Re (indian, gulp) giving relatives. Petty response or assertive?
April 1, 2013 7:27 PM   Subscribe

I have a $70 Macy’s X-mas gift card in my pocket regifted to me. What is the proper etiquette in a dysfunctional family fighting over money with this one asking me to give it back to the original recipient to give it to another family member? I already know to give up the gift card and walk away but do I make mention of the issue and how it upsets me? I cringe using the term , “Indian giving”? Is there a less offensive word used today to describe taking a gift back? Please, no grief about the term. I understand the problem with it.

OK, details. Grandma is in a home and has a weird overly emotionally enmeshed relationship with her youngest son who hasn’t worked in 15 years due to a back injury and honestly feels pretty entitled to her money. She has supported him over all this time and done nothing to discourage him from letting her support him.

Grandma. She’s 85 in a home and going down slow. It is beyond the power of attorney transfer point and her home is being sold. The vultures are circling and tensions regarding her estate are high.

Oldest son, my father. Successful and owns his own business.

Second oldest, successful independent business woman.

Third in the birth order, my aunt. She works part time and her husband hasn’t worked in 5 years. Money is a pretty regular concern of hers.

Last my uncle, truly the coddled, spoiled child of the family. I feel awful but kind of a loser to be frank. Could work but refuses to do much because of his back issues. We call him The Dude because well, he’s The Dude. Almost all the other siblings resent the funds she supports him with and he truly feels entitled to her monies and expects it.

3rd birth order bought baby boy youngest 70 dollars worth of clothes at Macy’s. Baby boy lost weight and the clothes didn’t fit which he resented. She said return them and get something that fit. He hates the mall and had to fly home without room in his luggage for the clothes. He gave them to me to return and told me to get something nice for me. I offered to send him the gift card for the returned merchandise and he has refused it on several occasions. I returned the goods and couldn’t find something I wanted at the time due to being short on time when I went to the mall. As I am not a fan of the mall I’ve held the card in my wallet intending to go back and buy a belt one of these days.

So this week she asked what I bought with the card. I told her nothing, I was going to buy a belt but haven’t had the time. She expressed her anger with my uncle for being such a brat about the gift in the first place which he truly was. I told her I had the card in my pocket and she could have it if she really wanted it. I felt uncomfortable. She said, no, keep it, use it. I went to her house last night and had a lovely dinner however baby boy and her had words about the gift.

This morning she calls me and asks that I give the card back to my baby boy uncle so he can buy a wedding gift for her daughter. Apparently my uncle spent $150 on a wedding gift for her first born’s wedding 3 years ago, but recently for the youngest daughter’s wedding a few months ago spent nothing as his siblings have cut back his use of his mother’s funds.

I have to admit, I’m a little annoyed. I’m a little short on income and have meant to buy a new belt with the card but I hate the mall and haven’t bought it. I’m going to give it to my uncle to do with it what he wishes. I have always thought the proceeding generations relationship with their parents money to be somewhat unhealthy and here I am getting sucked into it over $70. Actually, I’m very annoyed. I’m annoyed at the regifting of money that wasn’t hers in the first place. I’m annoyed that she is essentially Indian giving her mother’s gift to my uncle, who gave it to me, only to regift it to her daughter. There’s a whole lot of levels of re-Indian gifting here.

I normally don’t have a problem stating my position and being assertive, frequently a little too assertive. Obviously, the family story goes much deeper. I’ve done the whole therapy thing and understand the family dynamics but have been through nothing like the previous generation. My regifting aunt is a big fan of assertiveness and establishing boundaries due to all her therapy and work regarding the family. I’m giving the card to my uncle and going to walk away. I DO NOT, DO NOT, want to be part of this families twisted relationship with money, manipulativeness, and diffuse boundaries. As I walk away do I need to be somewhat constructively assertive and explain my frustration or just let it lie. I feel upset and a little manipulated, losing something financially gifted to me once by my uncle, a second time by her two days ago when she said keep it, and being put into a tough spot in the families dysfunction. I’m frustrated that she’s determining what my uncle should do with his gift which he gave away, especially because it’s going to ultimately benefit her daughter and not the original recipient of the gift, my uncle. It’s all a little twisted, no? There are some personal principles of mine being disturbed like a gift is a gift, a promise is to be kept.

