Could you please comment on the etiquette involved in taking gifts from people who can’t afford much in life? I have occasionally been offered small things from people who have almost nothing including a man who asks for money on the street, to whom I have given money from time to time. One time the gift was a pen that I thought looked pretty hefty and fancy when I took it. though it turned out to be dried up when I tried to use it. Another time, it was a bunch of little single-serve juice cartons, which I think had been given to the man by a store, as they were a bit past their expiration date—but still good. He wanted me to take several, and I did.
I feel strange taking anything in a situation like this, but I always accept on the theory that the gift wouldn’t be offered if it was truly unaffordable, and it would be rude and unfriendly to refuse. Your thoughts?
Kindness From Strangers
All the standard etiquette mavens emphasize accepting gifts in the spirit in which they are offered and thanking people. I haven’t found much discussion of a situation like this, though in a case of one person being very generous with gifts and favors, Miss Manners suggested to the writer that they try to reciprocate with what they can.
Jaya: This is a really interesting question. I totally see how you’d feel guilty in that situation.
Victoria: Yeah. You don’t want to offend someone. And I’m definitely in the thought of taking things in the spirit of which they are offered.
Jaya: How often is this happening to this person!?
Victoria: This does not happen to me.
Jaya: It’s sort of the flip side of “a gift is a gift.” Do not expect that someone put themselves in a bad situation to give this to you!
Victoria: And these gifts are not that elaborate.
Jaya: So this makes me think of this quote that I see on Pinterest all the time (I can’t believe I’m gonna quote pinterest): “When a child gives you a gift, even if it is just a rock they just picked up, show gratitude. It might be the only thing they have to give, and they have chosen to give it to you.” It’s really weird, but it sort of applies?
Victoria: It totally applies. And some people are just givers.
Jaya: I think the best course for this particular guy is maybe just keep giving him change as normal.
Victoria: Yep, especially since they’re more like found objects. There’s this one guy near my subway stop who sells a whole spread of pretty nice stuff he finds.
Jaya: That’s awesome.
Victoria: Yeah, so these gifts are probably not costing him anything. Though I think if you have very close friends who are doing this gift giving and you know they are super poor, you can bring it up and suggest that they don’t need to be doing it. Or say that you feel badly that you can’t reciprocate. But still, you don’t necessarily know their circumstances; a lot of people get free stuff through work that they like to give out.
Jaya: Totally. No one should ever feel pressured to give a gift, but if they do, assume that they had the means and kindness in their heart to do it.
Victoria: And say thank you, wholeheartedly.
Please keep in mind the pride factor. Who wants to depend on charity? By giving you gifts in return, by creating the appearance of a symbiotic relationship, he can keep his pride.
Exactly what I was thinking. You give him change, he gives you… whatever he can get his hands on to give you.