Gift-Giving to Unresponsive Relatives, Vol. 14, Issue 26

Dear Etiquetteer: When I sent my nephew his Christmas gift of cash, I told him that I knew he would be turning 18 in summer and graduating high school soon before. I told him his combined gift for these special occasions was a plane ticket to my city so that we could attend a Major League Baseball game together. However, because I know he's busy, he had to plan in advance. I never (uncharacteristically) got a thank-you for the Christmas gift. And he got in touch with me only after I told his father about the gift last month. I received neither an invitation nor an announcement of the graduation. However, two days before, my sister-in-law asked my sister for my e-mail address so that she could send me the live link to watch the event. My brother has since told me that nephew is too busy this summer to come to Boston. So this is my question: Do I send him a different gift for this birthday, or just a card reminding him of the previous gift. And what should I do about the graduation?

Dear Avuncular:

One of the responsibilities that comes with adulthood is conducting your own relationships with your relations, and not relying on your parents to take care of them. Your Neglectful Nephew appears not to have learned this. Etiquetteer does not care how busy his senior year of high school might have been. He should have been in touch with you directly, either to set a date, or to decline graciously.

Etiquetteer has to agree with you that receipt of a graduation invitation goes a long way to making one feel invested in a young person's future, and the gift one selects. Etiquetteer does have to wonder if your nephew sent them out at all, as it's simply too far-fetched to think that you were omitted from a family list.

Your account of the situation certainly doesn't display any enthusiasm on his part in your gift. Etiquetteer certainly sees no point in reiterating it. For his birthday, you might send him a bit of memorabilia from his favorite baseball team, along with a Lovely Note of Infinite Regret that you weren't able to tempt him sufficiently to join you. Etiquetteer would advise caution about suggesting another trip again.

As for a graduation gift, this young man clearly needs to learn the value of Prompt and Gracious Communication. A box of custom-made notecards with his monogram would make the point nicely, and you could underscore it by addressing the first envelope in the box to you. If you prefer not to make the point so baldly, an engraved pen or pen/pencil set makes a useful and traditional graduation gift.

invite

Dear Etiquetteer:

When my niece gets married this summer, I plan to give her a restored and nicely presented hymnal that was brought to the United States by our first ancestor to immigrate here. My niece has shown no interest in this side of the family, but I consider the book an heirloom that should go to her. I anticipate blowback from my sister about an insufficient gift. Would that characterization be appropriate, and should it be made, how would I respond? I am not close to either of them.

 Dear Heirlooming:

Heirlooms and other Items of Family Significance get short shrift from today's bridal couples, a fact which never ceases to depress Etiquetteer. Given that your niece has not shown any interest in your shared family history, may not belong to or actively practice the religion advocated in the hymnal, and also that the two of you are not close, she's apt to feel you're getting off cheaply in the Wedding Gift Sweepstakes. In the interest of family harmony, Etiquetteer would suggest selecting an additional gift from her bridal registry to give along with the hymnal. Conversely, you could also save the hymnal to present to her and her husband on their Leather Anniversary, which is the third anniversary. (Etiquetteer is, of course, assuming that it's a leather-bound hymnal.)

When you do give your niece the hymnal, Etiquetteer hopes you'll choose to include an image of your Immigrant Ancestor along with any family stories that have been handed down. Even if your niece doesn't care, one day her children may.

Penpoint

 

Broken Gifts, Vol. 13, Issue 48

Dear Etiquetteer: A wedding gift arrived in the mail today from a seller on [Insert Name of Popular Craft Website Here], a charming vintage martini set. One of the martini glasses arrived broken. Do I tell the gift giver that this happened, do I contact the seller with this information, or do I just write a lovely thank you note and forget about it. One pitcher and two glasses, so the set is mostly useless. Unless one is making martinis for oneself only.

Dear Shaken and Shattered:

Etiquetteer certainly hopes that your fledgling marriage hasn't already arrived at the state where you find it necessary to make martinis for one! Usually it takes a few years to get to that unhappy state of affairs . . . and often it's an unhappy affair that gets one to that state.

Receiving a gift that's broken is different from receiving a gift that's unwanted. In the latter case, as Etiquetteer has said so often, no one cares what you want or how you feel. Send a Lovely Note anyway and then put it in your next yard sale, regift outside your Circle of Mutual Acquaintance, or contribute it to a Worthy Tax-Deductible Cause.