As she isn’t walking all over my boundaries on a regular schedule do I need to demonstrate my point of view and how I feel a little manipulated or just let it go? I feel a little petty about this and know that any protest, no matter how well made or reasonable will be poorly received and I will be accused of being petty. It is mine. It has been gifted to my uncle, to me, and again confirmed by auntie as mine.

I want to say something like, “I don’t like this. I feel uncomfortable and please don’t involve me in anything financially related to your family again up to and including future gifts of a financial matter. This would include birthday gifts of $25. Thank you.” I would do this through email as I am not interested in any discussion beyond making my point.

This is also a woman who has on more than one occasion tried to convert me to her religion and took several polite no’s before I had to get a little more direct than even I normally prefer to get her to back off.

So what do I do with maximum tact? How do I do it with maximum tact?
posted by Che boludo! to Human Relations (36 answers total)
They know how you might feel and they don't care.

Give them the card back and move on.
posted by discopolo at 7:32 PM on April 1, 2013 [13 favorites]

I'm confused. The original $70 came from your grandmother to your aunt to your uncle, or directly from your aunt to your uncle? Whose money was it?

(Not that it really matters: my advice is the same as discopolo's.)
posted by Salamander at 7:36 PM on April 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

If I follow this story, you were just the clothes-returner in this scenario. Give back the card and don't agree to help out with any of these things in the future.
posted by xingcat at 7:39 PM on April 1, 2013 [7 favorites]

Response by poster: I kinda want to just give the money to starving children.
posted by Che boludo! at 7:40 PM on April 1, 2013 [5 favorites]

If you want the least amount of drama, just give the gift card back and forget about it. Don't waste any more energy on it.
posted by insectosaurus at 7:43 PM on April 1, 2013 [9 favorites]

Maybe I missed something in my read-though, but it sounds like you told your aunt that she could have the gift card back and then balked when she called you up the next day to take you up on your offer.

I think you should return the card and if you want to take a principled stand against the family's gift-giving practices, don't muddy the waters first.
posted by Hermes32 at 7:45 PM on April 1, 2013 [27 favorites]

A $70 gift card is not worth this much grief. Just give it back and wash your hands of this mess.
posted by peacheater at 7:50 PM on April 1, 2013 [5 favorites]

Renege, reneging, reneger, if that helps.

Maximum tact: give the card to Aunt and from here on out, don't let your aunt corner you in conversations: you are under no obligation to tell her any details about your life whether that be about religion or your gift card balances.
posted by jamaro at 7:55 PM on April 1, 2013 [4 favorites]

I want to say something like, “I don’t like this. I feel uncomfortable and please don’t involve me in anything financially related to your family again up to and including future gifts of a financial matter. This would include birthday gifts of $25. Thank you.” I would do this through email as I am not interested in any discussion beyond making my point.

If you feel the need to say that, down to the 'your family' wording, just give the card back and go ahead and never talk to her again.
posted by jacalata at 7:55 PM on April 1, 2013

Just wash your hands of it right now and return the gift card. Right now. Not a moment's more thought about it. Not your problem anymore. There will be other belts. And don't make grand statements about the future, because your drama llama family will have a field day. Just refuse to get involved in their shenanigans when the next one comes up.
posted by fingersandtoes at 7:56 PM on April 1, 2013 [6 favorites]

Starving children can't shop at Macy's. Mail the card to your uncle, whose clothes you returned. Don't say anything to anyone about this, ever. But if someone tries to entangle you in their weird financial psychodrama ever again, tell them No. There's no need to explain why, which would involve accusing them of being children. There's no need to fudge, for example to help just a little. Just say No. N-O. No. This should even extend to going out to eat with them (who pays the bill?), looking at the registry for a wedding (buy art for the beautiful couple!), discussing a will or trust (this is your lawyer's job). No. No, no, no.

