Giving and Receiving Gifts Year-Round

by Syndi Seid

Anthropologist Terry Y. LeVine said it best: “The practice of giving and receiving gifts is so universal it is part of what it means to be human. In virtually every culture, gifts and the events at which they are exchanged are a crucial part of the essential process of creating and maintaining social relationships.”

December is the biggest gift giving month of the year. Yet there are endless reasons to give gifts throughout the year: personal gifts for birthdays, weddings, graduations and holidays, as well as business gifts to say thank you for a job well done, congratulations on a promotion, or I’m sorry for not performing as expected.

The purpose of giving gifts is to bring joy to both the giver and receiver, promote goodwill, and make for a closer relationship. However, if gift giving goes amiss, there is a risk of making the receiver uncomfortable and creating an unpleasant situation for both sides. To avoid any ill-effects from your gift giving practices, keep in mind these simple tips.


  1. Be sure of the true purpose of the gift. Beyond saying the gift is for a particular occasion, think through how well this gift will express your feelings for this person. To figure this out, ask yourself: how much do I really are about this person? How much time, energy and money am I willing to spend to select just the right gift for them? Let the answers guide you throughout this process.
  2. Do your homework about the receiver. Be observant about his or her favorite items, things he or she might need, or things that would be a meaningful expression of your relationship. Try to remember comments about favorite colors, foods or beverages. As needed, ask someone else who knows the person, explaining that the purpose of your inquiry is to help learn something that will help you select a special gift. I think most people are willing to help with ideas.
  3. Be sensitive to personal and cultural differences. With such a diverse population in our society, it is important to learn something about a person’s ethnic, religious and cultural practices along with their personal likes and dislikes before you present a gift. Take time to learn what’s appropriate and what’s not in different communities to gain insights on what a person would or would not appreciate as a gift. For example, giving a bottle of wine to someone who does not drink alcohol could make the receiver less than overjoyed with your gift.
  4. Know when corporate logos are appropriate. Sometimes a gift with a company logo cheapens its appearance. The best gifts are those without any logos or promotion on it, especially when given as special thank-you gift. Logo gifts are fine as small remembrances for meetings held; not generally as the sincerest form of a thank you gift.
  5. Use simple and elegant wrapping. Japanese-influenced, understated wrapping is best in my mind. Avoid using brightly colored, bold, heavily patterned paper and a lot of brightly colored, fancy bows and ribbons on the package. Instead, use solid stately colors and quality paper with simple ribbon.
  6. Present your gift with style. The best way is having it gift beautifully wrapped and given in person. In business situations, when sending the gift by messenger or mail, include your business card with the gift, along with a handwritten note on personal note card or stationary.


  1. Show your appreciation when receiving a gift in person. Always put a smile on your face as a gift is being presented and say thank you along with a brief expression of appreciation.
  2. Let the giver know as soon as possible when a gift has arrived. Make every effort to let the sender know you received a gift sent by mail or messenger (email, fax or telephone call is fine). Then follow it up by sending the proper thank-you note as soon as possible.
  3. Be sensitive to opening a gift in front of others. Americans typically open gifts as soon as it is received, even in front of an audience and other groups of people. Know that in many cultures it is not customary or appropriate to open gifts in front of guests. They are kept to be opened alone.
  4. Know the bottom line. Always hand write a thank you note for every gift you receive, no matter what…period. Sending a thank you note is the right thing to do.

Happy Practicing!

Syndi Seid is a regular contributing writer, professional speaker/trainer and founder of a San Francisco-based business that offers free monthly etiquette articles.

The Perfect Thank You Note

No matter what, a personal, handwritten thank you note is the finest form of expressing gratitude for almost anything and everything we receive from someone in life, especially a gift.

A gift can be many things: a physical item, a good job someone has done for you at work or at home and an invitation to a party or meal. In fact, how about using the next two months to catch up on all those thank you notes you’ve been meaning to send. In business it’s the perfect time — before the end-of-the-year rush — to send clients, customers, vendors and suppliers your note of appreciation for their business and service. By starting to get them written now, you can avoid being rushed and out of time later.

Here is a simple guide for thank-you notes for both business and personal use:

Ideally, send thank you notes within 24 to 48 hours of receiving the gift. The sooner you send it, the greater the impact it will have. However, it is never too late to send a note. Use this month of thanks to catch up on your thank yous, no matter how much time has gone by.

To save time and stress, keep a supply of note cards and stationery, plus postage stamps to have ready at all times. Write all your notes by hand. Take your time, regardless of how impaired you think your handwriting looks. Also, forget going green on this task. It does take the most effort and time, yet is the most tangible evidence of our genuine appreciation of the person to whom it is addressed. Pay attention to how the card faces when opened. I can’t tell you how many times I receive cards written on the wrong side or in the wrong direction.

*For vertical, left creased cards, begin writing on the inner, right side of the folded card.

*For horizontal, top creased cards, begin writing on the inner, lower side of the folded card.

