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I have a friend - let's call her Jane. Jane's a nice gal. We get along, meetup from time to time (when she doesn't decide to cancel at the last hour) and is someone I actually like hanging out with. As of late I've been turned off from trying to do anything with her because 3 times out of 5 she cancels.

A couple months ago she gave me a video camera after I asked to borrow one for a project. She said I could keep it and after I sheepishly asked if she was sure she said it was really okay because it was old/she had newer equipment/was getting a new one for her birthday. I accepted the gift happily.

This next part probably isn't so relevant but it bothers me; I had a showing for my video, something that she knew I worked hard at for months. She RSVP'd as going and cancelled a few days before the premier.

Anyhow Jane messaged me to meetup so I can explain cryptocurrencies to her. It ended like this:

Also - could you bring my camera? I'm working on a few projects that require multiple recording devices.

From the read of it, I'm unclear whether she:

  • Wants to borrow the gift she remembers giving me
  • Wants to keep the gift she remembers giving me
  • Wants to keep the gift she does not remember giving me
  • Wants to borrow the gift she does not remember giving me

This puts me in a strange spot because I don't know whether I'll get the camera back and, even though replacing it wouldn't be trouble, it still kind of sucks that a friend would take a gift back... but I don't even know if that's what she intends to do.

How do I clarify that the camera is mine (which us uncomfortable to say since it was hers) and that I would like it back in a way that isn't super awkward?

The ideal outcome

Jane and I are still friends (even if just unreliably so)

Update

I ended up going in with a combination of Val's directness and LinuxBlanket's show of appreciation. I said something along the lines of

Hey, thanks for letting me use the camera! It really helped out :) Of course I'll bring it. Do you think I can have it back? Or should I buy a new one?

In the end, while I'm still not sure that it's "mine" I feel like that doesn't matter - I can use it more or less when I need to and we're still friendly.

Thanks for the advice... for a little bit hearing everyone out felt like playing pokemon twitch for relationships but it all worked out :)

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    Welcome, trey! You say you're still friends... is your goal at the end of this encounter to remain so or are you past caring whether you maintain it? Have you asked for any clarification from her? Did you get her gifting the camera to you in writing at all or was it a spoken agreement? – Catija Mar 27 '18 at 21:44
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    Is it possible she remembers that she gave it to you and she's just using "my camera" to mean "my old camera" as in the one she used to own, and she's only used the term to distinguish it from any other cameras you might have? – WhatEvil Mar 28 '18 at 10:23
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    What do you value more - the friendship or the camera? – Thomo Mar 29 '18 at 2:56
  • @Catija There was no written agreement – trey Mar 29 '18 at 18:58
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    Coming from a person who lives in a mindspace where people (such as herself) have multiple cameras, isn't it possible she was just trying to identify which camera she'd like to use, in case you now have multiple ones? (Made sense when I thought it up, but even I'm scoffing a bit) – T.E.D. Mar 29 '18 at 19:17

10 Answers 10

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In my personal opinion it doesn't look like a gift. She said you can keep it, not it's yours. It looks more like a long term loan. The proof is also given from the fact that she said "bring MY camera".

You can ask her:

do you think I can have it back? Or should I buy a new one?

If you are really interested in this friendship, even if it doesn't look very strong to me, in my opinion you should buy your own camera, so you will avoid this awkward situation in the future.

64

There's nothing inherently wrong or awkward in asking Jane directly whether the camera was a gift or not. However, as you yourself point out, it could be very awkward depending on the person you ask. If you don't feel comfortable asking Jane directly, you could answer something like

Sure thing! It was a great gift by the way, it was exactly what I needed for my project. Keep it as long as you need!

This way, you can underline that the camera is now yours with a simple passing remark, without it being the focus of the discourse and calling too much attention. Also, since you take for granted that the camera is yours, the awkwardness if correcting you is now on her.

However, if she does state that she never intended to give you the camera as a present, you may want to minimise the "overall awkwardness" and say something like

Ah sorry, I must have misunderstood you. No problem, of course; I thought it was a gift because you told me I could keep it. Sorry again! Anyhow, what are the projects about?

That is, keep it short and simple, and straight to the point.

