How to Give Someone a Gift Without Being Awkward

Waitress: “Thanks for coming in!”

Me: “You too!”


If awkward moments like this are your life in a nutshell, don’t fret. There’s nothing wrong with being a little awkward! It’s endearing. Lovable. Sweet.

I mean, that’s our story and we’re sticking to it. Needless to say, though, if you’ve wound up on this page, most likely gift giving isn’t one of your love languages.

Awkward situations only feed our awkwardness, and few things trigger it more rapidly than awkward gift-giving moments. 

What if it’s not their birthday or the holiday season? What if they hate it? Or what if they think you’re crushing on them when you just thought that sweater would legit look nice on them?

What if, what if, what if…

Well, don’t lay awake all night bemoaning what you could’ve/should’ve/would’ve said/done/given. 

Let us show you the best way to become a top-notch gift giver. Or just, you know, not embarrass the heck out of yourself.

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How to Give Gifts Without Being Awkward (A Guide for Awkward People)

We’ve established that you’re as awkward as a baby moose on ice, but we like you anyway.

And so do your close friends! They think you’re top-notch (if a little socially impaired).

Nothing strikes more fear into the awkward one’s heart than being invited to baby showers, bridal parties, graduations, and the like. There are a lot of people, small talk in no short supply, and an abundance of uncomfortable feelings to match.

We haven’t even gotten to the gift exchanges yet. 

You want to bring the type of gift nice enough to smooth over the fact that you’ll face-plant all evening. Emotionally and socially speaking, that is. Who knows, there may be literal face-planting involved before the night is through.

You came, you saw, you made it weird.

Anyway, here’s how to give a thoughtful gift without being (too) awkward.

1. Choose a good gift

Don’t get creative. And no need for extravagant gifts.

Seriously. You’re reading this article because you’re awkward, not because you’re suave and smooth. So back away from that designer turkey baster or that gold macramé crop top.

What you want to do instead is go with a gift idea that’s a bit on the nondescript side. Something they’ll be delighted by, but won’t side-eye the rest of the evening because it’s too out there.

Think about your recipient, too. Different people = different types of gifts. Gifting an acquaintance something that would only be appropriate for a family member or a longtime friend just makes everyone around you cringe.

Remember that the most important thing is the gesture, so a little gift goes a long way. Think of items like this:

  • A potted plant (No, not a large one that you have to lug up their driveway.)
  • A scented candle (Scents that are clean, warm, and not overly powerful are usually the best bet.)
  • A classic book (This is best if you’re a bit familiar with the gift receiver’s literary tastes.)
  • A bottle of wine (A no-no if they’re teetotalers. Go with chocolate instead.)

2. In general, avoid giving money

Money is acceptable and, to some extent, even expected at weddings and graduations. That’s when young people are making a new start, and often don’t have all the resources that the older and more experienced crowd might have.

Aside from that, pretty much don’t give money. It can get awkward fast. A gift card to their favorite coffee shop, on the other hand, or gift certificates to a nice restaurant can be a great gift idea.

3. Avoid weird/thoughtless gifts

Yes, it is indeed the thoughtful gesture that counts most. But you also don’t want to get them junk they don’t want or need.

Take this list with you when shopping.

Don’t even think about:

  • A coupon book with handwritten IOUs. No one wants your back rub, you oddball.
  • An item of clothing in the wrong size. If you don’t know them well enough to know their size, don’t get clothing.
  • A piece of exercise equipment. Nothing says passive-aggressive gaslighting like gift-wrapping a yoga ball.
  • A live animal. Why? Why would you do that to someone you you like?
  • Anything related to cleaning. “Happy anniversary, honey, hope you like this vacuum!” 
  • Food that is “out there.” No Vegemite, no spicy grasshoppers, no pickled pig’s feet. Better yet, unless it’s a tasteful box of chocolates we’re talking about, it’s best to avoid food altogether.
  • A re-gifted anything that is still presented in its original wrapping, complete with a tag made out to you. From Mom.

