Welcome to Thatz Not Okay, a regular column in which I school inquiring readers on what is and is not okay. Please send your questions (max: 200 words) to firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject "Thatz Not Okay."
We host a yearly After Christmas party for close friends. We always do a Kris Kringle, where everyone brings one present and randomly picks a gift. Everyone agreed on a $20.00 cap. So the gifts consisted of wine, craft beer, a small bottle of Crown Royal, artisan food items etc. One guest brought a dollar store plastic potato gun (potato not included). When the recipient opened this "gift" there was an awkward silence in the room. No one said anything and we moved quickly to the next gift. After the gifting was over, the gift giver then asked if we had a potato so everyone could try the gun.
My boyfriend (and host of the party) felt so bad for the recipient that he sent Mr. Potato Head an email the next day, letting him know that the gift was not appropriate, and reminding him that the cap was $20 and to put more thought into the Kris Kringle gift exchange next year. Mr. Potato Head lost his shit, and basically went on an expletive filled tirade. My boyfriend replied calmly, reiterating his position. We feel that, as hosts of the party, we were justified in confronting Mr. Potato Head about his piss poor gift. Is that okay?
Thatz not okay.
Dear adults receiving novelty presents: EVERYBODY CALM DOWN.
You are correct that, as a rule, "expletive-filled tirades" are not okay. If the guest started emailing things like, "I will fucking waste you if you come to me again with this shit, you goddamn prickly cockmonster!"—that is not okay.
However, the main reason to avoid the use of expletives in arguments is that, if you use them, you run the risk of having them dismissed as "expletive-filled tirades" out of hand. For example: "Are you fucking kidding me? I didn't realize it wasn't a joke gift exchange. Jesus Christ!" is expletive-filled, but, in this instance, also expresses a reasonable sentiment.
It's unclear from your description of events which sort of response you received because, while I would definitely trust you to pen a blistering letter of complaint capable of getting a bellboy fired, I'm not sure I trust you as a narrator. Your story has a suspiciously high ratio of dramatic moments to non-dramatic moments. Like, there was silence when the recipient opened his potato gun gift? Were people really that horrified? They were so stunned that one said anything until the next gift was opened, at which point raucous conversation resumed in a burst of sound, like unmuted cable news?
Unless you are hosting a Scared Straight! event, when you invite people into your home, you should try to be gracious, even if that's not in your natural disposition. Being a good host means filling awkward silences. Not contributing to them. Not relishing them.
If the moment transpired as you have described, your guest was probably pretty embarrassed that his gift was the odd one out. Perhaps he hadn't realized that a White Elephant ("Kris Kringle"? Bye) party among close friends was NO PLACE for casual merriment and gags. (By the way: The whole intrigue of White Elephant parties is that there is always one joke gift no one wants to get, which is why people swap it around. You have taken the boring part of White Elephant parties—choosing impersonal junk gifts from a grab bag—and made it solemn. Cool party.)
If someone is a close enough friend that you feel comfortable inviting them to a small holiday gathering, you should forgive them for foibles like "bringing a present to a theme party that is not the present you were hoping for." Instead, you're acting like he violated the Geneva Convention for not buying a moderately priced bottle of wine.
What was the harm, exactly? He ruined one adult's After Christmas (the time after the most magical time of the year)? Did one guy stop believing in Kris Kringle Gift Exchange because everyone else got imported olive oil and all he got was a toy? Was that man so overwhelmed by misery when he unwrapped the potato gun that he vowed to use it later that night to kill himself very slowly and ineffectively?
The most bizarre detail of this story is not that your husband emailed his guest to complain that the quality of the projectile toy he brought was too low (although that is easily the most galling), but that he did so...so that the guest would bring a better gift next year. You guys must throw one hell of an After Christmas party if you think this man would be eager to return after receiving multiple emails from you explaining that he ruined the last one. Are you so desperate to have another glass container of truffle salt (purchased on Marshalls clearance) in the mix that you can't afford to trim him from the guest list?
If you didn't trust him to bring a more appropriate gift next year, you should have just planned on not inviting him. You know what he's going to bring if he comes now? Another gun. Not the kind that shoots potato pellets.
(He should have brought his own potato to the party, though.)
I am writing to you in hopes that you will rule my case okay because I honestly feel really bad.
