Ask the Past: office baby shower

One of my coworkers is going on maternity leave next month, and there's going to be a baby shower for her before she goes. The company is getting her a gift, but we have also been asked to contribute for a gift from the staff, and have been told we can give things individually as well if we want. The thing is that I don't like my coworker very much, I think the feeling is mutual, and I'm quite looking forward to her being away for a year. Do I have to contribute to a gift for someone I don't actually like?

This was actually quite a hard question to answer, because most etiquette books don't have much to say about baby showers specifically. Etiquette in Business (1948) does talk a bit about gift giving in the office, so I think they can be considered the experts, and their first word on the subject is actually quite encouraging:

In some firms, gift giving is kept within reason. When a person receives a present from the crowd, it is in celebration of an occasion worth remembering. In other firms, however, the practice is carried to one extreme or the other. Either people are taxed too high and too often or the attitude is so conservative as to seem stingy. When people find that collections are becoming so frequent as to be a nuisance, they should never hesitate to refuse in a pleasant way.

I don't know how often you get hit up for contributions to gifts, but it seems like a pleasant refusal is fine. If you do decide to contribute, though, Etiquette in Business helpfully gives advice on how much might be acceptable:

In large companies, and especially in places where there are a great many girls, the management has usually found it necessary to establish rules limiting the amount of money that may be collected for gifts. Sometimes it is 10 cents, with a quarter the limit for something special, such as a wedding present. The rules go even further and do not allow collections to be made outside one’s own department.

And if you want to provide any input into what actually gets given, they provide this helpful list of useful and attractive presents (admittedly, these were for wedding showers, but in the end, a shower is a shower):

  • Washable place mats
  • Leather doily bordered in gold leaf, to put under a vase
  • Glass salt-and-pepper set
  • Towels
  • Nest of small ash trays
  • Half a dozen coasters for tumblers
  • Handkerchiefs
  • Sachet bags
  • An apron
  • Box of note paper
  • A pretty piece of china suitable to be placed on an occasional table
  • Decorative paperweight
  • Wastebasket
  • Telephone-book cover
  • Calendar
  • Glassware

The other thing that is always popular is flowers. You could always offer a pleasant refusal when you're asked to contribute to the staff gift, and then give your coworker a nice bouquet (all meanings from The Language of Flowers (1867)):

Yellow carnation: disdain; Balm of Gilead: relief; Michaelmas daisy: farewell.

I'm sure your coworker will get the message, but if she's truly polite, all she will be able to do is send you back this letter from Hill's Manual of Social and Business Forms (1888):

Miss Beveridge's compliments and thanks to Mr Haines. His beautiful and fragrant gift will be a welcome addition to her toilet.

I'm sure that will help.

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