But surely it was not the intention of your Benefactor to send you a broken gift to celebrate your wedding. In this case Etiquetteer recommends that you contact your Benefactor with this information right away so that he or she may resolve the situation; this means by phone or email, not a Lovely Note. You should not be asked to do more than repackage the gift to be returned and to receive the apologies of your Benefactor for the inconvenience. Etiquetteer recommends this approach since your Benefactor already has a customer/vendor relationship with the Online Vendor. For all Etiquetteer knows, your Benefactor orders frequently from this Online Vendor. News of deficient service (as well as how satisfactorily the Online Vendor responds) could impact that relationship. Indeed, you may be sufficiently satisfied to become a customer yourself.

At all times you should reassure your Benefactor of how much you appreciate his or her thoughtfulness and generosity, and then send a Lovely Note as soon as an (unbroken) substitute gift is received.

Reflections on Wedding Invitations, Gifts, and Attitudes, Vol. 12, Issue 13

Etiquetteer has been relieved of the burden of wedding invitations this summer. Consider that sentence for a moment. Isn't it a pity that so many people consider an invitation to a wedding a burden, rather than a Happy Occasion to celebrate a Joyous Marriage with friends and relations? Etiquetteer is of the completely subjective and entirely unresearched opinion that there are two causes: the expense of attending a wedding for a guest (especially travel, which is not only expensive but inconvenient) and the selfish behavior of brides that led to the coining of the term "bridezilla" several years ago. These two causes combine in the selection of a gift for the Happy Couple. Etiquetteer was deeply sorry to read last week about a bride who was sufficiently unbalanced to call out her friends on social media for what she perceived as their inadequate generosity. First of all it's vulgar in the extreme to mention how much money was spent to entertain your guests. You invite friends (or the friends of your parents) to a wedding for the pleasure of their company, not because you expect them to cover the costs of their own entertainment*. Second, your wedding is not as important to your friends as it is to you; no doubt there are other, more important claims on their resources than your Gaping Maw of Bridal Need. And third, criticizing someone so bluntly on social media about their behavior is just as bad as, if not worse than, doing so to their faces. Brides who follow this example deserve to lose a lot of friends.

With the advent of social media, some confusion has also spread over how to interpret how one receives knowledge of a wedding -- or, to be completely candid, when to suspect that the only reason you're hearing is that the Happy Couple expects a gift. Over at Etiquetteer's Facebook page (speaking of social media), Etiquetteer recalled learning of the wedding of a Friend of Etiquetteer's Youth from Dear Mother; the invitation had been addressed to "Mr. and Mrs. [Parents of Etiquetteer] and Etiquetteer," which is far from Perfectly Proper. Why, you ask? Because at the time the invitation was sent, Etiquetteer was not only well over the Age of Consent, but also not living under the parental roof. Anyone over the age of 21 deserves his or her own engraved invitation sent to his or her own address; attempting to economize by doubling up invitations to parents and grown children makes you look shabby. Saying you can't find that person's address no longer serves as an excuse, thanks to the Internet.

This led to the question of how to respond to wedding invitations from Long Unheard-of Schoolfellows who haven't been heard from in so long that their motives are suspect. Back before the Internet (and before brides expected everyone to Travel the Earth on Command), wedding announcements were sent instead of invitations, something along the lines of

Mr. and Mrs. Fairleigh Freshness

announce the marriage of their daughter

Miss Dewy Freshness

to Mr. Manley Firmness

on [Insert Date Here].

Frequently a little address card would be included so that recipients would know where the Happy Couple would be living. You must remember that this was before the days of "Live Together First:"

Mr. and Mrs. Manley Firmness

After [Insert Date After Honeymoon Here]

5456 Cottage Lane, Apartment Six

Verdant Greens, New Jersey

Receipt of a wedding announcement was taken as information that the Happy Couple felt you should know, but not with the expectation of a gift. As much as Etiquetteer enjoys social media and other electronic communications, Etiquetteer would rather like to see engraved wedding announcements come back.

Should you receive a wedding invitation from someone you haven't heard of in many years, put pen to paper at once and send a Lovely Note of Congratulations along with your Infinite Regret that you cannot attend in person. And that concludes your obligation.

*If the costs are really bothering you, have a simpler wedding and invite fewer people.

Returning Wedding Gifts, Vol. 11, Issue 13

Dear Etiquetteer: I recently sent a very nice gift for my niece's bridal shower. Unfortunately, the wedding was called off shortly thereafter.