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    I disagree that it would be awkward. Two adults that are friends should be able to have that direct conversation - as long as it is in good faith. Beating around the bush with (passive aggressive) hints here and there however can make things awkward. – Raditz_35 Mar 28 '18 at 6:37
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    giving this answer would be even more akward.. Jane never said it was a gift. The OP thought it was, but it doesn't mean it is. Why not going straight to the point and asking "the camera was a gift or not?" – Val Mar 28 '18 at 6:39
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    @Val well, if Jane told OP "You can keep it", we can safely assume it was a gift - not your standard way of exchanging Christmas presents, but still a gift. As to why not going straight to the point, see my previous comment. :) – LinuxBlanket Mar 28 '18 at 8:12
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    @Raditz_35 I've edited the answer to also include your point of view :) – LinuxBlanket Mar 28 '18 at 8:47
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    @Val RE "Jane never said it was a gift." If when saying "you can keep it" what people really mean is "please take care of my thing for a while", things are getting misguiding. The onus is on the person "giving" the item to make things clear. – Félix Gagnon-Grenier Mar 30 '18 at 22:43
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How do I clarify that the camera is mine [...]?

You don't, assuming you want to remain friends with Jane.

You needed a camera. Jane gave you a camera she didn't think she needed any more, as a favour, and told you to keep it. Jane has now realised that she does still need it.

The important thing to realise is that it wasn't a "gift" as such. When it's your birthday and Jane goes shopping for to buy something specifically it give it to you, that's a gift. This was just something Jane was no longer using. It's a favour, not a gift.

Jane is now essentially asking for a favour back. "You know how I let you use my camera, could I now use it please?" How bad would you look if you said "No!"? You'd be saying "I like our relationship to be you giving me things, not me giving you things of lesser of equal value."

The best interpersonal solution is to no longer assume that the camera is yours, but to enquire whether you can still use it. I'd suggest wording along the lines of:

Of course, I'll bring the camera along next week. Out of interest, are you looking for it back temporarily or permanently? As I was hoping to use it for xyz project in n week's time.

By asking whether she wants it back permanently, you're suggesting that you were hoping to have it permanently. This may jog her memory that she said you could keep it. Or it may reveal to her that you misunderstood either her initial "you can keep it" or her current "my camera", and the onus is then on her to explain what the situation is.


NB This answer would be different if you'd bought parts for the item. My neighbour once gave me a circular saw with a blunt blade, as he'd bought himself a new saw. So I bought myself a replacement blade for it. If he'd wanted to borrow it back, that'd have been fine. If he'd wanted to take it back permanently, he wouldn't have been getting my nice new blade!

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    Might be a cultural thing, but where I live your sentence "This was just something Jane was no longer using. It's a favour, not a gift." is just plain wrong. When I give something to you without any intention of owning it back later and without cost to you - that's a gift. – Angelo Fuchs Mar 31 '18 at 21:22
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    @AngeloFuchs Jane didn't say OP can have the camera, she said OP could keep it. What I think AnyT means by "the favor" is OP having easy access and full use of the camera because OP could keep it with him. – LVDV Apr 2 '18 at 10:36
  • @LVDV I think so, my comment was more along the lines that his assumption of what is considered a "gift" might not be the same everywhere (or in general). Where I'm from the actions of Jane would be considered as giving a gift, then demanding it back. – Angelo Fuchs Apr 3 '18 at 8:33
  • @AngeloFuchs - I think, perhaps, there are different semantic interpretations of "a gift". Dictionary.com gives "something given voluntarily without payment in return, as to show favor toward someone, honor an occasion, or make a gesture of assistance". I hear "gift" and I think "something given to honor an occasion". I recognise its use as per OP's meaning of "something given to make a gesture of assistance", but to me it carries slightly different implications. Hence my attempted clarification in my answer. – AndyT Apr 3 '18 at 9:16
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Also - could you bring my camera? I'm working on a few projects that require multiple recording devices.

Some people believe a gift they give is always theirs. They give you something secondhand they no longer have any use for. You honestly believe it was given as a gift so now belongs to you to dispose of as you wish. They believe it is a long term loan.

My father gave my sister something as a teenager, as an adult in her 30's she sold it, he was annoyed as it wasn't hers to sell. I bought his old camera off him, then gave it to my sister, he was angry at me as i should have given it back to him.

