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Ask Alana: Gifts for new relationships and wine for children

December 24, 2008 |  8:00 pm

Branding This week: What to get your new girlfriend for Christmas and whether to bring wine to a dinner at your son's house. If you have a question for our etiquette maven, e-mail

Dear Alana,
I recently met a woman online and we have been dating for about two months. I haven’t gotten her anything for Christmas yet but we’ll see each other next week. Should I get her something? If so, what?
Chris in Los Angeles

This is why I always advise beginning relationships on February 15: you’re spared the difficulty of coming up with a romantic Valentine’s Day plan, and have a long time to decide whether you like the person enough to spend money on them during the holidays. That way, if his/her birthday is in January, you won’t have to buy him/her anything for at least ten months.

However, I realize that in Los Angeles, it is often difficult to find someone to date who you actually like, so you might not have the flexibility to be that picky. And I see your quandary: get her something lame like a chocolates and she’ll think “Wow, I don’t like his taste in gifts. Time to dump him,” Get her something over-the-top like a new car (I hear they’re practically giving them away these days) and she’ll think “Wow, he likes me too much. Time to dump him.”

Luckily for you, dating expert PJ Osgood thought about this quandary for at least five minutes and came up with some suggestions for what to get a significant (or insignificant) other at different stages at your relationship. If you’ve been dating 0-3 months, he suggests getting your lady spa products or a bottle of wine with a unique cork topper. If you’re buying for a man, get him a book or CD by his favorite author or an iPod docking station.  Kind of weak gifts, I think, but PJ says, “Too much at this stage can potentially damage a relationship.”

If she still doesn’t dump you, PJ has some gift suggestions for what to get her once you’ve been dating 6-9 months. For him: a home brewery kit or a personalized branding iron (since you’re probably dating a farmer). For her, PJ suggests choosing some photos of the two of you and putting them in wall frame sets, which she calls “a thoughtful and great custom gift idea.”

By now, maybe you’re getting the sense that PJ’s suggestions of gifts for women seem to revolve around the home, and the men’s gifts are fun activities that men can do alone, like branding cows and reading books. No fair, I think, and besides, what if your girlfriend is homeless? I personally think that women like . . .

. . .fun activity presents too: maybe a board game or a romantic weekend away. She’ll especially like that if she’s homeless.

PJ also has tips for gifts for people who have been dating for 10 months and over, but I think that if you don’t know what your significant other wants by then, you have other problems to deal with. Maybe you should break up and start it all again Feb. 15.


Dear Alana,
My 25-year old son and his girlfriend recently lived with us for two months after they moved back to Chicago and looked for work. When they found a new place, they invited my husband and me over for dinner, but couldn’t serve alcohol with it because they had assumed we would bring wine. I didn’t think we needed to bring them anything since we fed them and put a roof over their heads for two months. My son said you should always bring something to a dinner party, no matter what the circumstances. Who is right?
Mother in Boston

Ah, Mother.

Just when you think you’ve made it to the finish line and can stop spending money on your children, they boomerang back again. But that’s why you had kids, right? The sheer joy of giving all your money and energy to someone else who leaves towels on the bathroom floor and asks to borrow 10 bucks for something “really important.”

But as excruciating as it might have been to have the two living under your roof, you still should have brought them wine. Sharyn Kennedy Amoroso, owner of Etiquette and Protocol Services in Walnut Creek, says that guests who stay in your home don’t owe you for it afterward. Even if it is your own son and he stayed for way longer than he said he would and practiced with his heavy metal guitar band in the middle of the night with the volume on 11. A guest is a guest, and if you expected something for letting them stay with you, you should just put a sign on your door that says “hotel.”

“Two wrongs don’t make a right,” she said. “She shouldn’t be looking for a repayment.”  Just say you lent your neighbor your spatula, for example. That doesn’t mean you are exempted from bringing a bottle of wine the next time you dine at her house. Unless maybe your neighbor burned your spatula while making brownies, which she didn’t share with you, and now it’s unusable. Then maybe you shouldn’t dine with her at all.

The other question you’re asking, I think, is do you have to bring a bottle of wine when you visit family. This is a stickier question. Shortly after you got the birds and bees talk when you were a young’un, someone probably sat you down and told you that you’re supposed to bring a bottle of wine or a gift when you are a guest in someone’s home. But is that written down anywhere? In my opinion, this could just be an invention by the wine lobby to get you to buy more wine. After all, Sharon already told us that if you’re a guest at someone’s house, you don’t owe them anything.

So I say if you’re going to a family occasion, or a dinner that happens frequently, it’s no use bringing a gift. Your daughter-in-law would surely become a wino if you bring her a bottle of wine every time you dine at her house, and that wouldn't be a good situation for anybody.


Photo: Show him how much you care by getting him a personalized branding iron. Credit: vapour trail via Flickr