Thursday, July 16, 2009

Ask Suburban Matron

Halloo! Matt and I just got back to Sydney from our Vanuatu adventure. I missed you desperately, even though we had a wonderful time. I will have much to share about that, but while I get my photos downloaded and clean the island funk off my body, I wanted to give you something to chaw on. A troubled reader needs our help. She writes:

Dear Suburban Matron,

I need your help with a domestic etiquette issue. Some friends gave us a $100 gift certificate toward a photo session--a unique and thoughtful baby shower gift, or so I thought and still think. A mutual friend of the gift-giver keeps asking when we are going to do our session. We haven't had time and I need to get my roots done first, but yesterday I finally looked into it because we are starting to run out of excuses. The total price for a sitting is $300. My mate's response is, "Who gives a gift that requires you to spend $200?" True enough, but clearly they think we can afford it. Nevertheless, $200 is a lot of money and right now is not a good time to spend it on something we would never choose to spend it on--you see, we are not really the kind of people who do portraits. Not because we don't like them, but because I am patently unphotogenic when it comes to staged portraiture. The husband says, "No way we're doing it." I think that it's more delicate than that. Our friends will know if we don't use the gift certificate. It will hurt their feelings and make them feel as though they wasted their money. As you can see, this is a serious dilemma in need of your keen insight into human behavior and domestic bliss.


Candid in California

Hmm, Candid, that is a pickle. Thank goodness you wrote, as I know the SubMat readers are a savvy bunch and will help you through. While I do see the thoughtfulness of their gift, it was also a little presumptuous to give it to you knowing what the total tab would be. Maybe better to avoid those kinds of presents? But they didn't, so here you are. As I was collecting my thoughts, I polled the extended Matron family. They had various responses.

One strong current of opinion is that you don't owe the gift-givers anything further than a heartfelt "Thank you," which you surely have already delivered. That is technically correct in Etiquette Land. Giving someone a gift does not come with the right to ask about it in the future. But I feel, as you obviously do, that this will not serve you in your present situation, where your mutual friend seems determined to find out when you set up your portrait sitting and how it goes (and what you wore? She must be a curious soul, because who would ask about such a thing more than once?).

My sister points out that, since it is your mutual friend and not the gift-givers who is asking, all you really need is something to say to her. That could be right. In the real world, what I would really do, probably, is to say to the mutual friend something like, "I think we'll wait until the baby is a bit older (or walking, or married, something) and do it then." That would defer the photo shoot until some vague future, and it seems unlikely that it would ever be brought up again.

Or here's an alternate response: Matt says Candid's friends didn't give her a gift certificate, they gave her a coupon. He feels that they won't be out any money if she didn't use the present. I don't know where he gets this certainty, and Candid, you know better than us if this could be the case. Just throwin' that in there. Often dude is right about these things.

What do you say, sensitive and tactful readers? There is also the straightforward and direct option, where Candid could say to the gift-giving friend, "You know, this is so sweet of you guys, but we just won't be able to take advantage of this. I want you to take it back and give it to someone who can use it." I mean, that's the direct way, but would any of us really be able to do that? I am eager to hear what y'all think, and I know Candid is too.


Anonymous said...

Damn, I read this too quickly and now I have the responsibility of the first comment.

Glad you're back, I thought I'd offended you!

About the gift. I like to think I'd go with the last "say thanks but no thanks" option but realistically I wouldn't be brave enough to be that honest to someone who had given me such a gift. I would probably go with telling the mutual friend that we were putting it off until the baby was older. I think its the kindest and least confrontational thing to do all round.

The Dental Maven said...

I agree with bsouth. Always better to take the high ground. In the mean time, since I'm all about the covert, I'd call the photo shop and ask if they offer any sort of promotional discounts for gift certificates. That'll answer the question about the coupon possibility. But, shame on anyone who gives a gift that requires the giftee to spend money!

Michele said...

I'm going with bsouth and dental maven on this one. I'd like to think that they didn't realize that $100 wasn't enough to cover the costs. $100 is a pretty generous baby shower gift (or am I just old?).

Jenni said...

Welcome home!

I agree with you - delay, delay, delay. Although, I must say, if the reader is particularly unphotogenic a professional might be just the thing for her. I also suffer from this problem but when when Oscar and I had a $300 photo sitting, she made me look gorgeous. And I was eight months pregnant.

Veronica said...

I would actually tell the mutual friend, if she asks again, the truth--some simple, polite version of: "We thought it was such a thoughtful and unique gift, and yet we found out that it requires us to spend an additional $200--and we just don't have that money right now. I think we'll wait until the baby is a bit bigger, and our money situation becomes a bit more flexible." But that is probably not the most polite thing, because part of my impulse here is to inform the insistent friend of the gift-giver that not only is giving a gift that requires money inappropriate, but asking about it constantly will probably bring you embarrassment. If you want real etiquette, you should probably go with the previous posters!

