Have you ever received a gift that looks, shall we say, somewhat familiar? A bottle of fine wine you bought in Tuscany for a dear friend’s birthday, or a box of hand-made artisan chocolates for your mum last Christmas, suddenly returns to you some weeks or months later, from a different source. Co-incidence, it may be,  but you know without a shadow of doubt it’s the very same one you chose with care and bestowed upon your loved-one and which has made its way, via a circuitous route, back to you.

You imagined your friend savouring the wine, your mum enjoying the chocolates, and thinking what a perfect choice your gift was. They may have spotted one in a shop and noted, with a smile and raised eyebrows, the price tag. They even sent you a card, didn’t they, describing in detail how much they enjoyed your gift and thanking you profusely, complimenting you on your taste and discernment? But never for one moment did you imagine they had given it away, unopened and unappreciated, to someone who also valued it so little that it was passed on to another, and so on until it returned, possibly even (perish the thought) via a charity shop, to its original source. They can also see at a glance the use-by date.

There is an art to re-gifting. Many have perfected this art to the point of obsession. This is an example of how it works. They throw a party. Friends turn up with seriously good wines, expensive port, designer olives, and the gifts are enthused over and then, by slight of hand or mis-direction, they mysteriously disappear. Whilst bulk-buy wine is served, cheap port poured and supermarket “basics” olives are being proffered by one host, the other is secreting the gifts into the utility room. The delicatessen delicacies brought by the guests are conspicuous by their absence.

You may suppose that the party-throwers keep these goodies to be enjoyed by themselves on another occasion, but you would be wrong. I know of one person who keeps a pack of sticky labels and a marker pen in the gift-hoard cupboard. Each gift is identified with names of the givers and the date upon which it was received: “Sue and Roy: Nov 2012” That way, when the item is re-gifted, they can ensure that Sue and Roy will not be the recipients.

When I lived, many years go, with two such re-gifters, I found in the garage an entire fridge full of chocolate: Easter eggs, Lindt reindeer and Santa Clauses, Galaxy selection boxes and After Eights. Some of them, according to their labels, should have been consumed in the late 90’s. It took me several weeks to persuade my friends that the only place for this hoard was the rubbish bin. When we piled the lot into black bin bags, we freed up the fridge for its proper use: chilling dairy products and meats. But it wasn’t long until new chocolate gifts crept back in with the excuse, “2 for 1 at the supermarket”. Meanwhile, a “make your own gingerbread cottage” kit stood on top of one of the kitchen cupboard for a full 12 months until, just before the next Christmas party, it was unceremoniously dumped in the bin, its “Fred and Babs: Dec 2010” label betraying its origins.

As far as use-by dates are concerned, however, wines can be tricky. A couple I know never drink Champagne, although they receive many bottles as gifts. These are stored in the cupboard under the stairs. Some of them have been there for decades. Now even I, with my limited knowledge of wine, know that most Champagne is sold when ready to drink. Unless it is of a very fine vintage, and stored horizontally at the correct temperature, it won’t be worth opening. This random collection, half of them already re-gifted many times, is kept in the warmest place in the house, standing upright in a cardboard box. The stash is pilfered only occasionally, when a bottle is selected and popped into a re-cycled shiny foil gift bag (a generous supply conveniently hangs nearby in a hessian bag) and is trotted round to the next party, where it is no doubt secreted into the garage to await its next outing.

My mum had the best idea to prevent the re-gifting of her carefully chosen goodies, and openly admitted that this was her intention. Instead of wrapping her gifts and attaching a label she wrote directly onto the chocolate box, or the wine label, with a thick black marker pen, eg. “To Mandy, Love Mum x” No mistaking for whom they were intended or where they had come from – and not a cat in hell’s chance of re-gifting them.

*all names have been changed to protect the innocent.