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It's a rewrap

January 13, 2008|Monica Corcoran | Times Staff Writer

Q:Last year, I gave my sister-in-law a chic handblown cobalt crystal bowl from Tiffany that I had received as a gift from some work vendor. She sent me a thank-you note and said she loved it. Then, a few weeks ago, we received a holiday card from my husband's cousin with a picture of his family sitting in the living room. The blue bowl was on the coffee table. Obviously, my sister-in-law regifted it to her cousin. There's no way that family bought a bowl from Tiffany, trust me. I'm annoyed. Should I say something to my sister-in-law?

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Dear P.T.,

Darling, people who live in chic blue crystal houses . . . need I go on? I understand how you might think that you took the high regifting road because the bowl came to you from a distant colleague. Clearly, you felt no compunction to cherish it. That's faulty reasoning and tinged with hypocrisy. If your best friend had given the bowl to you, would it be brimming with salty cashews right now?

What if you later found out that your best friend slept with your husband? Extreme, I know, but hear me out. Because she would be dead to you, would it then be OK to pass along the blue bowl?

Regifting, for the record, is not rude. Maybe we as gift givers just need to try harder. A recent study by Harris Interactive revealed that 83% of American adults receive unwanted gifts during the holidays. And of those who grimace and insist, "Really! No! It's perfect," about 47% foist the ill-suited presents along to someone else.

Here in Hollywood, those statistics must be even higher. Who hasn't opened a gift bag and considered on the drive home who will get the Kiehl's travel set or the gold-plated penlight? I always avoid drivers leaving galas because they drive erratically as they paw through their bags of loot.

"Regifting is never safe in this industry because everyone is friends," says event planner Ashlee Margolis of the A List, who may in fact have everyone's contact info in her BlackBerry. "I just don't do it."

I have been told that one actress, who gets enough annual swag to fill a guest room, affixes a label to each gift that details its provenance. That way, she never trips up on her recycling.

Just last week, the city of Vienna launched a regifting website so that people can sell, trade or give away unfavorable Christmas gifts. Here in the U.S., a nonprofit organization called Freecycle Network (www.freecycle.org) boasts 4 million members, who donate their unwanted gifts to an online community board. Hey, you don't even have to rewrap.

My rules for paying presents forward are fairly simple. First of all, to avoid regifting in the first place, challenge yourself to bestow meaningful items that won't elicit inner groans. FYI: It never hurts to ask someone for a few hints or simply request a wish list. Second, never regift items without opening them first. You never know if a company added a subtle logo or even a personalized monogram.

Candles -- no matter how French or expensive -- and any item that causes froth in a bath are known to be foster gifts that bounce unwanted from home to home. Instead of figuring out how to toss them into someone else's lap, light the candle and take a long soak. You can think about what to send your sister-in-law next year.

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Do you have a social woe or an etiquette issue? Send questions to the Mannerist at monica.corcoran@latimes.com

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