A time-honoured way of showing affection, gratitude or esteem, or marking rites of passage, such as birth or marriage, the giving and receiving of presents is one of life's greatest pleasures.
Presents should always be given in good faith and with the sole intention of delighting the recipient.
A thoughtful present should be appreciated regardless of cost. The time you have taken to select it will be apparent in your choice. However, if you do not know your recipient well, certain presents have enduring appeal and will always be appreciated.
Generally speaking, the present should be appropriate to the depth of your acquaintance and to the reason behind the gesture. If possible, do some research to avoid making a basic error - the bottle of whisky to the teetotaller, or the chocolates to the dieter. Beware: present-giving is not a competition, and there is no need to go over the top. A competitive spirit undermines the action and a disproportionate show of wealth is likely to embarrass the recipient, and create a sense of reciprocal obligation.
When selecting presents for those close to you, think carefully about their tastes, hobbies, passions. Never fall into the trap of buying a present that you really want for yourself, and that you fully intend to use, borrow or adopt. Remember what you have given in the past. A repeat present suggests that you take the whole business lightly, so keep a list if your memory is poor. Try not to agonise over choice and never try to match the anticipated value of a reciprocal present. Giving and receiving are entirely separate activities, and this is not the time to weigh up the quid pro quo.
To ensure that giving is truly better than being on the receiving end, take the time to plan. A last-minute trip to the shops will leave you frazzled and spoil the experience. A present is worse than useless if it is given grudgingly.
Re-gifting is a potential minefield. Certainly, as the credit-crunch bites, recycling is to be applauded, but employ great caution. Inspect presents minutely to ensure that there are no telltale signs that they are second-hand. Then think very carefully about who gave them to you in the first place; there is a very real possibility that you will re-gift a present to the original giver, or to someone who is intimately connected with them - this is a faux pas from which it is hard to recover.
To receive a present graciously, always open it when the giver is with you. Always show enthusiasm and try and engage with the giver beyond a simple thank you. If appropriate, ask them pertinent questions about the present, or muse on when you will use it. Disappointment, distaste or just indifference must be hidden at all costs. For all but the most casually given gifts, a written thank you is appropriate