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This past winter, a pair of neighbors dug me out of a snowstorm*. I was incredibly grateful, as it was very deep and it would have taken me days to do what they did together in about two hours.

I found out from another neighbor what their favorite restaurant was, and bought a giftcard that would more than amply cover a meal for two. Then I put the gift card and envelope (D'oh!) In a box of dark chocolate cocoa.

I presented them with a thank you card and a box of hot cocoa with a ribbon. I didn't say, "check inside". I wanted it to be a pleasant surprise.

Weeks went by and I didn't hear anything. I don't expect a thank you for a thank you, but I began to wonder, maybe they don't like hot chocolate, and that gift card is going to waste in a box? I asked the first neighbor if they had gone to the restaurant, to which she replied, not that she knew of. I didn't want to tell the neighbor I had asked because it would, to me, have appeared that I was trying to make myself look generous.

If you have surreptitiously given something of value to someone and have received no acknowledgement of it's receipt, is there a way to inquire about it without appearing to want gratitude or recognition?

This would cover gifts sent by mail, a surprise gift sent through Amazon, etc.

*(There is some good to living here! This is but one example.)

  • 5
    Curious if you've talked to these neighbors at all since you gave them the gift? – Catija Nov 14 '17 at 16:22
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    Related (from the other perspective) – JAD Nov 14 '17 at 16:32
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    @ Cajita - I have spoken to them several times. :) – anongoodnurse Nov 14 '17 at 16:50
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    Would you prefer only to ask the intended recipient, or would you also consider talking to the shipping company? This could either limit or expand the range of answers. – HDE 226868 Nov 14 '17 at 17:11
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    @RyanfaeScotland - I took Andrew Leach's approach; I apologized for appearing totally ungrateful. The recipient stated that they had found the gift and apologized for not mentioning it. This gave me another opportunity to thank them for their great thoughtfulness. Win-win. :) – anongoodnurse Mar 28 '18 at 1:58
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This actually appears in a recent Spectator article by Mary Killen, available online, where a querent didn't receive thanks for a gift. Admittedly, not receiving a thank you for a thank you isn't quite the same, but the method works for gifts sent via a third party. It satisfies that part of the OP's question here, but doesn't really suit a "Did you find the gift certificate I included?" situation.

Text or email them with this enquiry: ‘Horrified to see, when looking through my credit card statements for the past six months, no mention of the gift I bought you through the normally reliable (here name the relevant supplier). I’m so sorry to have disappointed you. Can you confirm you never received (here name the relevant present) and I will re-order it?’

When they reply that they did receive the presents and are very sorry they have been too busy to thank you, you can email back, ‘Phew! And silly me. The payment went through my debit account.’

"I'm so sorry to have disappointed you" could easily be "I'm so sorry it's gone wrong: you must think me so ungrateful for not thanking you for digging me out."

  • "I’m so sorry to have disappointed you." That's a really nice approach (when not used for the wrong reasons.) I think it could work here, too, as your tweak presents. "You found it? Oh, I'm so glad!" Thanks! +1. – anongoodnurse Nov 15 '17 at 14:43
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    So lying is the correct answer? I'm not a fan. – mascoj Nov 17 '17 at 22:14
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    Who's lying? I find no mention of the gift in credit card statements. That's not a lie. – Andrew Leach Nov 17 '17 at 22:32
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In this case a simple...

How was the restaurant?

... should work.

Without saying which restaurant, if they haven't opened the box they'll be a little confused and ask "which restaurant?" At which point you can laugh and mention the gift card in the cocoa.

If they seem embarrassed or anything, just laugh it off thank them again and tell them that you just wanted to make sure they had the chance to use the card before it expired.

If they had found the card they'll probably be fine with the inquiry. Most people don't get too worked up about these things, so there probably isn't anything to worry about.


In cases where you've mailed/shipped something it can also be acceptable to ask:

Hey, did you get that thing I sent? Just wanted to make sure I didn't mess up the address.

Again any awkwardness can be diffused by joking about how crazy/busy the mail/shipping system gets around the holidays. Most people who've tried to go to a post office around the holidays will understand the chaos and frustration of the season and probably won't think you're nudging them for a thank you.