A few weeks later, the mother of the groom sent me a gift card to "compensate" me for my gift and my inconvenience. I am the only one in my extended family who received such "compensation." I suspect she sent it because we occasionally run into each other in the same social circles. Although I don't care about the money, the gift card is actually for much less than the cost of the gift.

I was offended that the groom's mother sent me the gift card because I do not feel it was her place to step in. My niece should have been the one to communicate with her own family. I would have preferred not to hear at all from the groom's mother. My current concern is what to do with the gift card. Should I keep it or return it to the groom's mother? I really don't want her gift card, so if I return it, what should I say?

Dear Unregifted:

A few years ago Etiquetteer was invited to a wedding. About three weeks before the wedding day Etiquetteer received a card in the mail that matched the wedding stationery with the announcement that

The wedding between

Miss Dewy Freshness

and

Mr. Manley Firmness

will not take place.

Underneath and to the left one found the sentence "All gifts will be returned."  Because let's face it, the first thought one has when learning of such a thing is "Am I going to get back that gift on which I spent so much money?"

It appears that your niece and her family have observed neither of these necessary social niceties, something you may want to take up with whichever Parent of the Bride is your Sibling. In the event that your niece does marry, Etiquetteer would absolve you from giving another shower gift -- but acknowledges that other etiquette writers may differ.

The involvement of the groom's mother certainly muddies the water. It's really not her business, but Etiquetteer has some sympathy with her, having been put in an awkward position (the cancellation of her son's wedding) through no fault of her own. And for all Etiquetteer knows, this lady has already raised the issue of returning gifts with the former bride-to-be and her family. Since you haven't yet received your gift back, the results may not have been satisfactory to her, prompting her to send gift cards to all her relatives and friends who sent gifts as well as to you. Etiquetteer does wish, however, that the lady hadn't used the term "compensation," which suggests that you needed to be paid for your troubles.

By all means return the gift card, but cut the lady some slack. Send the card back with a Lovely Note thanking her for thinking of you, but suggesting that you don't feel quite right keeping and using this gift card since your bridal shower gift to your niece was freely given. It's also Perfectly Proper to express sympathy with this lady over the cancellation of the wedding, and best wishes for the future happiness of her son.

Husband Alone at Wedding, Vol. 11, Issue 11

Dear Etiquetteer: I am invited to a family member's wedding in another state this fall, and expect to be able to attend. I shall be attending toute seule, as two of the children are in college, one will be in the thick of things in high school, and my bride believes her place is at home, making sure he's staying on task. Although the bride and groom to be are in their late thirties, this is their first marriage, and I'm just thrilled for them.

My questions are manifold: first is the obvious what to wear. Is a dark suit acceptable? If so, white shirt or light-coloured?

Second, the rehearsal dinner is at someone's home, so is that a suit occasion, or 'smart casual,' which I tend to think of as a dress shirt, open at the neck, and dark slacks?

Is there a footwear custom of which I should be aware in New York? In Minnesota, it is customary to remove one's shoes upon entering someone's home--with snow and slush covering the ground half the year, it makes sense to doff footwear so as to avoid tracking that mess into your hostess's carpeting. But I was not taught this social grace growing up in Michigan, so I don't know whether it's regional, or just a reflection of my mother's agricultural background.

The invitations say nothing about dress, and I'm confident that if I ask my brother or his wife, they will assure me that what's important is my presence, not what I'm wearing, which is characteristically kind of them, but ultimately unhelpful.

Gift? What is considered proper these days? Since they aren't teenagers, just getting started in life, they probably don't need a silver fondue pot or a half dozen toasters, and they've had the grace to omit any mention of a registry in their invitations. Would a nice card, with a check inside it be appropriate, and if so, is there a standard amount?

The couple have arranged for a block of hotel rooms at a reasonable rate. Is it expected that I will stay there, our is it perfectly acceptable to make my own arrangements elsewhere?

Finally, my son is attending college about four hours away from the wedding location, and I would like to spend a few hours with him the day after the wedding; is it permissible to leave the reception 'early,' say, around 10pm, to get started on that drive, or is the expectation that the guests will remain until the newlyweds retire?

Dear Husband:

That's a forthright series of questions, and Etiquetteer has answers:

WHAT TO WEAR: The invitation should have the dress code on it, but since you say that it doesn't, you must ask your brother and his wife. If they, as you predict, say "We really just want you to be there, it doesn't matter what you wear!" you must ask in reply, "What are YOU wearing?" Base your choices on what they're planning to wear. (But really, Etiquetteer cannot understand why hosts for big family events like weddings neglect adding basic information guests need like what to wear.)

