Annoying Overuse of "I Don't Know"

by Irritated Uncle

Dear Miss Manners:

I am the uncle of 16 nieces and nephews whom I love very much (I have no children of my own). Each of my four siblings is very successful and their children want for nothing. I am known in my family as giving the "best gifts" during birthdays and holidays. Last Thanksgiving, I asked my brother's two boys, ages 16 and 15, what they would like for Christmas. Their answers were "I don't know." I asked them each a second time a few weeks later what they might want for Christmas and one said "I don't know" and the other said "I don't know, let me get back to you." After hearing nothing from either of them, I again asked each of them what they would like for Christmas (this was a week before they left for vacation in Hawaii with their parents), the response from each of my nephews was "I don't know." When the boys returned from Hawaii they found two beautifully wrapped gifts from their uncle and when they opened them they each found a letter from the Ronald McDonald House for Kids thanking them for their $40.00 donations. My sister-in-law and two nephews will no longer speak to me as they feel slighted by the donation (I admit I was trying to teach my nephews a lesson in manners and gratitude). I find my sister-in-law and nephews’ attitude and behavior disappointing at best. Do you think I was wrong in how I handled this situation? Your answer will be presented to my family.

Irritated Uncle in Evanston

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Mar 25, 2013
Rude NEW
by: Anonymous

I feel like a gift is a gift. It's about the thought you put into it. If you want to give a gift, you need to give something you feel like they would want. You shouldn't ask. If you have to ask, then you don't know the person well enough to give a gift in he first place.

Giving a donation in place of a gift is rude unless you know that the person is in support of the charity you are giving to and that a donation is something they would enjoy. That's what a gift is after all, something you've given for someone else to enjoy.

I think that experience gifts trump a physical gift very time. If I truly do not know what to gift to someone, I usually fall back on movie tickets or a membership to the zoo or a museum.

Jan 16, 2011
you are wrong
by: Anonymous

I think donating to a charity for someone is rude, unless they either asked for it, or you knew it was a charity they felt strongly about. Sending something that essentially said 'here's the money I would have spent on you' is rude.

When someone asks you for what you want as a gift, offering suggestions gives them insight to the price range. I'm sure everyone would like a new car, but for very few people is that an affordable gift.

Gifts are supposed to be thoughtful. Maybe you could have given them money to spend on their vacation, a camera to take pictures with, ask them if there is anything else left to get for vacation.

I gift isn't something to teach manners with, and you aren't in a position to teach them manners. You could have just not given them anything since they didn't tell you.

Jun 15, 2010
No Gift at All
by: Anonymous

Why is it that family members are expected to become gift givers and participants in their nieces' and nephews' lives? I am an aunt- NOT BY CHOICE. I did not ask for these kids. Yet somehow I am the bad person if I do not attend every function or give gifts at parties. I'm fed up with this social obligation that I really do not want.

May 07, 2010
Take the Higher Road
by: Eunice replies

Dearest Uncle in Evanston,

I agree that the use of "I don't know" these days is excessive. I try to catch myself when I use it.

The use of "I don't know", more often than not, is simply laziness of the brain.

I agree with you that your nephews should have given you some answers but I'll suggest more creative ways to force answers out of them. While you cannot control how they choose to answer, you could have prompted them saying, "How about a snorkel set? Or a book?" You can say, well if you're not going to tell me, I'm just going to donate your gift to charity.

I wish what you had done (the nice, thoughtful donation) would have indeed taught them a lesson. But it seemed that it didn't result in what you were going for.

Why not take the high road and send a good gift this time, or at least a card and a movie voucher. I'm sure your nephews will not respond 'I don't know' again to you and you all might have a good laugh about this in the future.

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