No, really, you need to give this back
December 19, 2011 8:10 PM   Subscribe

I just received an (imo) inappropriately expensive gift from someone (of the opposite gender) who I don't know very well. How do I handle this?

We're both college students in the same program. I'm a girl, he's a guy. We never really talked during the term beyond the usual "hey how's it going / did you finish the homework / gosh that test was hard" type stuff. The day after the term ended, he sent me a few text messages, mostly just random conversation-making things, and then asked me if he could come by my place to drop off a Christmas card. I told him we could meet somewhere else in public instead. In person, I very gently asked why (paraphrasing) he was taking such an interest now, as opposed to during the school year, to which he replied that he wanted to try, but it was kind of difficult (which, I suppose, is sort of understandable -- I am a super-introvert who latches onto the nearest extrovert/chatty person I can find and lets them do all the talking.) In general, he came off as a bit awkward and really, really nervous (he's an international student, and his English isn't the greatest) -- he basically wished me a good holiday, gave me the card and a small wrapped gift, and left. So I got home, opened the card (generic "happy holidays" type message handwritten inside) and unwrapped the gift, which turned out to be.. a new iPhone. what?

I immediately texted him to tell him that, while it was very nice of him to give me a card, there was no way I could feel comfortable accepting something like that from him. I added that, after I gave the iPhone (what) back to him, I would be willing to exchange gifts that were a bit (a lot) smaller. Y'know, as friends. After a bit of back-and-forth, where he maintained that a) he did intend it as a gift between friends (though after a while he did admit that he didn't do this for all his friends) and b) he couldn't take it back, he agreed to discuss it again after the holidays, in the new year.

My question is, how can I get across to him that, no really, this gift makes me really uncomfortable (I have some personal issues w/r/t big gifts, mostly related to class issues and growing up poor-ish, but surely I'm not overreacting that much?) and also, somehow convey to him that, in general, this is not a good way to get girls to like him? After a few months of peripherally observing him in class, as well as these past couple days, I don't think there's anything creepy/sinister about him -- he just comes off as a bit shy and clueless. Tact would be preferred -- there is a good chance that I will continue to be working with him in school next term.

throwaway email:
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (39 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
but surely I'm not overreacting that much?
Not at all. I'd be really uncomfortable, too. I grew up in the same situation as you, and one-sided gifts make it feel like the power balance is off, like I owe them something or they have something to hold over my head. I think you should just re-iterate what you already told him. That it fits your preferences better to exchange small gifts, and you'd still like to be friends.

Also, to add some perspective on how I view his actions- it seems like he was trying to woo you. Like, in the old-fashioned courting way. Which, I guess, is kind of adorable in it's own right.
posted by FirstMateKate at 8:17 PM on December 19, 2011 [3 favorites]

strip all of this down to the basics.

"friend, gifts as expensive as these make me uncomfortable. I appreciate the gesture and want you to know that gifts such as this are typically not given between people who do not know one another. thank you though. It was very sweet of you."
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 8:18 PM on December 19, 2011 [4 favorites]

You have my permission to say "Thank you, but a gift from an acquaintance that is this expensive makes me very uncomfortable". Know that he didn't give this gift to you just to "be nice". I am sure that he was hoping that it would give him leverage to get (at minimum) a date with you.

People who attempt to buy dates are creepy and should make you uncomfortable. He instantly established an unbalanced power dynamic.

Let me say this again: He tried to buy a date with you and/or use money to pressure/guilt you into dating him.

I would advise against exchanging smaller gifts with him at all and just move on. Don't give him hope that there is another way into your heart by virtue of sticking around.
posted by Shouraku at 8:20 PM on December 19, 2011 [13 favorites]

Don't worry so much about him. Do what you want to do here, which is return the phone and establish boundaries like whoa.

If returning the phone makes him a bit uncomfortable or things a bit awkward? you'll both live. And this is good practice for the next time a guy gets pushy. Because giving someone you don't know well a very expensive present is pushy, no matter how he tried to play it off.