I am a Teenage Girl Who Is Also a Foreign Exchange Student (official title), and, as foreign exchange students are bound to do (according to my extensive knowledge of American High Schools by watching TV Shows), I have been "breaking hearts." That is an awful beginning but I had no other idea how to start.
So the basics: my host father is a teacher at my school and I have a class with him. A class that I share with this One Boy. Please don't think that I capitalized it because this One Boy is my One and True Love. He is not. He is, frankly, way too weird, too tall, and his voice is way too deep for me. He is so weird that he actually bought a poster and gave it to my host father so he could give it to me for Christmas. WEIRD. Maybe not for Americans but waaaaaaay too weird for me, specially since I can barely handle when people like me even in a non-romantic way.
When I told my friends back home the only one who answered (the other ones were laughing which is fair because I would've done the same thing) said that I should just thank him and move on. But I could not. I feel like I missed my window of opportunity since we've had seven days of class now since we've been back from break and I just sort of ignore him. WHICH IS HARD BECAUSE HE STARES AT ME SECOND HOUR AND KIND OF TRIES TO MAKE CONVERSATION EIGHTH HOUR but I just pretend I didn't hear because I am so very concentrated on my art project.
I guess I should try to say thanks for the poster (which is a pretty
cool poster) even though it will be way too awkward for everyone. But
I'd prefer to just ignore him until I go back home
(hopefully I won't have any classes with him second semester oh God let
me not have any classes with him second semester). Is that okay?
Thatz not okay.
I can tell from your description of yourself that you are a hot person, so it is good you are making a dedicated effort to master the diplomacy of receiving unsolicited gifts. This is a skill that will likely serve you well for the rest of your life. (Keep in mind that, in the U.S., cash gifts over $14,000 may be subject to tax.)
Don't think that because you let seven days elapse without thanking your classmate for his gift that you have missed your window of opportunity to do so. Instead, think of time as a revolving door of opportunity. Yes, you have missed the first revolution. Now you must gather your courage and stride confidently toward the central shaft of the cylindrical enclosure, around which floor-to-ceiling glass windows are rotating on a vertical axis. (As with any revolving door, the longer you nervously dawdle outside before making your move, the dumber you look. So hurry up and walk through.)
I disagree that thanking him for the thoughtful gift will be "way too awkward for everyone."
I know, in your head, the scene plays out like this:
Teenage Girl Who Is Also a Foreign Exchange Student : "Thanks for the poster, Joe."
Entire class: "AWK-WARD!"
But I promise you that, in real life, it will be much less painful.
While normally I advocate putting nice comments in writing (like a thank-you email), in this instance I think you should say it to your classmate in person:
1) because I think his heart will explode from joy
2) because if this kid is the super-nerd you imply, it might be best not to leave a paper trail that could potentially be forwarded to the entire student body
You are under no obligation date this boy because you have accepted his poster. If he presses you to be his girlfriend or even to add him on SnapChat, you can tell him you're not interested in dating, but that you hope you can be friends. This might be a lie—lines like "I can barely handle when people like me even in a non-romantic way" make it sound like you don't particularly enjoy friends—but it will be a polite lie. It will also be the kind of polite lie this boy should get used to hearing if he's going to go around giving girls gifts unsolicited. (The kid is also much more likely to leave you alone if you tell him directly you're not interested in dating him than if he thinks you JUST CAN'T HEAR HIM SO HE SHOULD SHOUT.)
If someone gives you a gift, it is customary to thank them. If someone is trying to speak to you, it is rude and also strange to ignore them.
Now, about this young man:
I can't tell if you like him and are feeling shy about that or if you actually don't like him; the first is sweet; the second is fine. What I can tell you is that there is no such thing as a boy who is too tall with a voice that is too deep. That's like a foreign exchange teen being "too sexy." People with these qualities do not exist or, if they do, we cannot see them because they live on a different astral plane.
Furthermore, the fact that this young man is still attempting to win you over after days (weeks?) of your pointedly ignoring him is indicative of an internal drive that will likely make him very successful one day. Perhaps he will become an exporter of giant brass balls. Perhaps he will earn a living simply by being "a champ."
What is the downside of being nice to him now? That he will continue to be pleasant to you until you leave the country?
He gave the gift awkwardly. You accepted it even more awkwardly. But no one is suffering more here than your poor host father teacher, who has found himself at the nervously thudding heart of a pubescent romance.
I hope you are liking America otherwise.
Submit your "Thatz Not Okay" questions here (max: 200 words). Art by Jim Cooke.