Question: When given a token gift in person (say a housewarming present or a thank you card), is it generally expected that it will be opened immediately in the presence of the giver and discussed, or just acknowledged gratefully and put aside for later? Does it matter if the gift is likely to contain money (or equivalent)?

(Edit: cultural context is USA. This happened to be at work, but I am not looking for -specific answers.)

Either way, as both giver and receiver, I have seen experienced moments of awkwardness during such an exchange when both parties aren't on the same page. Aside from the social setting, it seems to depend on whether others are around (and how many), and the need to balance demonstrating interest in both the gift and the giver - "I really appreciate you thinking of me" vs "let's check out what I just scored."

Background: Today at work I was given a personal thank you note (with small but non-trivial gift card) from a coworker for putting in some unpaid time helping with a difficult client. I made eye contact, said thank you, and set the card aside on my desk while we continued discussing the remaining work for a few minutes, but noticed the other person glance at it once or twice, then they mentioned "hope you like " as we started to part ways. I felt like I hadn't quite met their expectations in my initial response, and assured them I did and would likely use it soon.

I feel like the exchange was normal and that neither of us felt awkward about it, but since I happened to have this site pulled up1 I thought I'd do a quick search for similar questions. Didn't see anything similar so I thought put up the question and see how most people would expect to handle something similar.

In contrast / for discussion, at an event where presents are customary from many people at once (e.g. birthday party or wedding reception), there is often a table reserved for placing gifts during the proceedings. Often gifts go directly onto the table with a card naming the giver, and presents handed to the recipient are generally met with a smile and a "thank you" before the present is placed with the rest.

1 Thanks to the SE sidebar for keeping me off Wikipedia and TV Tropes - I think...

  • 4
    This is probably highly culture-dependent. Oct 10, 2017 at 18:06
  • 3
    And context-dependent and depends on the person, like the coworker in your example. Oct 10, 2017 at 18:57
  • Like the comment from Anna Daunted and Tycho's Nose, please add a relevant cultural context, like where this happened, or where the giver from.
    – Vylix
    Oct 12, 2017 at 7:35

3 Answers 3


Generally take in the cues.

Your coworker thanked you and set the card on your desk. This tells me that your coworker did not really expect you to open it up in front of them. That they kept talking about other topics reinforces that they prefer you do it in your own time.

On the other hand if you coworker handed you the card and says thank you. Then stands and waits, it pretty obvious they gave you the card with the intention of seeing your response.

If you are really in doubt and want to open it, just ask if they mind if you open it now. IF there is a reason they want you to wait they can probably tell you that then.

  • 2
    Yeah, I usually just ask 'is it okay if I open it right away?', has never been awkward.
    – Robin
    Oct 13, 2017 at 13:40

In my experience (in the US) it's usually expected to open such right away. People often want to see your pleased reaction. If you are in doubt, give them the choice, like this...

"I can't wait to open this!"

Then wait for them to come back with one of these (or variants thereof):

  • "So open it already!"

  • "Too bad, you have to wait, ha ha!"


Although a Brit, I have family and friends in the USA.

In my experience, in the USA it is common to open a gift in front of the giver (Hollywood supports this idea in many movies).

When in doubt, ask. A simple "Can I open it now?" would suffice.

You said that you noticed the giver glance at the gift on the table more than once - a likely indication that they were expecting you to open it there and then.

Next time you see the giver, go up to them with a smile and thank them.

  • Is your answer really, based on the Hollywood movies I have seen this is how you should do it in real life? Oct 16, 2017 at 1:19

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