You owe him nothing. Zero. Nada. He'll live. You won't die of embarrassment or be stuck dead for being a mean girl. You don't have to "get it across to him" that the gift makes you really uncomfortable or talk about your childhood issues or justify yourself in any way, shape or form. He doesn't need to know why you won't accept it. Meet him, set it on the table between you, say I can't accept this and walk away. You can be as polite and emphatic as you like but don't cross the invisible line between being nice to someone and letting them get in your space.
posted by fshgrl at 8:21 PM on December 19, 2011 [28 favorites]

"Thank you, but no. This is excessive and as much as I like spending time with you, I don't feel we have this type of relationship."
posted by beaucoupkevin at 8:21 PM on December 19, 2011 [4 favorites]

First: if the gift makes you uncomfortable, give it back. No need to wait. Whether he can return it is his problem, not yours. I'm not clear on what delaying until the New Year will do besides dragging out the awkward.

With that out of the way. Your story reminds me a lot of a really sweet guy I knew in college. He was rather socially awkward, tried to do the right thing but didn't always hit the spot, and happened to come from money. As in, when he got a job at the end of college he wasn't sure whether he should be paying daily living expenses from his trust interest and saving all the income or vice-versa.

When we were about 20 he did almost exactly the story you describe for a girl he liked. Except in his case it was the diamond bracelet as an end of semester gift. He really did intend it as a friendly token of interest, but as you can imagine it didn't really come off that way. He also was generous with friends, but again, obviously this was in a different league.

So, my advice is give the gift back, get some distance and then think about it in the new year. Accept that he may not have been attempting to bribe or guilt you or establish power with the gift and he may have mishandled things based on different expectations or habits of giving in social circles he's been witness to. In that generous interpretation, if there is anything there in terms of deeper friendship which would accept significant gift giving or more you can open the conversation up. If it is really a "not gonna work" then just let him know you are only the sort of casual friends that don't need to exchange gifts.
posted by meinvt at 8:21 PM on December 19, 2011 [14 favorites]

Let me say this again: He tried to buy a date with you and/or use money to pressure/guilt you into dating him.

I don't know this. But, I do know you shouldn't feel either pressured or guilty.
posted by meinvt at 8:23 PM on December 19, 2011 [11 favorites]

First off, if the gift makes you uncomfortable (and it's completely understandable that it does), These Birds of a Feather has it exactly right. It's hard to say if it comes with strings attached, or is simply an awkward gesture, but that's not really important if you have no interest in a relationship. May I ask, though, how did he get your number if you never really talked? Is it commonplace within your program to have each others numbers? Email is one thing, but it's also possible he misread the sign of getting your number and turned small talk into something way, way more meaningful in his head. Some people, creative types especially, can get spun up on a crumb and manufacture a whole loaf in their imaginations.
posted by wnissen at 8:24 PM on December 19, 2011

I think the international thing has a lot to do with it, especially since many international students studying at foreign universities tend to come from wealthy backgrounds. (The conditions under which they can come to US universities requires them to verify that they have 4+ years of full tuition in the bank before they begin, which some have outright and others pool.)

When I was in college, one of the Malaysian guys -- who, it must be said, didn't seem to need much help getting girls' attention in the first place -- had this spree during which he would take girl after girl on these whirlwind dates: two hours in a limo to Chicago, a fancy dinner, maybe some other stuff (supposedly nothing untoward), then two hours back. I was like, "Huh?" Money meant nothing to him. This was just something he did. When I refused him, he didn't think much of it, either.

So, yes, I think he may have been trying to woo you or whatever. But you have every right to tell him that this is not something that is okay with you. It's not impolite. This is your own comfort level and your own cultural background (whatever your culture is -- it's clear that you've been taught that this is weird, and I'd agree).

