Advice on Etiquette / Gift Question

Hey, guys and gals!

I think I know what I’m going to do here, but I’m not sure so I thought I’d check in with the TM for opinions.

Here’s the deal: I’ve received a Christmas gift from my assistant at work. She’s a shared assistant (works for four of us), and frankly she does very little for me, which is fine because I don’t really care for her and I suspect the feeling is mutual. (But then she gave me this present . . . .)

The present is inexpensive and not very attractive. I’m pretty confident this would not be just my opinion. Depending on how optimistic/nice I want to be, or how tiny-hearted/bitchy, this could reflect: (1) A budget and a lack of taste on her part, or (2) A completely perfunctory re-gifting to fulfill some perceived obligation to give me something, while also letting me know I wasn’t worth giving something attractive or thoughtful.

Adding to the equation is the fact that this is in the South (southern USA), and she is Southern while I am not. She may feel some obligation to give me a gift because that’s “how things are done” down here. (Which is a whole 'nother thing, not just limited to this situation: I’m not much impressed by “Southern hospitality” when it amounts to “doing the right thing” with zero heart behind it. That happens not infrequently, IME.)

She didn’t give me a present last year, when I was new to this organization.

So, do I give her a gift as well? I am not a fan of gifts as sarcasm or pay-back, so in my mind the choices are to give her a small but thoughtful and attractive gift – a real gift, IOW – or to not give her anything. I am concerned that I not trespass some Southern “law” by accepting a gift and not reciprocating, but neither am I really excited about establishing a precedent of exchanging gifts with her. It seems so phony, given that we aren’t close. But if that’s the way to go (reciprocating), it’s not like I can’t live with that.

What say the Teeming Millions?

Don’t get her anything, since anything you do would be some permutation of “fuck you too,” which isn’t exactly the spirit of the season.

Be polite: return the favour and give her a little something. It’ll make things a lot smoother in the office than not giving her anything.

I’d probably go with something small and homemade, like cookies or a little loaf of bread. It could be in a batch for several people.

I was going to suggest a box of chocolates, but I like dangermom’s idea better. :slight_smile:

It could also indicate ‘It’s very screwed up that I, as your assistant, am somehow expected to give you, as a person who makes a zillion times more money than me, a gift.’

And fwiw, she’d be right about that, even if it’s the general culture in the company you work for. Gifts should never flow up in a corporation, they should flow down. It looks bad, and like currying favour for raises and promotions if they go up.

I was just thinking this. Here, some of the faculty (most of whom easily make twice what I do and I’m one of the better paid people here) give us little things, like cookies, a plant, a jar of jam - but we’re not expected to return the gesture. That would be weird.

Cookies, brownies, or similar easy little baked goods are extremely appropriate for this sort of thing. In fact, I think this may be why somebody invented the mighty cheese straw. (Well, that and to sanctify marriages. You aren’t married in the South if there were no cheese straws present.)

I agree that gifts should not flow upward (horrid memories of an in-office baby shower for the boss :eek: ). For next year, maybe send the message out through the office manager that this isn’t the done thing.

I would either reciprocate with a slightly nicer token gift, or go in with the other people she supports on a slightly nicer gift, maybe a gift card. Not reciprocating puts you firmly in the Yankee b-word camp. NTTAWWT, if that’s the territory you want to stake out, but it probably isn’t. While you’re in the South, token gifts for your assistants should probably be part of your plans if you want to keep the peace.

Christ! This may mean trouble. There were no cheese straws at my wedding, but we did have those tortilla roll-pinwheel thingies and coconut pound cake. I hope we can continue to style ourselves as husband and wife. :wink:

As to the gift, Jodi, I think I agree with those who’ve suggested a homemade goodie of some sort - cookies, a small loaf of quick bread, a small tin of Christmas Candy, etc.
The assistant in question may have thought it was necessary to get to a small token gift, and not knowing you well, let her indifference bleed over into it.
If it were me, I’d gift her with some goodies and wish her a warm and happy holiday season with total sincerity. Perhaps it would improve further interactions with her, who knows?

Yep - candy, cookies, something homemade - that would be perfect.

Or a plant, if you don’t like to cook or don’t think she’d appreciate food. We always get way too much junk food at this time of year, and no one else wants it either, so some of it always gets thrown away.

Give a small monetary gift in her name to a charity. Most will give you a card to present to her. This accomplishes three things: 1) returns the favor, 2) she attains nothing, 3) Hi Opal!

But what if you actually LIKE your boss? I like mine, and the idea that a (small, but thoughtful) gift to him might be construed as inappropriate cracks me up. (Trust me, he is not the kind of guy who is influenced by sucking up, which is one of the things I like about him. He speaks his mind.) Last year I baked cookies for my whole team, and this year we have moved to a new firm. Our team now is waaaay too big for me to make up cookie boxes for everyone this year, but I got my boss a book I think he will love, and will probably do one huge batch of cookies for the team at large.

I think she’d have to look pretty hard for the “fuck you too,” since I would give her a real gift, albeit a small one.

But it isn’t the culture here, AFAIK. Certainly I didn’t convey any expectation that she would give me a gift. And I agree, it isn’t really appropriate, which is why I’m a little hesitant to respond in kind, polite as that may be, and thereby establish from now on that we do in fact exchange gifts. SHE has initiated this, but one of the reasons I’m concerned about perpetuating it is that she will feel a sense of obligation from now on. But OTOH, I also don’t want come come across as “in the Yankee b-word camp,” which believe me is a legitimate concern down here.

In case anyone is interested, the gift was a very brightly colored plastic picture frame. With penguins on it.

A charity donation from a boss to an assistant is poor taste, IMHO. The boss gets a tax deduction and the assistant gets nothing–it might not even be a charity she likes. I think this would be worse than not reciprocating. A charity donation is good when the problem is that the recipient doesn’t need material things. For most assistants that is not the case.

But you can hide from the implied “fuck you” with a charity donation. Think of the children.

I got it!
Give her the picture frame with a picture of YOU in it! If she thinks so much of you to give the very best, now she can see you everyday! A perfect solution! :slight_smile:

How about getting the four people she supports together and getting her a sort of nice gift certificate from all of you. Pitching in means that she’d get something better than token chocolate or a plant. And even if she doesn’t do that much for you, it isn’t just there that its traditional to get your assistant something twice a year (Holidays and Admin Assistant day or whatever they call it now - where was the shame in the word secretary anyway?) so establishing the group gift precedent might be nice.

(I’m not a huge fan of group gift shakedowns in the office, and this suggest depends on the other three folks involved. But it might be a convenient way to get all of you off the same hook).

Not to completely derail the thread, but if you think that FU is hidden, you’re kidding yourself. It’s like that stage kids go through when they think mom can’t see them if they can’t see mom. The boss kissing up to a favorite charity and trying to pawn it off as a gift to the staff is sure to be a topic of :rolleyes: around the water cooler.