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Unwanted Gift Plot
aka: White Elephant

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Oh, Rob! You shouldn't have!
No, really, you shouldn't have.

Most often a stock sitcom plot inherited from theatre (predominantly farce and pantomime) in which a character receives a present. The present is absolutely hideous, the wrong shape or size, impossible to maintain or clean and/or some other defect. Additionally, however, he or she is forced to pretend that they just love it, so as not to hurt the presenter's feelings or otherwise disappoint them for whatever reason.

To add to the character's pain, the poor receiver of the doomful gift turns out to either be just so good an actor, that the presenter insists that they wear it all the time, put it on display, paint the house to coordinate, etc. Or, the gifter is either simply being or pretending to be in Selective Obliviousness to the actual situation. All the while, the poor victim has to profess contentment with or love of this horrible Money Sink. Cue an increasingly miserable character, and thus is comedy and/or drama committed as they try either to get rid of it, come to terms with it or endeavour to find a magical third option that will bypass the whole dilemma.


If played more for the drama, you can find the trope tipping towards the classical White Elephant mode, wherein the present was given specifically to passive-aggressively troll or hurt the receiver in some way. If they're lucky, it's just a Trickster Mentor or some Gadfly friend trying to teach them to come clean with their feelings if it is done deliberately, however maliciously played. Unlucky examples, however, can involve the Villain of the piece proving themselves to be an effective pain in ways that can be anything from Poke the Poodle levels of "evil" to honest to badness Card Carrying Evil.

Very much Truth in Television, as every person with a very generous but senile/half-blind/out-of-touch grandmother can attest. Further, gift cards exist primarily to avert the trope.

Homemade Sweater from Hell is a Sub-Trope.


Compare My New Gift Is Lame and Convenience Store Gift Shopping. Also see Kids Prefer Boxes, The Dreaded Thank You Letter, and I Got a Rock.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • Seitokai Yakuindomo: Tsuda receives, in quick succession, three implied and unwanted vibrating (sex) toys during the Christmas Episode. The first time as a part of a present exchange roulette and he knew about the possibility of getting that one (and tried to avoid it); the second time was from Shino directly and seems awkward even by the show's standard; the third time is from Santa himself and manages to achieve Rule of Three funny. He utters not a complaint.

  • A Christmas Story: Ralphie's ultra-embarrassing pink bunny pajama suit that he receives from Aunt Clara. Also the mannequin-leg lamp that Ralph's father won in a contest — because he won it, he's very driven to have it around as a sign of pride, but Ralph's mother (and children) are embarrassed to no end because of it and one of the sub-plots is the struggle to try to accidentally-on-purpose misplace it, give it away or destroy it without Ralph's father starting a shouting match in defense of the damned thing.
  • In Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chip-Wrecked Dave is given a macaroni necklace by Theodore, who wants him to wear it everywhere he goes, including a formal dinner with the captain. Alvin's comment was particularly biting:
    Alvin: Oh yeah . . . that's a real chick magnet.
    • To Dave's credit, he does seem to genuinely cherish the necklace; when he and Ian are stranded, Dave refuses to eat the necklace or let Ian do so no matter how desperate they get. He even refers to it as his son's gift.