Tell him thank you, but no thank you. If you want to be kind, give him some tips on how to "read the room" and start small with a woman. But you are under NO obligation to do so.
posted by Madamina at 8:24 PM on December 19, 2011 [4 favorites]

People who attempt to buy dates are creepy and should make you uncomfortable. He instantly established an unbalanced power dynamic.

Let me say this again: He tried to buy a date with you and/or use money to pressure/guilt you into dating him.

Relax. He's not from the U.S. People from different countries have different customs. Also, by that strict rationale, any gift is a guilt-tripping measure (which it could be interpreted as, if you think about it).

OP, I would just give a simple explanation. Make it clear you're not comfortable and this is not something you are used to. But it hardly makes him a bad person.
posted by bearette at 8:27 PM on December 19, 2011 [16 favorites]

After a few months of peripherally observing him in class, as well as these past couple days, I don't think there's anything creepy/sinister about him -- he just comes off as a bit shy and clueless.

A relative of mine is like this as a corollary to some learning and developmental issues he has: the guy is completely well-intentioned and nice but he doesn't know how to express interest in the opposite sex (for friendship or more) in an appropriate way, so he's bad at reading signals, socially awkward, and often tries to give women he considers friends expensive gifts. The firm but polite "I can't accept this" approach suggested repeatedly above has worked when used on him every time and has spared his feelings to boot.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 8:31 PM on December 19, 2011 [5 favorites]

If you're uncomfortable, give him the phone back. Tell him you can still discuss it after the holiday, but you'd feel much better if the phone was in his possession rather than yours.

He should understand that. Guys usually get the message once you make them take the gift (returnable or not) back. Sometimes they think you're being polite when you say a gift is too extravagant.

You can explain to him later that it's really a very heavy gift and that a $15 gift card to Starbucks would be much more appropriate. When you have that conversation, he'll know you're not telling him to go fall off a cliff but that you'd be much happier with a reasonable gift.
posted by Yellow at 8:38 PM on December 19, 2011 [2 favorites]

Just as some kindly on-the-fringe advice: remember that if he becomes pushy in any way, you are under no obligation to feel beholden to him for the gift or any sort of "but he's so awkward and shy" behavior, foreign or not.

I'm betting this was a case of social differences and a bit of cluelessness though.
posted by DisreputableDog at 9:02 PM on December 19, 2011

"I'm sorry, I cannot accept a gift like this. It is too much and I'm not comfortable having it."
"why not?"
"I'm just not."

cue: moment when you learn if fellow can take clear, un-elaborated "no" for an answer.

It's best not to interact with someone much more if they can't.
posted by ead at 9:08 PM on December 19, 2011 [11 favorites]

Well, this is a place where the old rule of etiquette came in handy: a lady cannot accept any present from a gentleman that gives the appearance that he is supporting her financially (i.e., that suggests that she is his mistress). That means: no jewelry, no clothing, nothing associated with her home or its furnishings and in general nothing that she, the recipient would consider extravagant. Basically all that left was sweets, flowers or maybe an inexpensive edition of an innocuous book that did not in any way touch on the subject of love.

True, this rule had the unfortunate side-effect of making young girls think that there were rou├ęs around every corner ready to ambush them with diamond necklaces, silk dresses and horse-drawn coaches, but on the other hand it averted many an uncomfortable or even dangerous moment of expected quid pro quo. (The corollary of this rule was that when if a young lady did accept, say, a diamond necklace, that was a clear and unambiguous signal to the young man that she was amenable to sexual intercourse.)

What you should have done (and let this be a lesson to you young ladies out there) was to ask to meet him again in person, hand the present back to him, say that the present is beautiful but it is much too expensive a gift to accept from someone you don't know very well. It's too bad you didn't know this from the start, but it's not your fault that you weren't brought up by a houseful of grandmothers and maiden aunts in Savannah in the 1950s.

