Because You Are Polite

by Ginger Philbrick

I have a dear friend who is always unselfishly doing things for others. The problem arises when she cannot accept the same generosity in return. When she comes to my home for dinner, she will bring a plant, wine, or some thoughtful gift. However, when I try to reciprocate with even the tiniest gift, she seriously objects.

Once, upon arrival for a weekend visit, she brought a dessert for dinner—I had already prepared one—and a casserole for breakfast—I also had made plans. However, when I am invited to her home for an event she will adamantly tell me not to bring anything. She also has difficulty accepting compliments.

I have talked with her about how this, as well as how her too generous nature makes me feel. She will make an effort for a time but it never lasts very long. Advice on dealing with these situations?

Frustrated and Perplexed, Weems

Dear F & P,

Your experience is exasperating, and I have frequently heard the same frustration from others.

Since childhood, many of us were taught that the Bible advises that it is more blessed to give than to receive. So what right have we to criticize someone’s wanting to give to us?

It is indeed important to give, but it is equally important to allow others to give to us. If we denigrate a friend’s desire to give, we are depriving her of the same pleasure, or blessing, that we have in giving. While supposing we are just being magnanimous, we are actually being selfish.

The reasons for being uncomfortable with kindnesses are several. There are those who physically and mentally squirm when being presented with gifts and compliments because they feel they do not deserve them. Others don’t want gifts because they have a fear of being indebted to the giver. And some people enjoy the imagined control that always being the one to give allows them over others.

I am sure your friend has no conscious understanding of how impolite her reactions are. You have tried talking to her to no avail. Now is the time for acceptance, as difficult as it may be. If you wish the friendship to continue, and I am certain you do, then it is clear you need to be the one to change. Perhaps just an email of gratitude after each visit or kindness is best. Or better yet, one of the more expensive and artistic cards that are on the market today would be a gift in itself. You could give it when you arrive or, to avoid conflict, send it after you are with her.

This is basically your friend’s problem, F & P, although it is irritating and sometimes hurtful for you. But like avoiding bees because, even though they are industrious and about as cute as any flying thing can be, we know they can sting, you can learn to avoid being one who brings on the no-longer-surprising rebuff from one of whom you are fond. Perhaps your friend will see that as actually being a gift to her.

Ginger Philbrick is the owner of Because You Are Polite LLC. You are invited to email your manners questions to her and she will respond as time and space allow. You may contact her at