REMOVAL OF FOOTWEAR: It is never Perfectly Proper to expect people to remove their shoes in one's home without warning them in advance. Again, you must ask your hosts what they expect since they've neglected to include this on the invitation, but Etiquetteer rather expect they'll tell you to leave your shoes on.

GIFT: A check is always Perfectly Proper as a wedding gift. Etiquetteer is delighted to hear that registry information was omitted from the invitation! That said, you may now ask if there is a registry and purchase something from it as your gift, if you wish. Etiquetteer is not going to suggest a gift amount. That depends entirely on the means and inclination of you and your wife.

ACCOMMODATIONS: The guest block has been arranged for the convenience of wedding guests. If it's more convenient for you to stay elsewhere, then it is Perfectly Proper for you to do so.

DEPARTURE: Married couples aren't royalty (though some brides clearly think of themselves as princesses) so you don't have to wait for them to make their departure before yours. It's customary, however, for guests to remain until the couple have been showered with rice (or birdseed (for the politically correct), bubbles (for the whimsical) or rose petals (for the romantic with unlimited resources)), so you should tip off the family that you'll need to be on the road before festivities end.

Next weekend is Labor Day, the official -- and often sad -- end of Summer. Etiquetteer expect you to join him in carefully folding away your white linen and treeing your white shoes until Memorial Day comes again next year. In the meantime, please do send your autumnal questions about manners to <queries_at_etiquetteer_dot_com.>

Another Broke Bridesmaid, Vol. 7 Issue 17

Dear Etiquetteer: I have a bit of a dilemma! I am a bridesmaid in a coworker's wedding. This makes me infinitely happy as I adore her. Her maid of honor, not so much. I understand and appreciate her stress in aiding the bride, but I am starting to get frustrated. I have spent over $1,000 on this wedding buying a dress and two round-trip plane tickets to attend the bridal shower and wedding. Despite this great expense I am being asked for even more money for "expenses" that I do not understand. These requests range from $50 to $200. I am planning on opting out of the combined bridesmaid's gift and instead am buying a gift with my other coworkers that better fits my budget.

Is it appropriate to politely refuse to fork over any more money? I am a poor college student with little disposable income. I'm starting to think I'll have to sacrifice buying books to keep up! Help! 

Dear Broke Bridesmaid: 

Etiquetteer has heard of Bridezilla - he has even met her a few times - but never Maidzilla. Etiquetteer declares that you, and other Beleaguered Bridesmaids, need not contribute to "expenses" in which you have had no selection or decision. And really, Etiquetteer would have excused you from attending the bridal shower in person due to the distance and expense involved. Someday American women will realize that the fantasy of having a Great Big Wedding need not be based on the outmoded stereotype of a clique of 19-year-old high school graduates who all live in the same neighborhood and can band together easily for wedding activities.

When Maidzilla solicits or invoices you again, you must tell her - with Perfect Propriety and Complete Calm - that you're unable to contribute any more money to the wedding effort since funding your education is now in jeopardy, which you KNOW is not what the bride wants for you. Maidzilla may toss a little tantrum at you; while it may be tempting to respond in kind, use all your control to Remain Calm. Taking the high road will only make her look even more petty and grasping. 

Wedding Invitations, Vol. 7, Issue 14

Dear Etiquetteer:

 

During a conversation with a new business acquaintance I was invited to an August wedding in a sincere but casual manner. She said she would love to have me but had run out of invitations. I looked at my calendar and gladly accepted. My plan is to call her regarding the time and place and whether or not to be there for the ceremony. I plan to bring a lovely gift, have a good time and leave at an appropriate time. It feels like I am doing the right thing, but somehow it all feels just a bit awkward. What do you think?

 

Dear Pinned:

 

As a general rule, Etiquetteer does not like wedding invitations extended on such short acquaintance. And Etiquetteer firmly believes that if you are over the age of consent, you deserve your own printed wedding invitation and should not be shunted off to a wedding website or a photocopy. Etiquetteer is willing to give this Sincere But Casual Bride the benefit of the doubt, crediting her with being sincerely (but casually) delighted with your new business relationship rather than insincerely (but casually) trolling for more wedding gifts. Without reflecting on you at all, Etiquetteer cannot condone her lack of Perfect Propriety in this artless invitation. It bodes ill for your own reception at the nuptial festivities.