Anyway, now that you know, you are going to have to return the phone to him, and the sooner you do it the less painful it's going to be for both you and him. Admittedly it's going to be rather more awkward to do that now that you've tried to return it once and waffled. But since it really does seem that you want to get out from under this obligation, I think you are going to have to do through with it.

That means, you meet him in a public place, you hand over the phone (or place it on the table in front of him), preface with "this was a very generous gesture, and I understand you meant it in a friendly way, but I don't feel comfortable accepting such an expensive present..." then you can finish with "from someone I hardly know" or "from someone who is such a new friend."

If you're worried that the interview may drag on, you might bring along a woman friend, indicating that "I only have few minutes, because Sheila and I are going to a movie, but I did want to speak to you in person." Sheila can excuse herself for a minute or two while you hand the thing over to him and then, when she returns, that's a plausible cue for you to say goodbye and leave.

I'm not saying he is going to take this in the best of grace, but it does seem to me that even a cold shoulder is better than trying to convince this man from whom you accepted an expensive gift that you are not romantically interested in him.
posted by La Cieca at 9:31 PM on December 19, 2011 [50 favorites]

Nthing that you are totally justified in refusing his gift, and you don't really owe him an extended explanation of why beyond "makes me uncomfortable." If he's not willing to be gracious about your feelings, than he's not really honoring the concept of a gift between friends, now is he?
posted by desuetude at 9:35 PM on December 19, 2011

He probably didn't mean to come across as creepy. Different cultures have different ways of dating or in some cultures of not dating so he may not really know how to say, hey, you seem nice and you're cute and I'd like to get to know you better. Don't take it as some big 'and now I have bought you' thing.

Americans think everyone thinks the same way they do. A German, French, English, Japanese, Indian and Chinese man will all 'court' very differently. He may have thought a grand gesture was the way to go, especially since he isn't a native English speaker, is perhaps wealthy, and doesn't know how to ask out an American girl.

It's an inappropriate gift for you. Return it when you see him and explain, as nicely as possible, that it's too extravagant a gift to accept. Be firm but polite. He might be a little offended or not understand and that's fine. "It was a lovely thought but no. I appreciate your thinking of me but I can't accept this." If he asks why, say, "it's not appropriate but no thank you." Walk away if you feel he's overly insistent; this isn't a negotiation.

If you like him and are interested, you can suggest coffee or lunch.
posted by shoesietart at 9:44 PM on December 19, 2011 [2 favorites]

If he won't take the phone when you try to give it back, leave it in his mailbox or whatever. It's not your responsibility.
posted by empath at 9:45 PM on December 19, 2011 [2 favorites]

Different outlook on this. Let's look beyond the gift here. Sure, give it back, no big deal, but we're not addressing the larger issue. In MUCH of the rest of the world it's still very acceptable to attract a woman with gifts (including America too, depends on the girl). On the flip side being a foreigner trying to get by in "American culture" (I'm American and I still couldn't tell you shit about what that actually means) is really really hard, poor guy is putting in the effort, and that took some serious rocks to do.

So, what I'm getting at is return the gift, and unless you find the guy totally unattractive or scary maybe spend a little time with him. You're shy, he's ESL and chances are you haven't really got a chance to know him and it sounds like you could both benefit from coming out of your shells a little bit, maybe you could get a new friend out of it and learn something about another culture, and maybe even an exotic boyfriend ;)
posted by straight_razor at 9:45 PM on December 19, 2011 [2 favorites]

There's no reason to assume he paid full price for it. My husband finds all kinds of great electronics deals through the Internet, friends, craigslist - wherever.

In a case like that, he'd not be able to return it. The OP should still give it back, because none of that is her problem. I'm just saying it might not have cost quite as much as the OP is fearing.

I agree with all advice that the OP give it back immediately.
posted by jbenben at 9:49 PM on December 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

I have some personal issues w/r/t big gifts, mostly related to class issues and growing up poor-ish, but surely I'm not overreacting that much?