Also, there are some very nice belts at Goodwill.
posted by Capri at 7:57 PM on April 1, 2013 [6 favorites]

Withholding the card just to, I dunno, stick it to your grandma for coddling your uncle? Stick it to your uncle for being such a loser? It wasn't your money to begin with, so it seems clear that this is more about personal resentments than your loss of a shiny new belt. $70 is not worth this much petty grief going on amongst all of you. Give back the card and make a mental note to not accept any more monetary gifts with familial strings attached.
posted by keep it under cover at 7:57 PM on April 1, 2013 [2 favorites]

The amount of extraneous detail in this question makes it sound like you're already getting sucked in to the drama a little more than is healthy. Give back the gift card as graciously as you can, keep your irritation to yourself, and be glad if you can disentangle so relatively cost-free.
posted by DingoMutt at 8:06 PM on April 1, 2013 [38 favorites]

You accidentally ended up with a gift that wasn't intended for you. I'm guessing you do not really need a belt that badly or you would have made the time to purchase it by now. Yes, it's irritating because you are sick of being in the middle of stupid family infighting, but I do not recommend getting into a full-on brawl with your aunt over this.

It's definitely not worth it. And don't give it to starving children, as much as I think that's a better way to spend $70 than a belt. Your aunt realized that your cousin was not going to get a wedding gift from your uncle and that the gift card provides a way for him to save face without her handing him cash to pay for a gift.

She assumes you don't care about the card because you promptly offered to give it back without her requesting it. I bet she would be shocked, and probably confused if you suddenly decided to get up in arms, be "assertive", and die on this hill. You will sound like a petulant kid if you pull a "but you SAID I could have it!" Be the bigger person here, do as she asks, and stay as far out of this ongoing battle as you can.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 8:07 PM on April 1, 2013 [21 favorites]

Fuck them for getting you to do the dirty work of going to the mall to make the returns, and then treating you like shit about it. Fuck that.

See? I'm on your side here.

They used you, this is why you feel angry.

I bet if you send the card directly to the uncle, he'll spend it on something other than the wedding gift your aunt intends.

Your aunt had ZERO business asking you about her brother's gift card monies. She's greedy and seeking to take control of the gift money.

You win this and stop her greedy ass by sending the gift card directly back to the rightful recipient, her irresponsible brother, and be done with it.

You're welcome :))
posted by jbenben at 8:14 PM on April 1, 2013 [14 favorites]

That said, I also think you should not have offered to give your aunt the gift card and she misunderstood your position


She should not have put you on the spot and asked you about it in the first place.

Learn to deflect that first "innocent" question that leads to trouble. This is your long term solution.
posted by jbenben at 8:24 PM on April 1, 2013

Actually, I think you should give it back to the Aunt. Drop it in the mail. They are all being stupid and this whole shenanigan is annoying. I get why you're pissed. You tried to do the right thing by everybody and they all waved you off and so you thought you were in the clear and then they drag you back in again. And your Aunt's idea about what her brother will do with the money is ridiculous. Regardless of his "lazy" status, the truth of the matter is that he's poor. He may or may not use it for a wedding and that's his prerogative. And I'm wondering if she expects you to send along this "wedding gift" message along with the gift card? (Don't do it.)

Drop it in the mail with an innocuous and upbeat note. If she tells you that she wanted you to give it to uncle, just tell her you misunderstood. If she presses just tell her you want out of this back and forth and it makes you uncomfortable and thanks, see you at the wedding.


But you really can't keep it. Every time you put on that belt you would get annoyed. I think you'll feel better if you just give it back to the Aunt. It's her problem.
posted by amanda at 8:28 PM on April 1, 2013 [2 favorites]

"Oops, I already bought a belt with it at!"
"Oops, I already donated it to charity!"