 

Sometimes Literature offers a Perfectly Proper Precedent for such predicaments. Happily Oscar Wilde gave Algernon an ideal Design for Living in his play The Importance of Being Earnest, the custom of Bunburying. Bunbury, you may recall, was his fictional friend who lived in the country. He frequently required Algernon to be with him during illness, always whenever Algernon received invitations he wanted to decline. 

 

Now you need your own Bunbury to avoid attending this wedding. Etiquetteer thinks yours should be a friend you have known for many years who is organizing a surprise birthday party that you cannot miss and which just happens to be scheduled on the same day. With sufficient advance notice, your Sincere But Casual Bride will understand. Having already accepted the wedding invitation, however, Etiquetteer thinks you still ought to send a gift.

 

 invite.jpg 


Invitations and Wedding Matters, Vol. 7, Issue 10

Dear Etiquetteer:

I’ve been invited to a brunch from 11:00 AM to 2:00 PM. What’s an appropriate time to arrive? Dear Invited:When to arrive at any type of party seems to baffle many people, so Etiquetteer thanks you for the opportunity to present a few examples:

  • When you’re invited to a brunch that goes from 11:00 AM to 2:00 PM, arrive at 11:00 AM. 
  • When you’re invited to a dinner party for 8:00 PM, arrive at 8:00 PM. 
  • When you’re invited to an evening party and the invitation says 9:00 PM, arrive at 9:00 PM.
  • If you and a friend decide to meet for drinks at 6:00 PM, meet at 6:00 PM.

Are you picking up a trend here? Etiquetteer certainly hopes so, because it should be perfectly obvious that you arrive at a party when the party starts. “Fashionable lateness” is a fraud perpetuated by the Lazy and the Perpetually Tardy. Etiquetteer has long said that “For Maximum Fun Potential, arrive punctually.”This also keeps your hosts from fretting that no one will ever get there.Every rule has its exceptions, of course:

  • When you are invited to a church wedding, you may arrive up to half an hour early for the music. Do NOT expect to be seated after the procession has started! 
  • Any time “ish” is added to an invitation, add 15 minutes. If a friend says “Let’s get together about six-ish,” you can show up any time between 6:00 and 6:15. 6:30 is pushing it, and 6:45 is downright rude. 
  • “Open house” invitations mean you can arrive any time during the party and remain Perfectly Proper. Indeed, Etiquetteer just attended a lovely open house that went from 2:00 – 9:00 PM one Saturday. People came and went throughout and the hosts received them happily whenever they appeared. (Etiquetteer cannot assume that you brunch invitation was an “open house” since you don’t use those words.) 

Oddly enough, the occasion when promptness is most important is not for a party at someone’s home, but when one is dining with a large party in a restaurant that will only seat complete parties. Dear Etiquetteer:I’m getting married soon, and want to know if it’s OK to include a link to our gift registry on our wedding website. So many people ask it seems like it will be easier. Dear Bride to Be:It depends on how greedy you want to appear. If you don’t mind at all that people will think you are a grasping, selfish young lady who is only inviting people to her wedding because of the gifts she expects to receive, then by all means, post a link.Please forgive Etiquetteer’s Moment of Temper. You are very correct that a large number of guests at any wedding will ask about what a couple might want as a gift. But not everyone does, far from it. Create a registry page, by all means, but don’t provide a link to it from your wedding home page. When your guests ask you or your mother (these questions still frequently come to the bride’s mother), e-mail them the link to the registry. In this way, Perfect Propriety is preserved.And if your mother doesn’t have e-mail (still a possibility) she can go back to the old-fashioned way and tell the querents “Oh, they’re registered at [Insert Name of Retailer Here]. Just ask for the list.” Dear Etiquetteer:What should I wear to a wedding in April?Dear Guest Appearance:Regardless of the time of year, take your cues from the invitation. For an evening wedding, if it says “black tie” or one of its many tiresome variations such as “festive black tie” or “creative black tie,” then a tuxedo for the gentleman and a long gown for the lady is most Perfectly Proper.Assuming that you are invited to a wedding that begins before 5:00 PM, gentlemen would wear dark business suits and ladies could wear day dresses or suits. Etiquetteer immediately thinks of those nubbly wool Chanel suits of the early 1960s. Add a hat, and Etiquetteer will love you forever. If April in your region is cold, this is also the time to get out your fur piece. Etiquetteer remembers Edith Wharton’s amusing description of “all the old ladies of both families” at Newland Archer’s wedding to May Welland. The wedding was in earliest April, and the ladies in question had all dug out their grandmother’s fur pelisses, scarves, tippets, and muffs for the occasion . . . so much so that Newland Archer noticed the smell of camphor over the wedding flowers.

