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Gift-giving at no-gift party confuses co-worker

Dear Harlan: I recently attended a birthday party for a work friend. It was hosted at her apartment. The invitation specifically said no presents. She even told me no presents when she invited me. She couldn’t have been clearer. Well, I got to her place and guess what everyone brought? Yep, there was a pile of presents on the table. I was so embarrassed. Why do people bring presents when the invitation says no presents? Am I missing something? Should I get her a present, or is it too late given that the party was last week?

— Embarrassed

Dear Embarrassed:  You were told not to bring presents by the host. That’s why you didn’t bring a present. You followed directions. Bringing a present in this situation would have been weird. There’s no shame here. The people who brought gifts might be long-time friends. They could have been presents from family. As a friend from work, there is no obligation or explanation needed. If you want to show her how much you appreciate the gesture of being invited to the party, you can take her to lunch to celebrate her birthday. There’s no reason to mention anything about the gifts or confusion in not bringing one. It’s all in the past. In the future, when you go to an event at someone’s home, take a candle or small token of appreciation with you. You can never go wrong with a little token for the host. This way you’ll make sure you’re covered in case people bring gifts.

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