, a party to replenish the wardrobe of a friend whose house burned down. With certain exceptions, it’s possible a houseguest won’t even remember what they brought you by next year.

An example. Ten years ago, a friend and I went to visit another friend in the Adirondacks. I brought some very nice wine, the label of which we’d all forgotten within 24 hours. My fellow traveler gave our hostess an elaborately boxed and wrapped bath soap sculpted to look like a chicken sitting on a nest. It remains (untouched and dusty) in the guest bathroom. I am confident our hostess doesn’t remember who brought it, and I am also pretty sure my fellow visitor wouldn’t remember it as her gift. Both of them do, however, remember that there was a gift. That ritual exchange, not the object itself, causes the chief emotional pleasure.

If she had offered that nesting chicken at a baby shower, it would not have been as well received (even though it is thematically more apropos).

So the simple answer is, don’t worry about it too much. If your guest perceives that you received the gift graciously, the gift has done its job. Game over. It may now safely be put out to pasture, or settled on the back of the toilet perched on five years worth of National Geographic Magazine, or recycled to the Dumptique.

But there are exceptions. Your situation could be one, because it sounds like the gift might be over the top not only in size but in value. There are different reasons your guest might have done this (status anxiety; guilt about failing to give decent presents in other circumstances; possibly a courtship offering?). That’s not our concern here. All that matters is: you have an unwanted hefty gift that the giver will expect to see in the future.

If the gift is personal to the gift giver in some way — a piece of their own artwork, something they custom-ordered for you specifically, an heirloom they feel belongs in your guest room instead of theirs ­— you really shouldn’t give it away. Store it someplace and bring it out just for them. Then in five or six years, redecorate your entire house and hope they are so distracted that they don’t notice it’s gone missing.

On the other hand, if it’s just an attention-grabbing tchotchke of no particular meaning beyond its price tag, you are in a situation in which I think a white lie would be acceptable. You can try several options.

  1. a) “We so loved it, but our myna bird felt threatened by it, and pecked it to bits.” (Con: If somebody else now owns it, might your houseguest encounter it in its new home?)
  2. b) “We so loved it, but it was stolen!” (Con: See previous option.)
  3. c) “We so loved it, but a friend of ours always spoke so admiringly of it that after his tragic bowling injury, we gave it to him on long-term loan to look at while he is in traction.” (Con: You must be able to explain why he is in traction every summer for the foreseeable future.)
  4. d) “We so loved it, but our myna bird pecked it to bits, and so we sent it out to be repaired, but the repairman is currently in traction due to a tragic bowling accident.”

That’s my take.


Bemused readers ask bestselling novelist and Shakespeare for the Masses co-creator Nicole Galland for her take on navigating the precarious social landscape that comes with living on the Vineyard. Her upcoming novel, “On the Same Page,” is set on the Island in winter, and comes out New Year’s Eve from William Morrow. Trying to untangle a messy Island ethics or etiquette question? Send it to