Reader Response, Vol. 6, Issue 5


READER RESPONSE

Vol. 6, Issue 5, February 4, 2007

 

Dear Etiquetteer:

You and your recent column were on my mind last night when I was at the symphony. The woman behind me rattled her bracelet through the entire evening. At the end I turned around and asked her sweetly if she had enjoyed the concert. After receiving a favorable reply, I asked her if she was aware that her bracelet jingled through the entire concert. She said that she wondered why the people around her were so agitated and she thanked me for letting her know. She was clueless! She asked her friend to remind her not to wear the bracelet to future concerts! One can only hope.

Etiquetteer responds: Etiquetteer commends you on your non-confrontational approach to addressing this problem. Turning around and snarling "Take off those **** bracelets!" would not have helped the situation. Etiquetteer’s mother was right as usual: you catch more bees with honey than you do with vinegar.

Dear Etiquetteer:

Here's another take on the gift/no gift thing. My wife and I discussed this quite heavily when we were planning our wedding, and I think we came up with a fairly classy solution. Our basic premise about gifts was that giving should always be spontaneous and never expected. No one should feel bad for not giving a gift, and no one should feel bad for giving one either.

When we got married, we created a website for information for our guests. (This was in 1996, when the web was still new.) The wedding invitation included a map and schedule of events, and an invitation to visit the wedding website for more information. The website had an FAQ section that included the following, under the heading of "Gifts": You have already given us the best possible gifts: your love and kindness, as our family and friends. The nicest wedding gift you could give us is to share the day with us, either in person or in spirit. Thus, you should feel free to ignore the whole wedding gift and registry racket.

"Gift and registry" was a link to a separate page on our site. The gift and registry page started out with a restatement of the above, and was followed by: "However, because some of you have asked us whether and where we are registered, we have enlisted the help of our dear friend C****** S*****, who is helping us tremendously in coordinating the wedding. Feel free to address inquiries about gifts to her, or to [Insert Name of Bride’s Mother here]." We communicated our feelings about gifts to these allies, along with information about where we were registered for anyone who wanted it. Just as in business, reaching a human at the other end instead of a machine (or in this case, a one-liner on a wedding invitation) made for a much more pleasant experience for everyone involved.

Etiquetteer responds: It’s always refreshing to hear from a Happy Couple who are more concerned with their guests’ experience than with strong-arming them into showering them with Expensive Gifts. And certainly this is the traditional role of the Mother of the Bride (and the Mother of the Groom, too).

Dear Etiquetteer:

I have to write a condolence letter to the wife of a recently departed friend. Is she still Mrs. John Doe? Mrs. Jane Doe? Ms. Jane Doe?

Dear Condoling:

"Mrs. John Doe" is most Perfectly Proper unless she used her maiden name during married life. You would never address Ms. Jane Jehosphat as "Mrs. John Doe;" the militant feminists would mince your vitals into bits.

Etiquetteer cordially invites you to join the notify list if you would like to know as soon as new columns are posted. Join by sending e-mail to notify <at> etiquetteer.com.

 

No Gifts Please, Vol. 6, Issue 4

Etiquetteer is going to kill two birds with one stone and respond to two letters simultaneously:

Dear Etiquetteer:

Two of my older friends are getting married much to the delight of all who know them. This perfectly-matched pair is planning a shortened style of formal wedding with about 50 people at the church followed by a large reception at the home of the groom. There will be no out-sized wedding party. The groom's two adult sons will assist with the seating to encourage guests to fill up the front pews with neither escorting anybody unless it's a handicapped person. Other than the standard candles on the altar lit by acolytes, the only decor will be two floral arrangements. A single harpist will play as the minister take his place, then the bride and groom with enter together from the side door. At the conclusion of the vows, the church bells will ring out as everybody exits. For the reception, there is a classical quartet, lots of champagne as well as two bars with separate tables for a buffet and for dessert, a traditional but not elaborate cake. Somewhere the groom's favorite jazz trio will replace the other musicians.

Doesn't all this sound lovely? I can think of no other wedding like this one. The one trouble spot for them is the invitation. And that is . . . obviously, they need nothing. They do not want presents sent and are at a loss to stay away from one of those lines "no gifts, please" on their engraved formal invitation. What is your suggestion? And what would be your preference for the wording on the card both to "request the pleasure" and the "no gift" part?