Or, if that is not plausible, then I would simply express disappointment at not getting to buy a shiny new belt. Do not wade into the murky waters of "whose money is this really?" Just express how you feel -- "I'm really bummed. I was looking forward to getting something for myself. I don't have a lot of money to spend and I could have used the new belt."
posted by selfmedicating at 8:49 PM on April 1, 2013 [3 favorites]

Mail the card to your dad with an explanation. Tell him that you don't know what to do, his family is crazy, and, by the way, you need a new belt, can he help you with that?

Then, when asked, tell anyone and everyone that you sent it to your dad and they can take it up with him. Chances are your aunt is more comfortable bullying you than your dad.

It isn't your problem. It's only $70.00. It's not worth the hassle to keep it and it's not right to give it to your aunt.

If you don't like the dad option, give it to a staff member at your grandmother's nursing home as a tip or buy something for the home. Maybe they need new throw pillows in the common room. Or maybe grandmother would like a new bedspread in her favorite color. Basically, spend it on something that will make Auntie feel small for complaining about it.

The faster you resolve this, the better. It will only get bigger with time.
posted by myselfasme at 9:26 PM on April 1, 2013

I think you should give your aunt the gift card, and let her handle giving it to her bro. They're the ones who want to fight, so cut yourself out as the middle man.
posted by spunweb at 10:56 PM on April 1, 2013

I think you're overcomplicating things massively and tbh it sounds like your aunt is the brat not your uncle. Your aunt bought your uncle a bunch of clothes that didn't fit. Your aunt agreed that the clothes should be returned. You returned them because your uncle didn't have room for them in his suitcase. Your uncle hates the mall, being mad at the uncle for not wanting a "gift" that involves him going out of his way to do something he hates is kinda bratty.
So now you have the $70 gift card, your uncle has essentially paid you for going out of your way to return a useless gift (clothes that don't fit). That gift card is yours to do with as you see fit and it is no business of your aunt what you do with it. It is not your fault or your uncle's fault that your aunt bought your uncle such a thoughtless gift. Yes, it sucks for your aunt that her gift was unwanted but that's the risk you take when you buy someone a gift.

Now I can see the aunt's point of view about your cousins though, cousin1 got a $150 wedding present from uncle but now uncle can't afford to buy a gift of similar value for cousin 2. This whole thing though is completely separate from the gift card situation. If aunt wants cousin 2 to get a similar value gift from uncle then she can either buy it herself and say its from him or loosen Grandma's purse strings so he can afford to treat them equally.

If giving the gift card back to your uncle (who may or may not spend it on a gift for your cousin) would resolve this drama then do it and be done with the whole situation. I know you said your finances weren't too great either but is the ensuing drama worth $70?
posted by missmagenta at 1:00 AM on April 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

Give the card to your aunt: not your uncle, your grandma, your aunt's daughter or anyone else. If she refuses to accept it when you try to hand it over, MAIL IT to her. Your instincts are absolutely right: give her the damn card and get yourself OUT of this mess.

And for the future: if uncle tries to get you to take care of his personal business like this, politely tell him you can't, you're busy. If aunt tries to give you back the card after you mail it to you, politely refuse, even if it means just leaving it there on the table. Someone above suggested mailing the card to your father: sorry, but that's a big NO.... there are more than enough people involved in this little fight already, don't expand it even more!
posted by easily confused at 2:50 AM on April 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

I find the aunt to be more irritating than the uncle. And since I sometimes have passive aggressive tendencies, I'd probably mail the gift card to the uncle with a slightly sarcastic note tattling that I was forced to give the card back to him so he can buy Princess Cousin #2 a proper wedding gift.

But that will not avoid drama.

I also like the idea of bringing Dad into the mix. It levels the playing field for you a bit. He can be all like, "Get back, Aunt Regifter! Leave my poor, belt-less daughter alone!

