How to Hint at a Gift

Gift-giving is always a challenge — and sometimes people just need a little hint about exactly what you’re looking for. Modern Manners Guy has three quick and dirty tips for properly hinting at a particular gift.

Richie Frieman
5-minute read
Episode #234
The Quick And Dirty
  • Be subtle — leave the webpage for the item you want up on a browser, or "accidentally" text them the link to it.
  • Drop hints while shopping — when you see the item in the store, try it on or mention how great it would go with something else you own.
  • Be direct — say "hey, my birthday is coming up and I really love this golf club. If you were going to get me something, I'd really appreciate getting that." 

I have the world's greatest wife. She's smart, fun to be around, and, oh yeah, incredibly out of my league. If we were athletes, she'd be LeBron James and I would be the 12th pick on a junior high basketball team.

So you can understand my desire to find the best gift ever for her birthday or holidays that will show her how much she means to me. You know what I’m talking about. The "Wow!" gift, the "I can't believe you got this for me!" gift. The one that will make her text her friends: "Best. Husband. Ever!"

You’d think that since I’m a manners and etiquette pro, and often cover the topic of gift-giving in my podcasts and articles, I would be a rock star when it comes to showering my wife with appropriate gifts. Sadly, that’s not the case. For whatever reason, she always seems just a bit disappointed every holiday and birthday. 

If only she would drop some hints, or just tell me what she wants! 

Contrary to popular belief, most of us don't mind hints about gifts from our loved ones. After all, wouldn’t you rather get your friends or partner something they really want, rather than something they really want to return?

So with that, check out my top three Quick and Dirty Tips for properly giving hints for a gift. 

Tip #1: The subtle approach

Hinting at a gift is similar to a gift registry. Someone clearly points out "This is what I want" and then you can choose from a selection of options. But dropping hints about a gift when it's not a registry situation tends to cause some tension. One reason is that some people think dropping hints is rude — I don't know about the rest of the world but if you tell me what you like, it takes a lot of stress off my shoulders.

If you want to let the person know exactly what you want, without really telling them, the subtle approach works best. I understand that this can feel awkward, especially if you’re in a new relationship and still walking on eggshells around the person (aka, you haven’t let them see you with your nighttime acne medicine on). When done subtly, though, it can make a world of difference.

The best way to drop a subtle hint is to make it look like an accident.

A friend of mine recently spent the day working from her boyfriend's house. During the day, she saw a fantastic bracelet online that she thought would make the perfect gift for her upcoming birthday. Her boyfriend had repeatedly said that he was stumped about what to get her, so she thought a little help was needed.

She printed out the page from the web site where she saw the bracelet and “accidentally” left it in the printer. She didn’t tell her boyfriend anything and simply assumed that any reasonably intelligent man would see the printout and say, "Hey, maybe I should get this for her?"

She was right.

He was thrilled to find this “clue,” bought the bracelet, and she had the courtesy to fake surprise when he gave it to her. Everybody wins! 

Tip #2: The “drop hints while shopping” approach

During the holidays, my wife and I were out shopping for presents. We walked into a store and she saw a pair of boots that she loved. She tried them on, and they fit like a glove but we didn't buy them that day. Later that evening, after she borrowed my laptop, I saw an open tab in the browser with the same pair of boots, in the same store where she tried them on, right there in front of my eyes. When I saw the screen, I thought, "Hmm, could she be giving me a hint? Am I finally going to get it right?" Where's the falling balloons and confetti shower when I hit "purchase"?

This is a great way to be a bit more obvious when it comes to letting someone know which gift you want. Even though my wife didn't want to tell me that she wanted the boots, it was made abundantly clear in the store and on the computer screen. Unlike in Tip #1, where the hint was non-verbal and seemed like an accident, in this case the hint is more evident. 

Update: For the record, when I happily presented the boots to my lovely wife, she was very surprised. However, between the time she saw them and their arrival, she changed her mind and decided not to get them. And so, my gift-giving record goes back to the negatives. Maybe next year. 

Tip #3: The “HERE. IT. IS!” approach

Sometimes dropping subtle hints doesn't work. Sometimes the delicacy of leaving printouts around the house or openly admiring the gift in a store go right over their head. Sometimes, when you know there is no other way and you don't want the person to waste time and money on a bad gift, you need to simply put it out there. "Here it is. Here's the link to the gift. I like the blue one."  

Here’s an example: My friend's mom bought him the same cologne year after year for his birthday. Very considerate of her, but unfortunately, he hated the smell. After six years of the same terrible cologne, he had had enough and decided proper hinting was needed. So, while out to lunch one day, during a discussion about holiday gifts, he said, "I know you’ve always bought me that one kind of cologne, but this new one just came out and I really like it! I got a sample, but would love the full bottle." This was an ingenious approach. He got exactly the gift that he wanted and avoided making his mother feel bad about her previously bad gifts. Well done!

Properly dropping hints isn't about being conniving or manipulative. Whether you want to be super subtle, as in tip #1, flat-out honest, as in tip #3, or somewhere in between, as in tip #2, the bottom line is that exchanging gifts should be a happy experience for both parties. Why not cut out the stress and guessing games and make it easy for everyone. The end goal is to put a smile on someone's face, so the process to make that happen should not put a frown on the entire experience.

...And would anyone mind printing this article out and leaving it in the tray for my wife? 

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