Also, our city has gotten as bad as any other in people not being careful about RSVPs. In situations like this (cost per person) would the little return envelope be too much? If you'd be so kind as to help out with the printing, this would be the best wedding in which I've ever been asked to participate!

Dear Etiquetteer:

My family gave my wife and me a lovely dinner party to celebrate our 50th wedding anniversary. They sent out lovely invitations to a guest list that we supplied. It was our wish that only their presence was our desire and no presents. We wanted the invitation to indicate this but one of the hosts didn’t think it would be polite. A few guests did bring presents, much to our embarrassment. My question is: is it proper for the invitation to indicate the desire for their presence and no presents? I realize you might be telling the guest not to spend his money but what about the feelings of the honorees?

Dear Member of the Wedding and Dear Fabulous Fiftieth:

You all are backing Etiquetteer into a corner, and Etiquetteer doesn’t like it one bit. Etiquetteer has long maintained that it’s bad manners to tell people how to spend money on one, and how not to spend money on one. Both of your situations are now very typical, especially that of the Married Couple Who Has Everything Already.

When Etiquetteer has to change a position, Etiquetteer needs an historical precedent to do so. And in this case Etiquetteer found one from a most unlikely source: William Jennings Bryan. Thrice-failed presidential candidate, renowned Populist orator, and evangelist, Bryan is now most remembered as the prosecuting attorney in the Scopes monkey trial. He is not remembered for having thrown a large party with his wife Mary to celebrate their 25th wedding anniversary at their Nebraska home with "No gifts please" on the invitation, but that is exactly what they did as reported in Michael Kazin’s excellent biography, A Godly Hero. Like many, Etiquetteer believed "No gifts, please" was a recent phenomenon, but the Bryans prove it is not so.

On the other side of the coin is First Lady Nellie Taft, who celebrated her silver wedding anniversary during her husband’s presidency at the White House with a party to which 8,000 of their closest friends had been invited. Etiquetteer’s beloved Ellen Maury Slayden was there and "heard a good many rather sotto voce inquiries, 'How much did you put up?' 'Are you getting your money’s worth?' etc., that made me sorry that presents had been permitted." The Tafts were showered with an abundance of sterling silver, from olive forks to punch bowls. Ordinary American citizens sent in gifts of silver coins, which the President insisted be returned with thanks; he felt that gifts of money were "unbecoming." The tide became so much that the President was embarrassed with the largesse of the world.

But what gets Etiquetteer is the way Mrs. Taft used all this silver in later life, giving it as wedding gifts in her turn or donating pieces to charitable causes. It’s true that when one is given a gift one may do anything one likes with it – and regifting is now an uneasily accepted standard – but Etiquetteer takes exception to Mrs. Taft’s blasé attitude about it all.

So with these two examples in mind, a disgruntled Etiquetteer will have to reverse himself and allow "No gifts, please" on formal invitations. Place this instruction in the lower left corner as other instructions are (e.g. dress, R.s.v.p.). For formal weddings, one requests "the honour of your presence" for the wedding ceremony and "the pleasure of your company" for the reception.And alas, reply cards have also become standard even though they are not Perfectly Proper. Go ahead and use them, but Etiquetteer suspects the Happy Couple will still be calling their guests at the last minute to get them to respond whether they include them or not. Many people are unforgivably rude no matter how easy you make it for them.

As for being embarrassed about getting a gift at a party in your honor, Etiquetteer respectfully suggests that you only have to be grateful and send a Lovely Note. You have nothing to be embarrassed about.

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Talkative Strangers and Wedding Gifts, Vol. 5, Issue 17