  • There's a short story published in The New Yorker that plays with this. A man gets his wife a fur coat for Christmas but, as a practical joke, buys a little square of grubby rabbit fur at the same time and has it wrapped as if it's the real present. He drops hints in the weeks leading to Christmas about how he didn't get a bonus this year and he's afraid it's looking pretty lean. When she unwraps it, she puts on a brave face and pretends it's gorgeous and just what she wanted, going to such lengths (calling up a friend like she couldn't wait to tell her about it, and so on) that she almost convinces herself, and he gets annoyed and finally calls her attention to the huge package he's hidden in the hall. When she sees the coat, all the reaction he gets is, "It's nice."
  • In A Song of Ice and Fire, Westeros has... Harrenhal — and, plays this trope for all the hubris-laden, classic White Elephant drama it can manage... for a full three-century period, both in the backstory and within the current series. Should the Iron Thone find itself needing to reward somebody who could conceivably turn out to be either difficult or dangerous down the line, yet would also quite like to get *cough* deniably *cough* rid of them (see "dangerous") at the same time, nothing beats handing them the Impossible Task of taking care of the place by giving them what seems to be a peach of a title and access to the pick of lands in the Riverlands. It. Isn't. Really, it's not. Harrenhal as a castle is just a little too big and rundown to properly maintain, defend or govern using its available, legitimate methods of income, and that's ignoring the rumors that the place is probably cursed. It's almost a pity quite a few people, both in the main story and the history of the place, never quite realise that until a bit too late to do them any good (readers, other characters and those writing the supplementary histories chronicling the various misfortunes are well aware, however). Worse, those winding up in possession of the stone pile can't exactly try giving the place back after either 1) accepting the title to it or 2) taking it by force or deception and/or 3) subsequently finding out they can't handle it. Because reacting like "You know, after actually trying it, it doesn't really fit me; may I have a refund, pretty please (or I'll trash everything around here to find any funds until you do think about it)?" would be either treason to the Crown or an insult to the entire region, both of which would get you justifiably besieged within your awkward-to-fully-man walls... and squashed. Littlefinger has so far got around this by having others try taking over and holding the castle using their own treasons: he thereby gets all the peripheral rights to the titles, with none of the maintenance or other problems actually dealing with the zombie white elephant directly would give him — or, those being ungrateful enough to turn the oportunity down flat in front of the Lannisters would give him, either. He is aiming to cut the knot by quarrying the thing to the ground and replacing it with a much saner keep down the line, hopefully at a profit — Harren used top-quality materials when he built it, after all.
  • The Vorkosigan Saga demonstrates a classical use of the White Elephant (echoing the actual gifts of non-albino elephants from a ruler to dangerously successful and popular generals) in Cetagandan society: brides from the haut caste for exceptionally successful ghem. While this is actually something the ghem in question desire very much, it's also understood by all to be an example of this trope: the marriage is certainly not refusable without incurring mortal insult, and it's just as obviously used because the expenses of maintaining the bride's standard of living and her in-laws' new social status tends to eliminate any buildup of material or political resources which might someday down the line disturb the ghem caste's permanently subordinate role.

    Live-Action TV 
  • The current page image is from an episode of The Dick Van Dyke Show which revolves around Rob giving Laura a replica of "Empress Carlotta's Necklace." Laura hates it, but Cannot Spit It Out because his intentions were so sweet.
  • Friends:
    • In "The One with the Prom Video," Joey buys Chandler a gaudy bracelet, and hilarity ensues.
    • Rachel does this with nearly every gift she gets apparently, swapping it the day after and pretending a big dog ran off with it, or something similar.
    • There's also the episode where Rachel and Monica pretend to both want to keep a hideous work of art made by Phoebe, while they both try to get rid of it when she's away.
  • An episode of Leave It to Beaver was about Beaver giving his mother a sweater that she really didn't like, but was too nice to tell him about it. And then he suggested that she should wear it to a parent/teacher meeting.
  • On the The King of Queens, Doug and Carrie receive a hideous painting of themselves for their anniversary from their friends Deacon and Kelly. They pretend to love it, but secretly try to get rid of it. It turns out Deacon and Kelly had intentionally given them a horrible present so they would be allowed to get rid of an unwanted gift that Doug and Carrie had previously given them.
  • In an episode of That '70s Show Donna gave Eric a "man ring." Said ring was hideous and gaudy and was promptly given to Fez.
  • In Home Improvement the boys gave Jill a very large bottle of very cheap perfume.
  • Jake Donovan in Stark Raving Mad had this with a heavy beaded necklace his then girlfriend gave him.
  • In one episode of Everybody Loves Raymond, Marie gives Ray and Debra a sculpture that she made in a class. The sculpture is unintentionally very suggestive, leading the family to try various means of getting rid of it without telling her why.
  • The Frasier episode "Our Father Whose Art Ain't Heaven" had Martin buying him a horrible painting after he overheard Frasier praising it to the restaranteur exhibiting it. Frasier spent the rest of the episode angsting about how to break the news.
  • In The Big Bang Theory, Amy gives Penny a big, tacky painting of the two of them, where even in the painting Amy has a giant smile and Penny looks nonplussed. Bernadette points out that in the painting Penny looks like a man. Amy does not take it well when she discovers Penny taking it down, and their solution was to hang it on the Fourth Wall of her apartment, meaning it's always there but rarely seen. A Sequel Episode involved some apartment shifting, with Amy and Sheldon taking Penny's old apartment and deciding to gift the painting Penny again. Again, they end up hanging it on the Fourth Wall.
  • In Justified we see a shelf in Ava's house that's lined with ceramic figurines. She mentions to Raylan that she'd once seen one in a friend's house and commented in passing that she liked them. Her deceased husband, Bowman, took her on her word and bought them for her every time he saw one. She told Raylan she didn't have the heart to tell Bowman that she'd only made the comment to be polite and that she really thought the figurines were hideous.
  • Both Christmas Episodes of The Golden Girls show that Rose tends to give rather subpar gifts to her three roommates. She gives Dorothy a maple syrup spigot in the first one, while the second has Blanche offhandedly admitting she buries hers out in the backyard.
  • The Series 8/ Season 34 finale of Doctor Who featured Missy giving the Doctor a Cyberman army made from dead humans which he reacted to like she was giving him a Homemade Sweater from Hell. It's the thought that counts, right?
  • Just Shoot Me!: Jack gives Dennis a vase he made as a decoration for his desk. Dennis makes a few attempts at destroying it, only to find that it's surprisingly tough - it doesn't shatter, and attempting to bash it on the edge of the desk only ends up breaking the desk.

