How do you politely refuse a gift on ethical grounds? Q

Ethical Gifts

Q:I am Vegan and I've been given a Food themed gift basket – how do I refuse it without causing offence?

A: Refusing gifts is generally considered the height of bad manners and creates bad feeling between the gift giver and the recipient. Put yourself in the other person's shoes and try to imagine how you may feel when you hand over the gift, smiling and happy and expectantly anticipating a pleasurable response, only to be met with a frown or a grimace. The gift is not taken from you but rather gently pushed back at you with a ‘thanks, but no thanks'. It's a VERY uncomfortable situation all around.

In the situation mentioned above, if the gift was given in person I would be gracious and accept the gift. I could later re-gift it, donate it to charity etc. Even if you're close to the gift giver, it will not go down well if you refuse it face-to-face.

I had an aunt who routinely rejected my gifts with the words ‘ get a refund, I don't need it.' From her point of view she perhaps thought she was doing me a favor but I just felt rotten and didn't like her any better for her blunt honesty. The gifts I bought were ‘thoughtful' and I didn't want to return them. I instead gave her gifts over to someone else, which is something she herself could have done .. in my absence … later.

I am also aware that I myself have been very ungracious in my younger years when receiving gifts I really did not want or had no use for. I hope I've learned my lesson!

If you feel ethically compromised by the gift and on ethical grounds do not want to accept it be aware that your refusal if not handled with the greatest of care could act as a message to the gifter that ‘they themselves are unethical'. I was once advised that a certain action of mine might be unethical and immoral and I took immediate offence to it. Conveying an air of superiority over others is never going to be well received.

I would advise you to accept the gift (put it aside) and later send them a thank you note with wording along the lines of:

” Thank you for your gift, the thought was warmly appreciated. As a Vegan (or whatever your reason is) I wasn't able to enjoy it myself but it was enjoyed by those close to me. Thank you again for your kindness.”

The reason for advising them as above is to hopefully avoid such misunderstandings in the future. And that is the ONLY reason for letting them know you didn't want,need,like their gift.

If someone buys you a Trantula and you're afraid of spiders, the above may not apply. You may scream and run … explain later 😉

Seriously though .. in all likelihood this won't happen, though I appreciate for you with your ethical standpoint, the gift could represent something equally terrifying. Please appreciate the thought of the giver before anything else in a gifting situation.

Please let me know if you've been in a situation as a gifter or receiver where the gift has been refused.


LeahG is a Gift Ideas Generator, Designer, Blogger and Member of Amazon LLC Associates Program as well as other reputable associate programs. This site is funded via affiliate links.

One thought on “How do you politely refuse a gift on ethical grounds? Q

  1. I have a similar question about food gifts. How to respond when you have a food sensitivity that is well known in your group and you are routinely offered food (i.e. well meaning co-workers place a plate or sampling of food under your nose). I usually say something like “That looks wonderful and I really wish I could eat that!” which immediately reminds the person of my situation. Sometimes I accept the gift and try to find a towel to wrap it in – I don’t always have someone I can give the food to. I agree that a gift should be accepted for the most part as graciously as possible, but the “food in the face” type of offering can be an offensive act. And I agree about the spiders lol.

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