I don't think this is a class thing. I grew up with money and I have never given nor received a present this expensive to or from anyone other than immediate family and significant others (and even then it would be rare) - it's definitely not appropriate (although certainly may be a cultural miscommunication) and you aren't overreacting in the slightest. Completely agree that you give it back asap, in both as kind and as firm a manner as possible.
posted by naoko at 9:53 PM on December 19, 2011

Poor social skills + rich = lots of awkwardness.

It's not that uncommon even in America though. I know an attractive woman who worked at a firm with many rich clients and she got $500+ gifts from single men once or twice a month.

If he really won't accept the phone back, I'd say you should sell it and donate the proceeds to charity.
posted by miyabo at 10:01 PM on December 19, 2011 [2 favorites]

Mail it to him if you have to, leave it with him and walk away, but don't give him the impression that you've given in, even if you're just going to give it away himself. That way lies more attention you'll have to figure out what to do with. If he can't recoup his expenses, that's his problem; either he could afford it easily and it's no big deal, or he spent too much money trying to impress a near-stranger and needed to learn that this is the wrong approach. After all, he would also be out that money if you had accepted it and agreed to date him or whatever. He made a poorly-informed bet.
posted by Adventurer at 10:30 PM on December 19, 2011 [3 favorites]

Those of you advising anonymous to return the phone immediately are ignoring the fact that anonymous and her admirer are students. They have probably left campus for the holiday break and may be hundreds of miles apart at the moment; I suppose anonymous could try to mail him the phone, but the flow of college social life really does get suspended in between terms and I think it is entirely appropriate for her to take up the matter after they both return to campus in January.

Anonymous, I think you should aim for a tone that is straightforward and firm but not condescending or scolding. You could ask him if gifts like this are normal where he comes from and what the meaning is behind the gift. Then suggest some ways he could convey that meaning that would be appropriate for the cultural context of your school. You should absolutely insist that he take back the phone; don't take no for an answer. Don't engage with his excuses or other resistance; if he tells you he can't return the phone or if he asks you whether you like it, say "I'm sorry, I can't accept it" or "it doesn't matter, I can't accept it." Repeat like a broken record, if need be.
posted by Orinda at 10:55 PM on December 19, 2011 [3 favorites]

It might work well to explain your inability to accept the gift as a cultural difference -- which it may be. This avoids any implication that you feel he acted indecorously; it's just a chance for you to explain the oddities of American culture, which can help him later on.
posted by amtho at 11:08 PM on December 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

My first thought was he might have modified it to glean information from the GPS, maybe the camera, or perhaps even more... I'd go with leave it in his mailbox or just throw it in the river. Not your problem.
posted by neversummer at 11:54 PM on December 19, 2011 [2 favorites]

I agree with everyone that this is probably a harmless gesture from a clueless nice guy. However, looking back on my life, I wish I had been a great deal more paranoid and given a lot less benefit of the doubt.

While it is certainly paranoid to think he could be using the GPS to track the OP, it's also completely feasible. Call me crazy; my stalker would love it if you did. (Come out from behind that rubber plant, Ted, I know it's you. What have I said about inviting yourself on my dates with other people?)

The gift is totally overboard according to American etiquette so nthing that the OP can return it and still be polite.

Because the gift makes it technically feasible for him to know the OP's whereabouts I wouldn't wait to return it. I'd box it up today and mail it back special delivery with a note (hint: write "thank you so much but I am unable to accept such a generous gift from a new acquaintance" not "ew stop stalking me you creep", there's paranoia and paranoia know what I'm saying?) using the school's address as the return address, even if the package is sent to the guy at the school address. That way you can track delivery without having to ask about it and it's insured.
posted by tel3path at 2:22 AM on December 20, 2011 [2 favorites]

Don't exchange smaller gifts with him or elaborate any further than "thank you but I must return it". It's not your responsibility to teach him how to appropriately woo you unless you're genuinely interested in being wooed.

