Ask Kari: Should I buy a gift for the neighbor who gave me an expensive gift last year?

Dear Kari,

I need help with something that happened to me last holiday season. A neighborhood friend gave me a very special gift, but I had nothing to give back to her. She is a nice neighbor, but I was blindsided when she showed up a few days before Christmas with an expensive gift for me. I thanked her for her thoughtfulness, but I felt like a terrible person for not having something special for her. I don’t know what to do for this Christmas; she is not someone I spend time with other than waving hello and making small talk with when I see her. Do you think I should buy her a great gift just in case she does the same for me again this year?

Confused Gift Recipient

Dear Confused Gift Recipient,

Although it can feel socially awkward to receive a gift from someone and not give a gift back, I believe that it is fine to do so. Gifting should come from a desire to be thoughtful and kind to someone, to tell them through our gift that they matter and you were thinking of them. If you feel that your neighbor is someone who matters to you, then buy her a small gift of your choice. If you feel that your relationship is one of proximity and buying her a gift feels forced, then I would not. If she buys you a gift again this year, I recommend that you thank her and maybe invite her in for cup of coffee, as your gift of conversation may be the perfect gesture for her instead.


As published in the December 2015 issue of Connections.


About Kari:

Kari O’Neill, MSW, LICSW, is a licensed independent clinical social worker and a resident of Issaquah Highlands.

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