*Some cards are difficult to tell which way it is intended to face. Be sure to look at the back side of the card for guidance in this area.

Begin the note based on your relationship with the receiver.

*For personal correspondence where you are accustomed to calling the person by their first name: Dear John and Mary, (first name followed by a comma is correct).

*For business notes, stick to formal salutations until you are invited to address the person by the first name: Dear Ms Smith: (an honorific and last name followed by a colon is proper).

*For informal business notes, addressed to someone with whom you want to address by their first name: Dear John: (first name and a colon is also appropriate).

Be specific in your thanks. When thanking someone for inviting you to a meal or event, mention how happy you were to share in the experience, mention a person you enjoyed meeting, or a food item you particularly liked. When thanking someone for performing a favor for you, explain how important their gift of time was for you. For physical gifts, name the item along with something nice and complimentary about it.

*Don’t say: “Dear Aunt Sarah, thank you for the lovely gift. I really like it. Love, Syndi”.

*Do say: “Dear Aunt Sarah, thank you very much for the beautiful black sweater for my birthday. It’s just the perfect item to wear at an evening occasion where I want to stay warm, yet still look dressy. Your loving niece, Syndi Seid”.

Sign your first and last name clearly at the end of your note. An exception may be to an immediate family member who knows who you are by your handwriting. Address the envelope using the person’s full name and appropriate honorific. Include your full name and return address. Use a regular postage stamp rather than metered postage to send your note.

Happy Thanking!

BONUS: This month, with enjoying football games and other events, I suggest you take some time to send at least eight (it’s a good luck number) quick and simple handwritten notes by regular mail. Take a moment to show your appreciation and thankfulness to someone you know for whatever reason you want; perhaps if only to say hello!

Syndi Seid is a regular contributing writer, professional speaker/trainer and founder of a San Francisco-based business that offers free monthly etiquette articles.

9 Tips for Email Etiquette

By, Syndi Seid

1. Begin each message with a cordial greeting. A person would never dream of writing a letter or sending a fax without some form of a greeting or header. Why should email be any different. Always begin with something such as, “Dear …;” “Hello,” or at the very least the person’s name, followed by a colon, not a comma (colons are for business/professional correspondence and commas are for social/casual correspondence).

2. End each message with a signature and contact information. Always sign your first and last name at the end of each message. Configure an auto signature into your system which will contain all important contact information (including your name, address, telephone and fax numbers, and a repeat of your email address). Think of this as being no different than sending a letter using a sheet of letterhead.

3. Always re-read messages before sending them. Do not transmit messages the moment you write them. Instead, during any one email session, draft all messages and replies; place them in the out box; then re-read each message, use spell check before transmitting the entire group of messages.

4. Always make reference to the subject matter about which you are responding. With the multitudes of email messages we get daily, nothing is worse than to receive a cryptic reply, with no opening greeting, no name at the end, no previous message attached, just an, “O.K.,” “I agree,” “Do it!” attached.

5. Use the copy and paste feature to forward messages rather than as an attachment to the message. Except when messages are within the same known company or group, not everyone on email has the same platform applications and programs, allowing each person to easily open and read files. By taking the few seconds to first copy and paste the message, it will save valuable time and effort in having to retransmit what might have been important information again at a later time.

6. Review the trail of previous messages when using the “Reply To” feature to compose new messages. A) Make sure they are still relevant to the current subject listed; B) all unrelated text should be deleted before sending a new message on a new subject; C) always type a new subject line; D) keep only an average of two previous sets of messages attached, as necessary.

7. When sending group messages, especially to recipients who all do not even know each other, DO NOT send batch messages using the “To” option. Instead, use the “Bcc:” (blind copy option) to send each person the message individually. This way it will avoid: A) everyone seeing your long list of recipients; B) everyone having full access to your valuable and private mailing list – for free; C) unknown and undesired people having access to private information of individuals who may not want it broadcast. Last, do not send replies to the entire group unless specifically instructed. This item is perhaps my biggest pet peeve with email.

8. Know your e-pals. Not all systems have the same ability to read the same fonts, indents, bold lettering, centering, italics and the like … results being: A) the recipient might not receive the message at all; B) it may be received without any formatting in one long string of text; C) it may even show a series of extra and unwanted codes and lines. PCs and Macs still don’t communicate well; and some servers, such as Juno, have been strict for email messages, with no graphics or attachments possible.

9. Most importantly, especially when communicating with people in and from other cultures and countries, make sure you do not use any abbreviations, slang and jargon. Always use proper grammar and courteous language in whole, complete sentences. Be sensitive to how the tone of your message may sound and be received by the other person…by being mindful of the particular words you choose to use and write.

BOTTOM LINE: Email is a terrific, quick and easy way to communicate. Nevertheless, we must never forget to use the same care and courtesy in our writings as we would when speaking to someone in person.

Happy Practicing!

Syndi Seid is the world’s leading etiquette trainer, celebrity speaker, and founder of San Francisco-based Advanced Etiquette.