So it's Christmas. Again. You're about to unwrap a present from your mother-in-law, who waits impatiently for your reaction. But disaster strikes. She's got you comedy Bart Simpson socks.
Abysmal presents are a depressing part of life, but how can we avoid upsetting those who inflict them upon us? Mark Westbrook – senior acting coach at Acting Coach Scotland – guides us through the tricky art of festive sincerity.
“There’s a quote from Hamlet”, says Westbrook, “which reads ‘O’er step not the modesty of nature’. Or, in modern English, ‘Don’t overdo it’. People can spot insincerity a mile off, so the important thing is to get rid of the idea of faking or pretending, and just be as truthful as possible.”
“Instead of talking about the gift itself, focus on the person who gave it to you. So, when you open it, react by saying something that is absolutely true, like ‘Oh, you are so thoughtful!’ Regardless of whether you like it or not, they were thoughtful to buy it for you, so there’s no fakery involved here. If you make it about the present, you’ll have to pretend, but if you make it about the person, you can be warm, loving and sincere.”
“When you’re unwrapping the present, it’s important to smile”, he continues. “Visualise something you would have actually wanted, rather than thinking about what’s there in front of you.”
“Good body language is also vital. Try not to tense up as you tear off the paper, and look the person straight in the eyes, rather than looking down at the gift. This is an excellent way of distracting and deflecting. A great magician I knew told me, ‘if you look at the object, they’ll focus on that, but if you look at the person, they’ll focus on you’.”
“Make sure the situation doesn’t drag on for too long. Most of what I teach is about people trying to get what they want from each other. So, once you’ve opened the gift and responded in the manner above, immediately say something like, ‘You must open this one now!’ This will take their attention away from the present they’ve just given you.”
“And finally, give them a hug! A physical response is much easier to fake than an emotional response, plus it’s a great excuse to put down that awful present…”