How to Hint at Holiday Gifts (Without Being a Jerk)

It's never too early to make sure you don't receive another gift that collects dust in your closet.

Richie Frieman
5-minute read
Episode #358

It seems odd to discuss holiday gift giving in September. Yet according to most department stores, we should already be thinking about the holidays. Really? It’s not even Halloween! Maybe blaming the big stores for the added gift-giving pressure is unfair, but then again, why not plan ahead?

If you can drop hints about what you want now, rather than at the last minute, you can avoid having a disastrous gift sit in your closet collecting dust until it’s regifted at a later date. Check out my top three quick and dirty tips to hint at holiday gifts (without being a jerk):

Tip #1: Being Obvious Isn't Rude (When Done Right)

Recently, a Modern Manners Guy reader emailed me about her husband’s total inability to purchase a proper gift for the holidays, year after year, after ... sigh ... year.  Now, I will say that this particular reader also has her birthday fall two days before Christmas and therefore insists on multiple gifts, rather than a joint present. I won’t get into whether that mindset is proper or not, but I will say the pressure of buying two presents that equally nail the “Wow Factor” is a rather daunting task—especially for a bad gift giver. So I asked, “Did you ever tell him exactly what you wanted?” She replied, “Well, no … That would be rude.” That was her first mistake. But what’s more unmannerly: to hint at a gift you like, or to take gifts year after year, and stock pile them away, while you pout about having another sad holiday season? I would be mortified if I got a gift that someone totally disliked every years, but felt obligated to keep just to save my feelings. 

To make sure people know exactly what you want, you have to master the art of being obvious.

Being obvious involves strategy: you don't want to yell but you need to somehow make your desires known loud and clear. The example below shows an etiquette divide in methods of dropping obvious hints:

  • Person A: “Oh, I love those shoes! If I don’t get that for the holiday, you better not come home.”
  • Person B: “Oh, I love those shoes! They would look great with the new outfit I just got and perfect for the chilly weather. What do you think?”

Do we see the delicacy in Person B versus the insanity in Person A? Clearly different approaches, right? Granted the threat of eviction by Person A may work; it’s just not the mannerly approach. The art of being obvious is to make people think, “I got it!” without you literally taking their hand, swiping their credit card, and grabbing the gift off the counter. There is nothing rude about expressing your interest in a particular item. In fact, I argue that it’s rude to assume someone can read your mind. By not beating around the bush, you can finally get the gift you want—without having to scream it into someone’s face.

Tip #2: Tactful Conversation

As I said in Tip #1, you must be obvious when it comes to pointing out the gifts you want. In addition, you must also be tactful in your approach. Tact, my mannerly friends, can be a proper person’s go-to weapon in making sure you convince said gift giver that you have a great present in mind already. When you tactfully drop hints to someone way in advance, you can eliminate another year of receiving a bad gift. After all, the earlier you start, the better, but you just can’t be annoying about it. You want someone to say, “I couldn't wait to get you this!” rather than, “Here! Fine! It’s yours! Happy?!?” Person A in Tip #1 doesn’t exactly have a proper handle on being tactful.