Etiquette of giving

Etiquette is complicated. It is a set of rules for social behaviour. There are, of course, many books on this, but at the end of the day etiquette only works if those involved are working to the same rules, and for that reason I am not going to read/reference any formal etiquette in this post, but rely on those rules I have learned :-)

When they work, the rules of etiquette help avoid awkward situations and ensure social interactions run smoothly. They are not usually logical though, which is a nuisance. If there were logical, one could work out the rules (or close enough) for any new situation. Unfortunately they have to be learned, sometimes the hard way by getting them wrong.

So, I was pondering the rules on gifts...

Giving gifts

Of course, there are different rules for gifts to children, so I am mainly talking here about adults giving gifts, e.g. Christmas and birthday, and so on.

There are, of course, many different, and sometimes overlapping, social groups. These will often develop their own set of traditions and etiquette for giving gifts. Sometimes these are more formal, such as a "secret Santa" arrangement in an office at Christmas - with explicit rules on value of gift.

There are, of course, "token" gifts (often the case for secret Santa). These are usually low value, sometimes humours, and sometimes useful.

But sometimes, between adults, there may be gifts of more value given. These are more complex. I have already commented how Christmas seems to be a time of several months where one dare not buy anything you actually want in case someone gets it for you for Christmas. There is also the risk of duplicate gifts. It is not usually etiquette to simple state exactly what you expect as a gift as that is obliging someone to get it for you. Of course you are expected to appreciate the gift, not discard it. This creates a problem as not saying exactly what you do want people are expected to get exactly the right thing, and not some lesser model with which you will be unhappy. Subtle clues are then involved, and I don't do subtle well!

There is also a usual expectation of some reciprocality of gift value. Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory takes this to extreme, working out the cost of gifts to the cent so as to avoid leaving any lingering imbalance and obligation (and I know how he feels). Of course this then creates a problem if a gift is "too much". If I was to gift a friend something worth thousands of pounds, they would feel obliged to do the same, and may not have the means to do so.

So, no, I don't really have many answers. I would say if buying a gift of value, i.e. not some token gift, then really try and work out exactly what they want rather than getting something "close". Dilbert has comments on gift vouchers - basically why swap currency you can spend anywhere with currency that only works in one place and for a limited time. Well, they can be useful I suppose as a way to help someone get just the thing they want without getting it wrong - if you know someone wants a new apple watch, an apple gift voucher maybe better than getting the wrong version/size/etc.

There is, however, one rather complex type of gift:-

Lottery tickets

On the face of it a lottery ticket makes a perfect "token" gift. It is low value, e.g. £2, and nobody is going to say "oh, shame, I already have a lottery ticket". It is a "fun" gift in a way.

There are, of course, two big issues with giving a lottery ticket:

Worth nothing!

The most likely case, as with over 90% of all lottery lines, is that it is worthless. You have literally given someone a worthless scrap of paper. That struggles to even be worthy of a "token" gift.

Obviously the "logical" approach is to consider the gift to be worth what was paid for it, £2, so logically the same as giving a £2 coin - but if the recipient would not have bought a lottery ticket then this is sort of forcing them to throw away £2 and be left with nothing, so not the same as giving a £2 coin. Etiquette does not necessarily follow logic.

There is sort of one way around this, and this is what led to my making this post - an event with quite a few people where it is customarily to give the attendees a token gift. Giving all a lottery ticket, especially with a couple of "lines" means that there is likely to be someone that at least wins £30. This means all can sort of participate in the gift receipt process vicariously to some extent. It is not hard to have enough tickets to be pretty sure someone will win £30.

Winning £30 is pretty much the ideal outcome of giving a lottery ticket - it is fun and not a crazy amount for a token gift. Indeed, one could be devious even in the case of giving a couple of people a gift (e.g. at Christmas) by using something like my lottery ticket mazes to give tickets that supposedly were put in the maze before the draw - if you actually buy many tickets, and pick the ones that did win £30 to include, at the last minute, perhaps swapping with the maze boxes previously on display before the draw, you could make it that everyone is a winner. Not sure how well that would work, but it would be fund if everyone in a small group all won on their lottery tickets.

Worth a lot!

The bigger issue is the etiquette around the gift recipient winning a lot more. This is where there may not be clear etiquette in place, and it could cause hard feeling. What if the ticket wins £1,750 or £1,000,000? Is the recipient expected to share that with the giver?

Again, logic suggests the gift was worth £2 and the winnings are entirely the recipients, but will that leave bad feeling. What if the ticket is a £10million jackpot? The way that is handled could destroy a family. Thankfully it is very unlikely, but even winning £140 could cause some hard feeling in some social groups.

I do have a suggestion in this case, but it doubles the cost. If the giver gets for themselves the exact same lottery lines, then anything won by the recipients is also won by the giver - no feeling of any obligation to share with the giver as they are already a winner to the same extent. I think that will work.


  1. > Is the recipient expected to share that with the giver?

    Expected by whom?

    You could write on the back of ticket "if you win, the money's all yours", clearly setting out your expectation.

    1. That sounds a lot like a lawyers approach to things :-)

      And yes, I agree, imposing the rules that way around can work, but I bet it would not remove perceived bad feelings... But I am very far from an expert on such things.

    2. Wouldn't the lottery company class writing on the lottery ticket to be "defacement" thereby voiding any payout anyway?

  2. If you are counting the cost…
    If you will be disappointed by a lack of reciprocation…
    If you feel you are retaining some rights as to what's done with it after it leaves your possession…

    Then it's not a gift.

    1. Indeed, very logical... But as I say, etiquette is not always logical.

  3. 𓂺 (Cockburn - pronounced "Coburn")Wednesday 16 January 2019 at 13:58:00 GMT

    I'd like to see somebody make a complaint to the Advertising Standards Authority about the lottery's "It could be you" slogan. Instead of giving people false hope, I think it would be much more truthful to describe it as "It almost certainly won't be you".

  4. I expect many people if winning a large prize wouldnt even tell family members, as people are aware it can break families.

    Also when I was a paperboy I was in a syndicate with the shop owner and members of his family, it was the first year of the lottery when the 5 + bonus prizes were big, and 5 + bonus number came up. The prize was about 300k if I remember right.

    He told me a story the numbers were changed that week and we hadnt won, he apologised for not giving me the updated numbers and it was left at that. I was annoyed but what could I do, I was also under age to gamble on the lottery.

    Now thinking back, it wasnt long after this they redeveloped their second shop into some flats. I think this was done within a year or two of the event. I think I was pushed out of the win, my share would have been about 1/5 or 1/6 as I think there was 5 or 6 members in the syndicate. But I was the only member not in the family.

    1. 𓂺 (Cockburn - pronounced "Coburn")Tuesday 22 January 2019 at 18:06:00 GMT

      Shame on anyone who would rip off a kid.

      Young people are our future. Personally I do everything I possibly can to help the younger generation.

      Your email has made me think about what it's like to do a paper round in this dark weather. Tonight, I'm going to Halfords to buy 5 sets of bicycle lights and will be giving them to our newsagent (a trustworthy man) so that he can give them to the young people who have paper rounds. Young people deserve everything we can give them.

    2. I used to do a paper round, on a bike, every morning, whatever the weather or how dark it was. Nice gesture, I am sure they will appreciate it.


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