4. Avoid gifts that could be misinterpreted

Sidestep awkward gifting situations by avoiding things such as:

  • Negligee for your coworker
  • Wedding photo frame for your ex
  • Bottle of wine for your 18-year-old niece
  • Casual mention of owing them a nice dinner, only to realize you accidentally just asked out your boss. Who is married?
  • A whole, roasted turkey being brought to your new daughter-in-law on Thanksgiving when she specifically asked you to bring the stuffing

If you’re still reading at this point, you might also want to read this one: The 21 Worst Gift Ideas Ever. Seriously, why do we have to spell out everything for you?

5. Give gifts on the proper occasions

As in, don’t fall into inappropriate gift-giving. That’s weird and, well, inappropriate. Which makes things really awkward. There are a lot of times you should and can give gifts, like:

  • Birthday
  • Retirement
  • Graduation
  • Wedding
  • Christmas
  • Housewarming

And lots of times you shouldn’t, such as:

  • Breakups
  • When they’ve specifically stated “No gifts.”
  • In front of others (unless you are at a party where gifts are meant to be exchanged in the group).
  • If you’ve shown up to an event uninvited

6. What to say when giving a gift

  • “I saw this and thought of you!” 
  • “It’s just something small that I thought you might enjoy.”
  • “I hope you enjoy it!”

Good news, that’s it. Keep it simple. Less chance of putting your foot in your mouth, amirite?

7. What NOT to say when giving a gift

  • “This cost me my whole paycheck.”
  • “You’ll probably want to take it back, but…”
  • “What’d you get me?”
  • “Open it now! I have to see the look on your face! Hurry up!”
  • “I hope it’s your size!”
  • “There’s a gift receipt taped to it because I know it’s wrong. It’s all wrong! EVERYTHING I DO IS WRONG!”
  • “Tag! You’re it!”

8. Have a stock of gifts incase someone gives you a gift and you don’t have one for them.

My mom had one of these. She called it her “gift cupboard.” Usually, it was full of candles, books, small but versatile decor items, and coffee mugs. It came in handy a lot.

9. Be prepared to receive nothing in exchange, in case they didn’t get you a gift.

Who is feeling awkward now? You both are!

Solidarity, my friend.

10. Avoid the awkwardness by giving the gift anonymously

Not creepy at all. Unless it’s something from Victoria’s Secret. Or your favorite photo of them…sleeping.

Okay, you know what? Just sign the gift tag and quit trying to be mysterious. You can leave it on their porch, ship it, or drop it off at the front desk.

But for goodness sake, put your name on it so they don’t think it’s a weirdo stalker.

11. Mail the gift instead

Leave the awkward handover to the mail person. Does your gift recipient live across the street? Who cares. Mail it.

You can peer through the curtains to watch their possible reaction if you must.

12. Doorbell ditch, then text them

You need to be in shape for this one. Driveways can be long and treacherous.

Nothing says “I’m awkward” like tripping over the azaleas in your frantic attempt to make it to your car before they see you.

Plus, you know how easily your ankles turn.

13. Reward yourself for a job well done

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Well done. You’ve done your research and got the scoop on non-weird gift giving from the experts (that’s us).

At least you tried. Let people know and reward yourself just a teeny bit with this awkward-reducing “I tried” pin.

In short, our awkward penguins, embrace your weirdness. It’s what people love about you: your endearing lack of social graces and your uncanny ability to turn any situation into one fraught with laughter, raised eyebrows, and second-hand embarrassment.

You are you and you’re the only one!

And if it all goes sideways on you, at least you brought the perfect gift for the occasion.

So what do you think about our ideas on awkward gift-giving? Have some more suggestions on how to give a gift without being awkward about it? Let us know in the comments!

Awkward Gift Giving Guide
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Melyssa Williams

Melyssa Williams has been writing since she could hold a pen (or a quill, as she was an odd little duck).

Sadly, she was born to two loving parents who fed her broccoli, taught her manners, and raised her with...

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