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It's a bit subtler to directly ask about the service/use of the present, e.g. in your case you could inquire about the restaurant.

a) Menu: Have you been to the restaurant XY and tried monkey brain ? I heard it's the specialty of the house. My SO and I wanted to go to XY then and ...

b) Venue: Traffic, parking lots, atmosphere etc.

For other examples (mail etc.), you could also ask about the service

I plan on using their service again to send a gift to another friend. Did they deliver yours on time? I just want to make sure everything is fine.

The last time I ordered something there, bla bla was damaged and I had to send it back. I hope with your packet everything was fine.

This approach is scalable, i.e. you can be more or less direct with your question about the gift itself. It also helps to find out, whether they received it, at all, and as a reminder. For sure, the danger is that it may appear artificial, so be careful how you phrase it.

You may also try out the more honest and direct approach, although it is still more risky:

Hi! I just wanted to know if you received the gift already? I was just curious and a bit worried, because I hid it in an unfortunate/unusual place/used a sometimes not so reliable delivery service (good to blame yourself).

Also good to keep it short, so to not give the impression that you are hoping for a long answer or explanation, just a yes or no. e.g. ask when you are parting ways or want to hang up the telephone in a "Oh, before I forget"/"Oh, I almost forgot to ask you" way. This way, they feel no need to explain themselves. (e.g. in case they found the gift card, but don't want to go there...)

Thanks to Dawood ibn Kareem for the suggested improvement.

  • I don't know if it is regional but generally it's more subtle in my region in germany to just ask how the restaurant was. Asking if they delivered on time would come across weird most of the time. However if they said they are there you then can ask such things, or in a generall conversation about Place X, it's just a weird opening question here. The last one though is really good and smooths the athmosphere with some joking/blaming about yourself. – Nico Nov 16 '17 at 8:17
  • @Nico Thanks for the feedback! The idea was for them to not having to answer that question ("How was it?") directly, by providing a different topic or way out right afterwards. Yes, it could appear weird, so the use of this suggestion is restricted to when it actually makes sense and possibly not to begin a conversation like that. – Anne Daunted GoFundMonica Nov 16 '17 at 14:02
  • 2 Downvotes - any idea how I can edit my answer to make it better? Is it my answer overall or just parts of it, that need overhauling (maybe even deletion)? I'm thankful for suggestion! – Anne Daunted GoFundMonica Nov 16 '17 at 14:03
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One potential issue I see is that you put it inside sweets. People frequently re-gift these asap, whether they are on a diet, due to food intolerances or just because a family member or a friend dropped by unexpectedly. If that's the scenario you would be better off not brining it up.

Christmas is nearly here, send them a nice card expressing how great neighbours they are. That covers the possibility that they never saw the cocoa, either.

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I gather used postage stamps and related philatelic items to distribute to military veterans who collect them. Hundreds of people worldwide contribute packets of stamps to their local churches which mail the gathered items to churches in my city. From there, a member of the local church will drop off boxes and bags of accumulated donations on my front porch. Sometimes there isn’t a clear indication of which church congregation left the package for me and I have to piece it together from partial addresses on partial envelopes. Sometimes I get distracted by the death of a friend or something and I’m not as prompt as I should be in sending a letter of gratitude to the donor.

The way they deal with me, and my suggestion: Leave a brief voice-mail or text, or mail a postcard saying, “I left a donation of____at your door two weeks ago. With the ( stormy weather/problem of theft of packages on porches/chance that you didn’t see it...) I am concerned about whether you received the package and if it was undamaged. Please let me know if it was received safely.Thanks!” This works! I make sure I tell them immediately that the item is great and very appreciated and I apologize for being slow to show my appreciation and my slowness is my mistake, not a lack of gratitude. I ask if there is anyone else, specifically, that they would like me to contact to thank for their contributions. I’m working at being more prompt and organized. When I drop off a gift at someone’s door I’ve learned to tape an obvious but classy note to the top of the item that says:who it is for, why, and who it is from. This is working well, the recipients always tell me they received the gift and appreciate it.

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