Ask Athena: Petty Gestures

Sometimes you gotta go along to get along. 

Dear Athena: My grown son’s new girlfriend (of two years) always brings a small gift when they visit from out of town: a decorative candle, figurine or potted plant – something frivolous that I don’t need or especially want cluttering up my house. So this past Christmas when she came with a Santa mug full of Hershey kisses, I thanked her but also told her I had no use for her “hostess gifts” so please stop. You’d think I’d slapped her, she was so offended. My son agrees I have a right to say no to being gifted but also feels I am being insensitive to “Sharon’s” feelings. Who’s right?  — Graciously Ungrateful

A:  I am not sure when polite etiquette went out the window, but it sure flew out of your tight little home.  The gifts you are being given are a small tokens.  When people come and stay in your home from out of town, it is common courtesy to bring something as a ‘’thank you’’ for your hospitality.

The response from you should have been to accept the gift with kind appreciation.  Then, in the course of the visit, you should have had a conversation with her to say that you really appreciate her thoughtfulness but that she need not feel compelled to bring a gift every time. You have ample decor in your home and that you are just full up.  Perhaps you could talk about her thanking you by helping make a meal or helping to clean up.  Or, maybe bringing something consumable (like a beverage or fruit) that everyone would enjoy as part of the holiday.

Btw, you don’t say whether you have talked with her about the gifts in the past.  If not, there is no reason to expect that she was belligerently imposing a gift upon you.  If you have told her to stop in the past and she didn’t, that would be impolite and she should not have been offended.

Bringing a mug to someone’s house is not a federal offense; your reaction treated it like it was.  You are not obligated to keep and display gifts and can take that mug to your nearest Salvation Army or Goodwill store.  You owe her an apology for your overly harsh reaction.  Live up to you name and be Graciously Ungrateful.

Dear Athena:  I want to leave our porch light at night for safety reasons. My housemate refuses because she wants to save on electricity and also she is very big into “the environment” and feels lighting the porch overnight would be wasteful. We’re both on the lease but the utilities are in her name. How can I convince her that keeping a light on is the neighborly thing to do? – Shine On

A: Housemates need to work things out but you also have to decide how important it is.  Is everyone in the neighborhood keeping their lights on?  has there been some incident to warrant the concern? Do you fear for your safety when coming in at night?

Then make some simple calculations. A 15 watt LED bulb’s total electric use is 55 kw/year for the whopping price of about $7. Get a motion detector light. She could definitely benefit but if she holds fast on the cost, write her a check for the whole $7 and shine on.

Agree or Disagree? Please comment below.

Read last month’s Ask Athena here.

ABOUT ATHENA  When she’s not advising mortals, Athena spends her time on earth in NW Philly with her husband, two sons and a day job where she’s paid to tell important people what to do (naturally).  Send your questions to

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