  • Phil Harris's "The Thing", where he opens a box and finds a mysterious thing (mentioned in the lyrics as a (*knock knock knock*)), which turns out to be cursed, as he gets chased out by a shopkeeper who threatens to call the cops, gets kicked out of home by his wife, meets a hobo who isn't that desperate to take it off his hands, and the unfortunate man isn't even allowed into heaven.


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    Western Animation 
  • The Smurfs episode "A Gift For Papa's Day" is all about Papa Smurf trying to get rid of a gift hat that he doesn't like wearing. It gets humorously mistaken for a Magic Hat by Gargamel when he uses it to capture the Smurfs, and Papa Smurf even fools Gargamel into believing that it is in order to distract him long enough for the Smurfs to escape. To resolve the issue once and for all, Papa Smurf decides to have the gift hat cast in bronze so that it can be seen as a trophy of one of their escapes from Gargamel.
  • In the Regular Show episode "Tants", Pops gets Mordecai and Rigby pairs of the titular table pants, who find them embarassing and in his absence give them to Muscle Man. When Pops later asks them to go to a "Tants Lunch" with him, Rigby forces himself into lying he took them to be cleaned after very nearly making the former cry. Fortunately for them, Muscle Man is willing to give them back; unfortunately, they're a mess, kicking off an escalating plot that leads to them fighting the president of Tantsco for making counterfeit replacements. After overhearing their heartfelt apology for the entire conflict, Pops forgives them, and the president gives them free replacement Tants.
  • A Spongebob Squarepants episode "Gift of Gum" has Patrick giving SpongeBob a giant ball of chewed gum for Best Friends Day. SpongeBob is both scared and disgusted by it and attempts to get rid of it without Patrick knowing.
  • My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic, "Secrets and Pies" shows this one from the gift-giver's point of view. Pinkie Pie bakes a special pie for Rainbow Dash—then, seconds after delivering the pie, she sees an identical one in Rainbow's trash. Pinkie investigates further and realizes that she's baked dozens of pies for Rainbow over the years, but she's never actually seen Rainbow eat one of them. The truth comes out: Rainbow can't stand pies, any pies, and she's been pretending to eat and enjoy them just to avoid hurting Pinkie's feelings. So Pinkie's hurt that Rainbow Dash lied to her.

    Real Life 
  • The term "white elephant" (meaning a troublesome or unwanted gift) comes from a legend that when the King of Siam didn't like someone, he would give them a white elephant as a present (or make it known he was to do so). In this culture white elephants were sacred, so the recipient couldn't put it to work but still had to feed it, creating a drain on his resources. Turning down the present would be a grave insult, so the only way to avoid it was to absent yourself from court—which was the intention.
  • Any high-value item like a car, house, etc can become this if given to someone who lacks the funds to pay for maintenance, property taxes, and the like.

Alternative Title(s): Stuck With The Unwanted Gift, The Zotz, White Elephant


Example of: