1. Meredith

    Since the issue of gift cards was raised in the last open thread, why don’t we discuss this further? When is it appropriate to give a gift card?

    • Jerry

      Gift cards to stores or restaurants are appropriate where (i) you don’t know someone particularly well, but need or want to give them something at Christmas (i.e., your secretary or your doorman), (ii) you have a teenaged grandchild, niece, or nephew who won’t like any actual present you give them because he or she is a sullen teenager, (iii) someone you don’t know particularly well has performed a service for your children or grandchildren, such as a coach, teacher (check the local ethics rules), or Sunday school teacher, and you want to thank them, (iv) you want to give a wedding present but the registry has been cleared out, or (v) you know that someone really really really likes shopping and want to provide her with that experience. Gift cards for cash from American Express, Visa, or MasterCard are appropriate in all of the above circumstances and (vi) where you want to give a wedding present and don’t want to write a check.

      Otherwise, for the love of all that is good, just buy a real gift.

  2. J

    Recently a friend had a death in the family. They’ve got more people who have offered to cook meals for them then they know how to eat. But what, if anything, can one do for someone other than say “I’m sorry for your loss,” share a memory, and send flowers?

    • Hello J,
      What you mention can be lovely in an of itself. If you wish to do more, then helping out with daily needs can be a tremendous help.

      Things like raking leaves and a final fall clean up of the yard can be done without disturbing anyone. Washing, drying and yes, ironing, if needed, a few loads of laundry; cleaning bathrooms, cleaning the kitchen, dusting and vacuuming floors, chauffeuring kids to activities or anyone to appointments, picking up items at the store (not necessarily food related), entertaining smaller family members, if applicable — the movies, or an afternoon away from the house can be good for everyone involved.

      When you ask what you can do, be prepared to offer some suggestions … “I would like to … for you.” It is much more helpful than saying “Let me know if there is anything I can do to help.”

      You are a good friend for looking to go further to help out.

  3. Jody

    I think that any time is appropriate to give a gift card, but it also depends on the recipient (if you know the recipient doesn’t like gift cards, no time is appropriate). I appreciate receiving them as my family (who live several hundred miles away) does not have to worry about purchasing something that’s exchangeable. I’ve given gift cards as wedding, birthday, and “just because” gifts and in all cases they’ve been appreciated. I do take the time to purchase a gift card to a store or restaurant that I know the recipient likes.

    • Clara

      I agree with Jerry’s outline. If I do give a gift card to a close friend or relative, it is usually supplementing an actual gift. Perhaps I’ll give a scarf with a $15 gift card to a favorite store or cafe.

      • I agree with what Jerry said, and with Jody’s idea of “just because.” Personally, I don’t really like when people give me gift cards. It’s just not as much fun. However, I buy them for family members in the military (Amazon.com delivers to FPO/APO last I checked), for friends/family with an illness (shopping online is fun and distracting!), my student workers and interns, and for my parents.

        Because my parents are retired and don’t need more stuff, I get a selection of gift cards for a “date.” I’ll get them tickets to a museum, then a gift card for a bookstore, a gift card for dinner, and gift card for the movies. These aren’t terribly expensive, but gives them an excuse to enjoy themselves for a day.

        • Nina

          Oh my goodness, Just Laura, that is the best idea. My parents are also not at a *stuff* point in their lives, but they do like to go out for nice dinners. I’ll get them a gift card to their favourite restaurant for the holidays this year! Better than more sweaters! You are very smart!

          Thank you!

          • Joanna

            Not to mention, giving gift cards back and forth just seem counterproductive — I remember when I was a teen, I would receive a gift card from my aunt and uncle for my birthday. Then, on my cousin’s birthday a few months later, my parents would give HIM a gift card — often, a card for the exact same amount, the exact same place. So what’s really the point? It just seems silly. Each family could just give their own kid $20 for Amazon or whatever, and call it a day.

          • You are too kind. I have found that older folks tend to not want to spend money on themselves. If I gave my parents cash, that would be offensive, as they aren’t destitute. Giving them a gift card for a restaurant means I bought them dinner, and they can relax on another’s dime.
            Some might say, “why don’t you just take them out yourself?”
            1) They don’t live near me, so the opportunity seldom presents itself.
            2) I don’t flatter myself that they always desire my company. Maybe they just want a night for the two of them.
            3) My father never lets me pay anyway. It’s almost comical.

  4. Joanna

    Is there ANY way to tell a friend that her appearance really needs work?

