What is considered an inappropriate gift in America?

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pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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The issue of what constitutes an inappropriate gift in the United States varies greatly with the occasion and with the relationship between the giver and the receiver.  In general, the less important the occasion and the greater distance between the giver and receiver, the less intimate and expensive the gift should be.  Only people who are close should give one another gifts that are in any way intimate.  Only people who are close should give one another expensive or extravagant gifts.

For example, let us think about what would be appropriate for a business manager to give subordinates for Christmas.  This is not a really big occasion and there is a great deal of distance between the two in terms of intimacy.  Therefore, the boss should only give relatively small things.  It would be completely inappropriate for a boss to give a subordinate lingerie (too intimate) on this occasion.  It would also be inappropriate for a boss to give a computer (too expensive).

When we are talking about closer relatives and more important occasions, it becomes less appropriate to give small things.  It would usually be seen as inappropriate, for example, for a wife to give a husband a pair of socks for their fifth anniversary.

So, the appropriateness of a gift depends on the relationship between giver and receiver and the importance of the occasion.

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wordprof | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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A quick literary note: In Chekhov's Three Sisters, Chebutykin's social awkwardness is demonstrated by his giving a samovar to Irena fr her birthday (nameday), inappriate because she is unmarried; a samovar is considered a homemaking gift for a young couple starting a family life together. This is an example of the socially important aspect of gift-giving--the giver must avoid social implications of the gift that would embarrass the receiver. 

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