That will also not avoid drama.
posted by fruitopia at 3:55 AM on April 2, 2013

Um. You pulled a guess-type move on your aunt, asking her if she wanted the card back when you really wanted her to tell you to keep the card and give you some kind of reassurance about buying nice things for yourself. Instead she called your bluff and actually asked for the card back. The only way you can keep, spend, or donate the card now is if you're trying to send a message that "giving something and then taking it back is wrong, except when I'm doing it to punish you for doing it to me".

Next time don't offer something that you don't want to give.
posted by anaelith at 4:14 AM on April 2, 2013 [17 favorites]

You know it was white people who made false promises to indigenous people through most of modern history, so "Indian giving" is a hell of a projection. You are also correct that the expression is heard today as utterly, irredeemably racist, so no, don't say it. Call it bad faith, reneging, taking stuff back, whatever.

And yeah, send the money back with a "good riddance." Seventy bucks is far too low a price for your complicity in this passive aggressive drama. Just leave Indians out of it ok?
posted by spitbull at 4:53 AM on April 2, 2013 [13 favorites]

Here's the thing about's exciting! People especially enjoy feeling aggrieved, and digging up old resentments increases that feeling.

I say this because the fact that you unfolded this long shaggy tale merely to ask what to do with a random gift card you didn't even want suggests that maybe you have already been sucked in too far.

Standing outside of family drama and gleefully ripping the participants actually makes you a participant too. Drama needs an audience.

Resist this. Resist the temptation to play or to give a shit about the game. Make an effort to forget who did what or why to whom, because that shit does not matter. Just treat everyone politely and keep them at arm's length. You will be so much happier, I promise.
posted by emjaybee at 5:11 AM on April 2, 2013 [5 favorites]

Is there a less offensive word used today to describe taking a gift back?

"Asking for a gift back".

I told her I had the card in my pocket and she could have it if she really wanted it. I felt uncomfortable. She said, no, keep it, use it. I went to her house last night and had a lovely dinner however baby boy and her had words about the gift.

This morning she calls me and asks that I give the card back to my baby boy uncle so he can buy a wedding gift for her daughter.

You asked if she wanted the gift card back. She said yes. Maximum tact/minimum drama solution: Give it back. Just mail it back in an envelope.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 5:46 AM on April 2, 2013 [7 favorites]

Send the card back to your uncle. Say nothing.

Remember not to get in the middle of any future family squabbles.

You can feel put out, put upon and however else you feel, but don't bother saying anything to anyone because it's pointless. They don't care.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:15 AM on April 2, 2013

I told her I had the card in my pocket and she could have it if she really wanted it. I felt uncomfortable.

You offered it back to her. You didn't have to, but you did. She initially declined, but after sleeping on it, she felt different about the matter. She knows you didn't spend it.

If you didn't want her to have it, you shouldn't have offered if the offer wasn't genuine. Give the card to your aunt and tell her that all of this made you very uncomfortable.

You shouldn't have gotten in the middle to begin with. This is not your first rodeo with these people; you know what they're like. Decline all offers to help in similar situations going forward with aunt and uncle.
posted by inturnaround at 6:35 AM on April 2, 2013

I normally don’t have a problem stating my position and being assertive, frequently a little too assertive.

And refusing to take token birthday gifts (because, really that's all that $25 tucked into a birthday card really is) over this would be just that--melodramatic dramamongering.

Give the giftcard back and wash your hands of the whole thing. I highly doubt any of this has anything to do with you.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 7:56 AM on April 2, 2013 [2 favorites]

I get how this little issue becomes a Big Deal once you factor in all the emotional Famiy Dynamics. I hope it helped to type all that crap out. I feel for you, being caught in the middle of all this. Don't worry, I've got your back on this one.

So, first off, Proper Gift Etiquette:
Givers make an effort to give a personal gift the recipient would like, with no strings attached. The giver doesn't get any say in how the gift is used; gifts should not engender obligation. A particularly thoughtful gift giver may choose to include a gift receipt for the recipient's convenience, but that is optional.