It sounds as if Jane falls into that category. my father and mother-in-law also fall into that category.

There is nothing you can say, just accept it and buy your own camera. I know this isn't a communication answer as sometimes there is just nothing to be gained from further communication Jane has said everything you need to know in that one phrase "my camera".

  • If OP needs to use the camera while Jane's still using it, then I agree that OP needs to buy own camera. Otherwise, I'd personally recommend OP to wait until she has done with her projects, then ask if OP can borrow it again. That way, OP can avoid buying a camera and Jane doesn't feel offended/confused about the camera. (But if OP needs to use a camera for longer term project, then it's recommended to invest in one) – Andrew T. Mar 29 '18 at 4:40
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    The problem with continuing the loan from Jane is what happens next time Jane needs it, and the next. Being closely related with 2 of these people honestly just buy yourself one. – WendyG Mar 29 '18 at 16:29
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The best way to resolve a misunderstanding or confirm everybody is on the same page is to clearly communicate about it with all parties involved. I have found this to save a lot of time/confusion/angst in my own life and friendships, even though it means I sometimes ask redundant or "dumb" questions about others intentions/meanings. Clearly spelling things out can be awkward in the moment, but then allows people to feel comfortable that there are no misunderstandings.

This line (emphasis added):

could you bring my camera?

Is causing you some confusion, understandably. When asking for clarification, assuming the best from others prevents parties from feeling wrongly accused and implies your understanding of the situation. In this case assume (or at least communicate as though you assume) that Jane used "my" instead of "your" not because she feels she still is the owner of the camera, but because it was hers and she is requesting to borrow that specific one from you.

Clearly communicating does not mean that you have to be blunt, you can indirectly/gently force the topic to gain clarity, perhaps without Jane even realizing that you are clarifying a point. This will minimize awkwardness, which is something you requested.

Either before or during your meetup, you can push for clarity by asking a totally normal question of somebody lending a friend something:

When should I plan on having this camera back? (Optionally add context, i.e.: I was planning on using it for X project next month)

This carries the clear implication that the camera is, in your eyes, your belonging without accusing Jane of thinking otherwise. If Jane actually does agree with you on who owns the camera, or realizes that she was considering it as hers but revises her view after you prompt her to think about, then its just lending things to friends as usual.

If Jane has in fact considered the camera as hers this whole time and thus has no expectation of returning it, the ball is now in her court to clear up this misunderstanding. The following conversation may be a little awkward.

You said you'd prefer to minimize awkwardness and that you could replace the camera if she was going to keep it. If Jane plans on keeping the camera and tells you so, you could choose to express some disappointment at the gift takeback:

Oh, when you told me I could keep it a few months ago, I thought you meant for good

But you can diffuse most awkwardness by telling her that its not a big deal and that you will just get a replacement.

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    This is how I interpret her request as well. She's doing something that requires multiple cameras, she knows you have a camera, and thinks you would be willing to let her use it because she originally gave it to you. As said in the answer, "my" just identifies the camera that used to be hers. – Barmar Mar 31 '18 at 23:40
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As she is asking it back, simply give it back, without further comment except "Thank you for letting me use it. That was really helpful." - If she remembers her initial intention to leave it totally to you, she will give it back. If she regrets her initial action, she will keep it.

If you cannot afford your own camera and would like to use hers for another project, you just can ask her after a time if she would let you use it again for a couple of weeks.

In short: I would avoid arguments on ownership of gifts.

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Communication is hard, and dependent on culture, experiences, and upbringing.

She said I could keep it

If I were to use the words, "Keep it", I intend transfer of ownership. If I intend a long term loan, I'd instead say, "Hold onto it" or "return it at your convenience".

If I were borrowing something, I'd treat "keep it" as ambiguous, and either clarify at the time, or later, and assume that I should return it.

However it's clear that she wants it back now, and that she still considers it her camera.

How do I clarify that the camera is mine and that I would like it back in a way that isn't super awkward?

This is the root of a disagreement. You both obviously believe it belongs to each of you. I can't agree with your assessment that it actually is yours, however you're not asking whether it's yours or not, you're asking how to assert ownership. If I did believe it was given fully to me, I'd proceed as follows:

I'm sorry I didn't return it earlier, I was confused when you offered it. When I asked when you'd like it back, you said, "You can keep it" which I thought meant that you were giving it to me permanently. I don't want a misunderstanding coming between our friendship, though, so I'm willing to return it if that's your understanding of our arrangement. If you did intend to give it to me permanently I'm happy to loan it to you but I would like it back soon so I don't have to delay my projects for long.