    The friend in question is not employed, and in fact, rarely leaves our apartment complex. I understand that “Cindy” is going to wear “comfy clothes” like sweats or t-shirts, and that’s fine. But she tends to wear the exact same clothes for days or even weeks on end — there are holes in them, all kinds of nasty mystery stains, etc. In addition, it’s very obvious that Cindy does not shower regularly — her hair often hangs in greasy clumps and the BO is rather pungent.

    As Cindy is otherwise a fine person, I have overlooked this in the time we have known one another. However, it IS rather hard to ignore — especially since just a few weeks ago, there was a situation in which we happened to be standing by the apartment’s dumpsters chatting, and Cindy was actually mistaken for one of the homeless people who regularly come to check our dumpsters for bottles and cans! I was utterly humiliated on Cindy’s behalf, nonetheless hoping the experience might be a bit of a wakeup call for her. But Cindy was incredibly angry and defensive, calling the woman a “snob” and who is she to be so rude and crazy, etc. At first I thought that Cindy was embarrassed and so reacted on the defensive. But it soon became obvious to me that she really DID feel the problem was all on the end of the woman’s, not hers.

    Cindy has said several times that she “doesn’t need to impress anyone” and things along those lines. Like I said, I totally get that. But IMO, there is a LOT of wiggle room between wearing a cocktail dress and between filthy, hole-ridden items that should have been burned 20 years ago.

    And no, money is not the problem here. Without getting into the specifics, I know this rather concretely.

    So, in a nutshell, is there ANYTHING I can do here? I know that some will say I should just mind my own business, and overall, I have been. However, I also believe in being a good friend, and I think that Cindy is not seeing herself as the rest of the world sees her.

    Any thoughts?

    • Alicia

      Unemployed, rarely leaves apartment complex, rarely showers, wears grungy attire without realizing that it is grungy. I feel awful saying this but there are a few red flags of either depression or mental illness here. This is a much bigger issue then attire persay. So look at that since you know the situation better and if you think that she is having issues with either depression or mental illness I would try and get her help for that first. If it is just a hygiene and attire issue however I would compliment her any time she puts any effort in above average, offer to take her shopping for new casual clothes under the pretense that you find the jeans yoga pants ect at some inexpensive retailer are just so comfy and they wash up so well.

      • I’m with Alicia. I’m not a psychologist, but I work with them and their clients, and we are required to suggest the university’s counseling services when we encounter a person with the exact symptoms you describe. Most commonly the issue is depression (either environmental or chemical), but there might be more serious reasons for this behavior (which is why I will refrain from an uneducated armchair diagnosis).
        Sit down with Cindy and let her know you’ve noticed this trend of lack in interest in appearance. You’re not trying to change your friend, because you love her for what’s on the inside, but you want her outside to match her beautiful personality. Is she afraid that if she dresses up, she’ll receive unwelcome attention from others? Has she gained a little weight and is uncomfortable with the idea? These are such personal issues, that only a good friend could bring them up.

        • Joanna

          I have, actually, given serious consideration to depression or even mental illness. However, Cindy’s current life situation is not new — it isn’t as though she were recently laid off from a job or anything like that. Without getting into all the details, she has basically been living precisely this way for a good 20 years (she’s near 50 now). However, I haven’t known her past a few years, so I can’t compare and figure out whether things were quite this bad back then, or just became so right now. She really has no family, and as far as I can tell, no friends either, aside from a few of us neighbors in the building.

  5. Joseph

    Hello Emily Posters,

    My fiancee and I both work at a university and plan to host our wedding reception on the campus grounds. We have also asked the chef-owner of the campus taqueria to cater the reception. We are friendly colleagues and he wants to treat us well. He has given us an estimate for this and it is quite generous. Indeed, I strongly believe that he is not even going to cover his food costs.

    What do you recommend that we do? Do we simply accept this as a gift and write him an immediate thank you note? Do we offer a large tip to him and his staff? Do we buy him a gift in return? My only concern with accepting this as a gift is that we are friendly as colleagues but not so close that I would invite to the wedding as a guest.

    • Country Girl

      If the owner himself will be working your wedding, a large tip (along with a thank you note), to owner and staff would be the perfect way to thank him for his generosity.

      If he will not be personally working at the wedding then it may come off strange to offer him a tip, and instead you might wish to give a gift as a token of your appreciation with your thank you note.

      Although you are technically paying him what he is asking for providing a service, it is very thoughtful of you not to want his generosity and potential loss to go unappreciated.

  6. Sara

    When addressing envelopes, is it incorrect to a dress the envelope to Mr. And Dr. Smith if the wife is doctor? I know current day practices are to put the female name first if she outranks the husband by title, but I thought more traditional way was mr and dr.

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