Recipients (people seem to forget this, but recipients have responsibilities too! As someone who does put a lot of effort into gifts, I want to put it out there) accept gifts graciously by sincerely thanking the giver . This is the only proper response to a gift. The thanks is not contingent on the wonderfulness of the gift; the thanks is acknowledgment for the giver's thoughtful gesture.

Aunt violated Giver etiquette by giving uncle a Gift She Thought He Needed (nice clothes, probably hoping to give him a little nudge to getting his act together and help in that job search), rather than Gift He Wanted, and then attaching strings after the gift had been given (in the form of expecting reciprocity from your uncle for her youngest daughter, because he bought the other daughter Something Nice). A lot of people make the mistake of projecting what they what to happen when giving gifts, and it's frustrating, but not malicious.

It may suck that second daughter isn't getting as nice a gift as first daughter, but no one is obliged to give a gift at all, let alone keep to a certain level of status quo, and Gift Oneupmanship is an actual Thing that should be nipped right in the bud before everyone goes into debt trying to top Rich Aunt SoandSo's present from last year.

Uncle is also wrong, as you note, though, by acting, not unexpectedly, like a sulky little boy. He should have graciously accepted the gift and then quietly returned the merchandise without griping to aunt. If he decided to give the stuff to you to return, that should have been a private matter between the two of you.

Aunt should not be playing Gift Police, asking what he did with the money, and Uncle should never have put you in the middle by copping to your part in it.

Which brings us to you. You tried to do the right thing, by playing the Diplomat of the family and smoothing things over. This is a role I am familiar with myself. You took the clothes back, you tried to return the gift card to your uncle and were refused, when asked about it by the Gift Police you offered to give it back and were again refused. I don't blame you for feeling resentment at now having to turn the gift card over, as your efforts in all this have exceeded both Uncle's and Aunt's in the initial transaction.

Wash your hands of the gift card. Give it back to Uncle. Do not tell your Uncle what to do with the card; if he tries to refuse it that's when you assert yourself. Here's what to say:

"Aunt called me after the dinner and asked me to give this back to you. Please just take it, and get with her if that's a problem, because frankly the whole situation is making me really uncomfortable and I just want to be done with all this. Thanks for understanding."

And then walk away.
posted by misha at 9:55 AM on April 2, 2013 [2 favorites]

What? Just mail it back to someone. Or go buy a belt with it. Don't even respond to messages about it whatever you decide to do. Don't do people favors that wouldn't do favors for you.

Tj Maxx, Marshalls, Ross and the like have nice belts at decent prices if you can't use the gift card.
posted by WeekendJen at 10:15 AM on April 2, 2013

Metatalk tackled "Indian giver" last year. That thread is kind of all over the place, but some synonyms that stand out: "Degifter," "backsies giver," and "boomerang gifter."
posted by Skwirl at 12:16 PM on April 2, 2013 [2 favorites]

Now if you wanted to have some fun, you could put the gift card in a wedding card and send it to your cousin as a gift from you, if your aunt asks, you could say you misunderstood her...or...go buy a belt and some underwear for like $51 and then give the card back to your aunt without telling her there's only $19 left on it, and watch the drama unfold, then tell her you forgot you spent part of the money....or just send the card to your aunt or uncle or whomever and be done with it.
posted by mikedelic at 2:24 PM on April 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

How about 'ersatzgiver'?
posted by unliteral at 6:20 PM on April 2, 2013

Response by poster: Mikedelic - I thought of doing just that in my devious little mind. Maybe give it back with like $4.

Actually, I spoke with my uncle and we agreed. I will send it to the newlyweds with a nice card from both myself and my uncle and wash my hands of it. They get to choose their gift, I at least get some credit for the gift. It will be beautiful.
posted by Che boludo! at 6:47 PM on April 2, 2013 [5 favorites]

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