You know he's interested in you. Any attempt to be friends is probably him sticking it out in hopes that you'll end up dating him (at best). At worst, he actually thinks you're dating him, but just showing him the appropriate way to date.

He's an acquaintance from class that you haven't tried to nurture a friendship with all semester -- don't offer your friendship now -- just because he gave you an innapropriate gift. Just be polite and give the gift back. That is the lesson: "expensive gift giving doesn't bring me closer to the person I want to date."
posted by vitabellosi at 2:36 AM on December 20, 2011 [12 favorites]

If he's wealthy or from a different culture it might not seem as lavish to him as it does to you (there was an extremely wealthy person in my programme that this was true of; if you did anything, however minor, for her, she first had a tendency to give over expensive gifts in return. It wasn't payment - it just seemed like a suitable small gift for her. It took a few times before she realised that this wasn't the same for all). And it costs nothing to be polite, especially if you are in the same programme. It might work to say that is a family tradition for you - no expensive gifts.

If he persists, it's different. If you wait until New Year you can still say then that you can't accept it.)
posted by lesbiassparrow at 3:31 AM on December 20, 2011

I'm the last person in the whole world to excuse unwanted attention from men based on them being shy and clueless. If you feel like he's trying to pressure you, listen to that feeling.

But in this case I agree that the fact that he's from a different country is key. My husband (Indian) and I (American) have this discussion every Christmastime, and just had it again a couple weeks ago. Where I come from, giving an expensive gift to someone outside your very immediate family is the ultimate faux pas. Where he comes from, it's a huge treat, the more expensive the better. I really doubt he's trying to buy a date with my aunt.

That's my husband, though. I took a vow to figure these things out with him. You're not under any further obligation to your classmate. This situation has already taken up too much of your energy and time, especially this time of year. Drop it in the mail back to him and forget it. Decline to argue about it. If you have to work together again, treat him normally. You'll be telling him through your actions that it's not a good way to get a date.
posted by lampoil at 4:25 AM on December 20, 2011 [2 favorites]

You will be doing him a big favor if you educate him that this is inappropriate behavior for your country/social class/language group, otherwise he'll make the same mistake with other people. Give him the benefit of the doubt and treat it as a cultural gaffe.
posted by desjardins at 7:46 AM on December 20, 2011 [2 favorites]

Or ... take the easy way out: "No thanks! [insert no excuse, apology, favors or help] Have a good holiday, 'bye!"
posted by thinkpiece at 8:20 AM on December 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'd like to throw in the fact that maybe the gift giver just has a lack of understanding or perspective when it comes to giving gifts. It's made clear that his roots are international in origin and is going to school in an english speaking college. This, to me based upon experience with friends in the engineering programs I was involved in, means there is a potential for money (perhaps LOTS of money) in his family.

So, while still inappropriate, it may have been simple ignorance due to the fact that he has access to, potentially large, sums of money, is lonely/awkward in a country far from home, and wanted to give a gift that he thought most-anyone would like. An iPhone fits that bill. He didn't get you diamonds and pearls. He got you a nice electronics device and gave it to you in as non-creepy a manner as I can imagine.

Sit down, have the discussion with him that others here have referenced, but please don't assume he's a freak trying to buy your love/sex/relationship or whatever because that's just not fair.
posted by RolandOfEld at 10:02 AM on December 20, 2011 [4 favorites]

Lots of good comments.

While it may be important for you to understand on a private level that this may (but also may not) be just a cultural misunderstanding, I think you are right on the money to feel uncomfortable. Your upbringing and culture are just as valid as his are and you have a right to act on your discomfort here.

Your return of the gift should be polite but firm and unconditional, with no explanation or apology. If he won't take it back, let him know that you'll be disposing of it forthwith and have no intention of using it. I found this charity that recycles used cell phones for the benefit of domestic violence shelters; I have no experience with the charity, though.

