Posted by David
on May 22, 2003 in Upside-down Hippo
| 0 comments
Matt Damon is at it again. Yesterday, he ogled me in the gym locker room and followed me halfway home. I attempted to give him the slip by ducking into a laundromat, but he found me anyway. “Laundromat is a proper noun! It must be capitalized!” shrieked Matt Damon. Or was that my word processor? In either case, I took advantage of the confusion to sneak out the back door, run home, eat a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, and spend the afternoon fixing my computer problems.
Once I was up and running again, the emails came pouring in. Well, I received only one, but you should have seen it pour in. It poured like the wind! It poured like a banshee! It . . . well, it sort of just showed up when I was not looking, actually. But it was a very important letter from my dear friend James, from whom I have not heard in two hundred years, but who comes crawling back when he needs advice.
An old friend of mine from college is getting married in June. She is getting married to a Hindu man, and being Jewish herself, she and her fiance have arranged two ceremonies to take place back to back. She’s a person who’s very particular with details, especially for her wedding day, and a very progressive minded person to boot, so she and her fiance edited the ceremonies of any misogynistic or materialistic traditions. This also included the tradition of guests bringing gifts for the happy couple.
She is a dear friend, I’ve known her for over ten years, and I’m very excited for her. I want to give her a gift very badly but I’m afraid I’ll offend her. A mutual friend of ours sent out an e-vite to a party for the couple this Memorial Day, and hinted that there would be gifts. So I began to think it would be OK, but my friend promptly replied to the invite list that she and her fiance really meant it — no gifts whatsoever.
Do I get a gift? I’m guessing I should respect her wishes and live with the guilt.
Oh, good lord. I doubt there is anything that has caused as many social dilemmas as weddings. Give straight people this one little privilege and watch them screw it up for everyone.
First, James, I must ask if this is the same experimental friend who donned a Depends adult diaper, sat on the floor in middle of a party, and began peeing, just to see what would happen. Because if it is, she is the last person whose wishes should be followed (and I would be very afraid, if I were you, to discover what party games she feels are appropriate for the wedding reception).
Actually, like many people who write to advice columns, your dilemma is that you want to do something the “right way” and are confronted with someone who insists upon doing something the “wrong way.” She should be writing to me, and if she did, I would tell her that (as dear Miss Manners has pointed out many times) there is a modern tendency for the happy couple to treat weddings as entertainment events, with participants announced by microphone and gifts as the admission fee. An entire industry, the bridal registry, has arisen around this misconception. Whereas not very long ago, it was unthinkable to register anything but the china pattern the bride picked out (and even this was done discreetly), today, she publishes detailed catalogs of items she craves, from forks to wide-screen televisions. There is the distinct feeling that not showing up to the reception with one of these pre-selected goodies under his arm would spell the doom of any guest.
Your friend, admirably, has recognized the extortion in this modern tradition, but has not delved deep enough to uncover the true problem. Yes, asking for gifts is tacky, but forbidding them is also tacky. Gifts are, ostensibly, a spontaneous expression of joyful congratulations on the part of a delighted guest. Any move to direct that impulse (either toward an item of one’s own choosing or to squash it altogether) is tacky because it implies that gifts are expected. Gifts should never be expected.
So where does that leave you, a delighted guest who wishes to offer some tangible expression of joyful congratulations? You could ignore the bridal couple’s misguided edict and bring a gift, but they may embarrass you for doing so. Or you could not bring a gift and find out that everyone else has. Luckily, these are not your only options because, guess what: bringing a gift to the reception is also frowned upon by etiquette mavens, who prefer mailing it to the couple either before or after the wedding.
My advice? After the wedding, mail them a small token of some sort: a gift certificate to a restaurant or a nice picture frame. (A picture frame is my own traditional wedding gift. Damn the registry . . . you get married, you get a frame. I do not make the rules.) Actually, mailing a picture frame after the wedding would be perfect because you could include a photo you took of their non-materialistic, non-misogynistic ceremony. (I happen to know you have a great camera, James, because I have borrowed it before.)
Then, if they want to get mad at you for such a thoughtful gesture, they can do so in the privacy of their own home.