David said...

I agree with the deferral camp. You did do your duty by thanking your friend for the gift, and a short "We think we'll wait a little while" should put your other friend off for the time being.

As for actually redeeming the certificate, if you don't want to sit on it till the day when you MIGHT actually put it towards a sitting, you could check with the business to see if they can redeem its cash value. A lot of states actually require this if the certificate-holder asks, but not California. That said, a lot of Californian businesses do do it, for good customer relations. There might be some sticklers who think returning gifts and putting their cash value toward something else is rude, but I don't think that's the case these days... especially if it's a gift you didn't expressly wish for and you can't really use.

Jane said...

It's some work, but--you might call the studio, be frank with them, and see if you can work something out. Maybe they could do a cheap, quickie session, with the expectation that extended family would be interested in purchasing prints afterward? Maybe they could do a nice framing for a photo you already have?

If that doesn't work, I like the speech Veronica suggests. I even like that it is intended to subtly inform the gift giver that this wasn't a particularly successful gift; after all, you do not want a repeat for Baby's first birthday.

Keely said...

I'd go with deferral. When we got family portraits done our photographer (who is a friend) suggested we wait until X could sit up on his own, as it offered more posing possibilities.

Otherwise, there are websites that help people swap undesired gift cards etc for ones they might use. That might be a possibility. I don't really see what business it is of the 'mutual friends', anyway. It IS a nice gift idea, and the original gift-giver probably didn't know it wasn't enough to cover the costs. If they themselves haven't asked, it's likely the mutual friend is just nosey.

A Lawyer Mom's Musings said...

Gift? What gift? A "gift" that requires an expenditure of two times the gift's original value to be any sort of gift at all, is by definition, not a gift. Definitely do what Dental Maven suggests -- call the alleged portraiture studio and get to the bottom of this gifting mystery.

In any event, if the "portrait giver" is not making noise, and it's just the third party friend, I'd tell the third party friend, "we're waiting, blah blah," as Veronica suggested. That is, if you can contain yourself.

If not, or if 3d party still persists, tell her you're not in a position to augment the "gift" with an additional $200.00 and would she like to chip in for that amount? No? Okay. Would she like the gift for herself, then, instead?

I think Matt's right. This is a coupon deal and was no gift at all. So I wouldn't worry about anyone's feelings in this pseudo transaction. Sounds like a smelly bunch of hooey to me.

Kate said...

I am an upfront kind of gal. I'd say it is out of the budget and leave it at that. it wasn't a gift.
glad you had a wonderful time and look forward to hearing more about your adventures.

Bex said...

that does sound rather coupon-ish. hopefully they didn't actually spend $100 on it. would you give someone a $10 gift card to get a massage if the cheapest massage is $30? wouldn't you at least give them $30 to get reflexology or whatever done and if they'd like to upgrade, well, that's fine too?

can't wait to see pics of the baby!

A Day That is Dessert said...

I think they should be honest about it; it isn't a gift, really, if it requires you to spend money to use it. sheesh.

Sara said...

I'd have to call the photographer and get the scoop. I really question whether they spent a dime on the 'gift certificate.' I know that's not the point, but it would certainly take a lot of the pressure off if you knew it cost them nothing.
Saying thank you and politely & vaguely answering the friend seems sufficient to me.

"Ask Suburban Matron" is FUN!

Becky said...

You guys are smarties. I would not have thought of calling the photo studio directly, whether to sleuth further or to ask about how the $100 might be used.

Anyway, Candid wrote to me and said:

Thank the SubMat family for me! I plan to take their advice, which basically confirms what I've been doing, and stall. I like the idea of saying that we want to wait till the baby is more upright. I also like the suggestions to call the studio and see what's up. I hadn't thought of that. Maybe I can get a shorter session with fewer pictures for less money. I think it could be fun!

Way to go, gang. No etiquette problem is too sticky for us!

Rick Dakan said...

I'd send the coupon back in a registered letter with the following note:

"We thank you for your kind coupon pseudo-gift, but are not interested in participating in your marketing scheme at this time.

If you have any further questions, please contact our attorney."

But that's just me... It's a crappy gift.

The Messy Mom said...

I agree with Veronica. If the "mutual friend" insists on being the middle man and asking these questions then give her some straight up answers, like telling her how much it will cost you to use the gift in the first place. I personally would not recommend deferring. If it were me I would still continue to think about it. I would rather get to the bottom of it and not have to worry about it coming up again in the future.

Becky said...

Rick, from now on I'm ending all thank-you notes with, "If you have any further questions, please contact my attorney."