There is the chance that it is NOT a cultural misunderstanding and is more of a power grab. He "couldn't take it back"? Really? Is he allergic to iPhones?

If he's interested in learning how to deal with this type of situation and is acting in good faith, he can learn from an American guy friend (or a more experienced guy friend from his country) what the appropriate level of gift-giving should be for a female acquaintance. You have absolutely no obligation to educate him.

If he doesn't want to admit or take responsibility for the misstep, I would wide-berth it from him in the coming term if possible. Again, self-protection. So many people have recommended The Gift of Fear on the green that it almost goes without saying, but I'll say it again anyway.
posted by Currer Belfry at 11:13 AM on December 20, 2011 [4 favorites]

"After a bit of back-and-forth, where he maintained that a) he did intend it as a gift between friends (though after a while he did admit that he didn't do this for all his friends) and b) he couldn't take it back, he agreed to discuss it again after the holidays, in the new year."

I agree with everyone who has pointed out that different cultures attach different emphases to acts such as gift-giving. You say you've got to know him a bit and he seems pretty harmless, if clueless. The only thing that struck me is that when you tried to give him the gift back, he refused to accept it and instead got agreement from you to discuss it again after the holidays. This seems like something he might see as a small victory in a longer campaign he has planned. If he is unwilling to accept your implied "no", you might want to think about how, when and where you approach the next meeting - make sure you have your script clear and take a friend along for moral support (not that I think for a minute there might be any cause for concern, just that it's easier to be firm if you have someone in your corner).

On preview, Currer Belfry obviously had the same idea, only quicker and more concisely!
posted by Martha My Dear Prudence at 11:19 AM on December 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

There are several possible things that could be going on here, alone or in combination: 1) he is from a rich family and the money means nothing; 2) he doesn't want to take the gift back because, in his culture, refusing a gift is considered an insult; 3) he was trying to buy your affection.

You haven't provided much about his background, but I have a feeling that 1 and 2 are at play. Whether or not 3 is at play is much harder to tell, but I do get the feeling that he is hoping that you will become more than friends, based on the story you've shared.

If you don't want to accept the gift (I won't either, for what it's worth), give it back the next time you see him. Waiting until the New Year -- unless that's the soonest you're able to see him -- doesn't seem to have any point other than to drag out the awkwardness. Tell him that you appreciate the gift but that you cannot accept it and that, in America(?), gifts of this sort are not considered appropriate between people who are not close. You don't mean to insult him, but in N. American culture, this doesn't fly.
posted by asnider at 3:21 PM on December 20, 2011

I cannot accept this gift.
You must take it back.
If he asks why, you can say that it's inappropriate, and that if he wants to understand why, you'll explain. After he takes it back. If things make you feel any more uncomfortable, go to the ombudsman, your advisor, dean's office, etc., and ask them to take the phone and explain to the student that he is harassing you.
posted by theora55 at 5:41 PM on December 20, 2011

Any chance you could elaborate on what his specific cultural background is? It might help to clarify what some of his assumptions/expectations are.
posted by UniversityNomad at 9:28 PM on December 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

From the OP:
Thanks everyone for your responses! I'd particularly like to thank everyone who pointed out that he is not my responsibility: I have had problems of always wanting to be "nice" and pushovery in the past. Some details for clarification: the phone was sealed in its original packaging with a gift reciept. Both of us are ethnically Chinese (I am a rather "banana" second-generation immigrant) and we are at a Canadian university. I talked with my parents about all of this too -- they seem to agree that there's a bit of a cultural gap at play here. Anyway, I sent him an email yesterday (picking out some of my wording from this thread) and we have agreed to meet up tomorrow. I'm just going to return the phone to him, wish him a happy holiday, and leave it at that. (And really, if he'd actually known me, he'd have known I'm really more of an Android girl...)
posted by mathowie at 11:39 PM on December 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

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