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Awkward Money Situation #17: Gift Giving at Work - Live Like a Mensch
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Awkward Money Situation #17: Gift Giving at Work

 

Photo courtesy of Ana Fuji

 

There are some awkward money situations that crop up from time to time--like being asked for money from a friend or relative, or going out to dinner with a stingy tipper. J ran into an unexpected one yesterday.

J's boss and his wife just recently had their third baby. The boss has been out for a little over a week for paternity leave, and returns to work today.

Yesterday, J's group at work passed the hat around to collect money to buy the family a gift card from Target as a welcome to the new baby boy. The group has a grand total of 5 engineers in it.

The first gentleman to contribute--for they are all gentlemen--happens to be a young man originally hailing from India. He put a twenty dollar bill in the hat and passed it along to the rest of the engineers, all of whom blanched at the amount, since it now seemed as though they would have to match it. One of the remaining four gentlemen (who was not J) actually had to run out to an ATM, since he did not have enough cash on hand to be able to cover the $20 challenge.

J claims that this gentleman was heard to grumble: "Silly foreigners with their unstinting generosity! Don't they understand good old-fashioned American token gestures?"

Once all of the (rather more than expected) money was in the pot, J was dispatched to Target to purchase both the gift card and a greeting card to put it in. Since J tends to have a perverse sense of humor, he spent some time looking for the most inappropriate and/or ridiculous baby-related greeting card that he could find. He settled on a particularly sappy card that was covered in glitter that had a deplorable tendency to fall off and stick to clothing, since it was the card most likely to cause the other four gentlemen in the department to point as one man at my husband and exclaim "J picked it out!" when the boss wonders aloud what the heck they were thinking. J was quite satisfied with his find.

He told me all of this last night over dinner, and we had quite a laugh over the way the first person to contribute money can set an uncomfortable precedent. I then pointed out the bright side: when Thing 2 arrives just a few months from now, the precedent of $100 baby gift cards will have already been set. J just shook his head. "That seems unlikely after the greeting card I picked out."

I guess the lesson here is twofold:

1. Don't let the person who hails from a culture known for generosity and giving go first when requesting an unspecified amount money for an office gift.

And

2. Picking out a greeting card to give to your boss is not the time to let your weird sense of humor shine.

Comments

 

haverwench said:

At my old office, the way we always did this was to pass an envelope around from office to office with the card already in it. You signed the card and (anonymously) added whatever amount you chose for a gift. When everyone had signed it, it came back to the organizer (usually a secretary), who was tasked with finding a suitable gift for the amount enclosed. This takes the pressure off people to give a specific amount. Admittedly, with only five people in the group you could probably figure out who gave what, but at least you wouldn't have to make your donation right in front of everybody else. Frankly, I find that a bit tacky.

July 11, 2013 12:44 PM
 

Emily Guy Birken said:

@haverwench, this is what happens when engineers and social mores mix. There's a enough of a disconnect that it doesn't occur to anyone to organize it a little better, but enough recognition of social politeness to feel obligated. ;-)

July 11, 2013 1:07 PM
 

Emily Guy Birken said:

Also--as far as I understand how their office is set up, all five of them work basically in the same large room. They did pass things around "anonymously," but with such a small group in a small space, it was impossible not to know what everyone contributed. They'd need to have an envelope set up in another room in order to truly be anonymous.

July 11, 2013 1:40 PM
 

Retired Empty Nester said:

I remember one Christmas in the office when we were discussing, at a staff meeting, what would be the appropriate gift for the secretaries, one woman known for her generosity suggested $15 a piece.  Another woman spoke up immediately, somewhere between tears and shouting, she said that her husband and been laid off and went on to rant about the blood bath in the banking industry.  The meeting immediately ended and from then on the amount of a gift was never discussed.

July 11, 2013 2:23 PM
 

bobi said:

For future reference, please tell J that giving gifts to your boss is inappropriate. Check it out on any etiquette website or book.

PS tell J to expect an $80 gift card; funny greeting card aside, in my experience,  bosses tend not to contribute to group gifts.

July 11, 2013 6:44 PM
 

haverwench said:

Technically, the gift is for the wife and baby, not for the boss. Miss Manners thinks "pseudo-social" gift giving at work is problematic in general, but she concedes that it's too widespread to avoid entirely.

July 12, 2013 10:19 AM

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