This is probably the least offensive way to assert ownership while making it clear you value your friendship above the camera. You have to offer it back if you want to remain friends - it's one of the many things friends are expected to do for each other, give each other the benefit of the doubt and "roll back time" on misunderstandings where possible to undo something that wasn't intended to occur.

That said, I'd prefer a much softer approach that doesn't assert ownership:

Of course, come by and pick it up, or let me know where you'd like to meet. It's been very useful for me, so when you're done with your multi-camera projects do you think I could borrow it again? If you think the projects will take long or if you need it for other purposes let me know when you pick it up and I'll make other arrangements. Thanks again for letting me borrow it for so long!

In this way you'll have a good chance of getting it back for another long term loan.

You should also redefine your understanding of your friend's usage of "keep it" for future conversations so these miscommunications don't happen again.

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With a smile say "Oh, is it your camera? I thought you gave it to me. Of course I'll let you borrow my camera. How long will you need it?"

If she thinks otherwise, the embarrassment will be on her for either miscommunicating what she meant, or for changing her mind.

You've already said you're disgusted with her for cancelling her appearance at multiple events, so let that thought give you a sense of righteousness when you speak with her. You may also want to further assess her actions to determine if you should reduce her importance to you or your willingness to experience the drama of repeat performances. She may be demonstrating your importance to you by her actions.

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    I find the comment you suggest ("Oh, is it yours?") a bit too provocative. Of course, one can do that, but it will probably lead to an escalation of the situation. – Christian Geiselmann Mar 29 '18 at 9:45
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Ask Jane if you can have the camera back after she's done using it. Her answer may or may not clear up the issue of ownership, but awkwardness will be kept to a minimum. If you can tolerate more than that minimum of awkwardness, also state that you thought the camera was yours.

By the way, if you are given something that is not perishable or consumable, and your ownership of the thing is not positively asserted by the other party, you should assume it's not yours and be ready to return it after a while.

  • Examples of non-perishable things: a house, furniture, a vehicle, legwear, a backpack, an electrical or battery-powered device or appliance, chemical reagents (unless you are known to use them in industrial quantities), a DVD, a book, a mechanical pencil, anything that is not obviously perishable.
  • Examples of perishable or consumable things: money (esp. cash), food, fuel, blank paper, underwear, cigarettes, alkaline cells, building materials, a shaving razor, a blank DVD, a regular pencil.
  • Examples of assertions of your ownership of the thing: "it's [all] yours", "it's a present for you", "do whatever you want with it" (dubious, ask for clarification), "I will not ask for it back in the future".
  • Examples of non-assertions of your ownership of the thing: "you can have/keep it", "I don't need it/I'm not using it anymore", "I have another one", "I might want it back in the future", anything that is not clearly an assertion of your ownership.
  • Hi. This isn't really an answer to the question, as it doesn't add a real value to what was said in other answers. Could you edit and explain why this will be good for OP? – OldPadawan Mar 29 '18 at 8:07
  • The first paragraph here is good. The rest goes off on a bit of a tangent. – AndyT Mar 29 '18 at 8:44
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Many people have a pool of stuff for which they have no immediate use, but which might likely be useful for themselves or their friends in the future. Something of a "library", in a sense. If nobody's using something and someone has need of it, that person would be welcome to take physical possession of the item and use it, but should make at least a reasonable effort to make the item available to others who might need it.

Setting aside issues of personal friendship, taking an item from the pool and then asserting ownership of it would likely forfeit one's welcome to use anything else in the pool. In general, there is nothing illegal about being a jerk, but the costs outweigh the benefits.

The fact that the camera was old might have been a reason for giving it to you personally, but it could just as well have been a reason for adding it to the "pool of things for use by friends", with you happening to be the first customer. If you regard the camera as being in such a pool, then you're likely not only to retain her friendship, but also access to other items that may be in the pool in future (like her current camera, the next time she upgrades). Even if you would be legally entitled to claim the camera as yours, such a course of action may still be unwise.

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