EXAMPLES FROM THE DAILY LIFE OF ETIQUETTEER: Many people in the world have a need to talk. But Etiquetteer has no need to listen. Two recent experiences reminded Etiquetteer that, frequently, silence is golden.On Easter Sunday Etiquetteer found himself traveling by subway to an afternoon party. While innocently standing on the platform reading American Sphinx: The Character of Thomas Jefferson, an urgent young woman asked Etiquettteer the time. The time Etiquetteer gave her, however, was insufficient to send her away. "Oh my goodness, I’m late for church! And not that I go every Sunday, but the music is so good at the beginning of the service . . . " You can probably see where this is leading, but not the references to her boyfriend and her inability to pay her mortgage, which came about ten minutes later. Etiquetteer tried doggedly to continue reading, but concentration on the printed page was near impossible with this persistent flow of personal information. At the suggestion of a question, Etiquetteer saw an opening: "Oh I’m sorry, I’ve been reading my book and I wasn’t paying attention." Alas, this didn’t stop her, but the train did. (No, Etiquetteer didn't throw her under it.)Not long after that, Etiquetteer was enjoying the daily newspaper and a Cobb salad at the bar of a popular restaurant. Anyone who lunches at a restaurant bar knows that a certain amount of camaraderie between other diners is unavoidable, even welcome. But Etiquetteer finds it too much to ask to have to give up both paper and salad to focus fully on a total stranger. You see, an elderly man sitting next to Etiquetteer found his conversational opening with Etiquetteer’s lunch. "Say, that’s some salad!" he said. "Yes, it’s very good." Etiquetteer replied. "Now what all do they put in there?" he persisted. "Tomatoes, cheese – I’ll bet that’s bleu cheese – and turkey . . . " "No, it’s chicken." "OH, chicken! Oh, that’s good." Good heavens, Etiquetteer thought, must we discuss all the ingredients of this salad while I’m trying to eat it? This continued for no little time, until "Boy, the sandwiches we used to get at the [insert name of Defunct Cafeteria here]. Gosh . . . " and he just kept going on and on. Etiquetteer, exasperated, finally had to turn fully back to the newspaper and simply not respond. It was the only way to finish lunch without indigestion and still get back to the office on time.Heaven knows both of these people were harmless, but also clueless. A person with his nose in a book or newspaper should not look as though they are ready to strike up a conversation, and yet how often do we hear stories of just that happening? This may lead Etiquetteer to get an iPod . . .

Dear Etiquetteer:My husband and I found ourselves with opposing thoughts. (This rarely happens, so it's headline news around here.) One of us says that a wedding invitation can be answered with the regrets card plus a lovely congratulatory (or cute, depending on the couple) greeting card. The other one of us says no, that's what you do when an announcement is sent; an invitation obligates you to send a gift whether you're attending the wedding or not. If it makes any difference, one of us works at the same place (we couldn't even say "works with") the groom and we have never met the bride. What's correct?Dear Gifting:Now let Etiquetteer make this perfectly clear: a wedding invitation is not an invoice. If you and your husband feel you are close enough to his colleague, then by all means get the Happy Couple a gift. But only if you feel moved to do so. Otherwise send the reply card and a heartfelt message of congratulations.

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Weddings, Vol. 5, Issue 14

Dear Etiquetteer:We are getting married later this year and are preparing a wedding website. We want to post information about the Friday night reception and Sunday brunch on our website (the wedding is Saturday afternoon and evening), but we’d also like to limit the guests at those two events to people coming from out of town that we don’t see very often. How should we word the events on our website to make that clear? Some ideas we had:
  • "Friday night reception by invitation" and "Sunday brunch by invitation."
  • "Friday night reception for family" and "Sunday brunch for family" (we’d then include invitations to these events in the wedding invitation mailing).
  • "Welcome reception for out-of-town guests" and "Sendoff brunch for out-of-town guests."

Will people understand who we mean by out-of-town guests? Because, only a handful actually live in the town where we’re marrying. What a challenge. Any advice would be great!Dear Betrothed:You know, Etiquetteer’s learning quite a lot about this wedding website phenomenon, and it is just amazing what people are doing out there . . . in a good way. It’s such a help to a wedding guest (especially one who’s traveling) to be able to go to one source for hotel reservations, maps and directions to the house of worship and the reception hall, and answers to the many questions wedding guests always have.But Etiquetteer has some concerns about what you want to do. It’s never good manners to talk about a party in front of people who aren’t invited. You really can’t avoid that by referring to these additional events on a website that all your wedding guests will read. It will be easy for someone to assume they’re invited to all three events. You may be opening yourself to some confusion and hurt feelings. Etiquetteer worries that the ill-bred (and we all know ill-bred peeople) will be tempted to ask why they weren’t invited if you put "by invitation only." One should NEVER ask why one was not invited; one might find out . . .If you are bound and determined to include these events on your wedding website – and Etiquetteer isn’t entirely sure that you should – then you should be very specific and refer to them as "Out-of-Towners Welcome Reception" and "Out-of-Towners Sendoff Brunch." Etiquetteer defines "out-of-town guests" as "anyone sleeping in a bed not their own" on the nights before and after the wedding. Even so, don’t be surprised if some locals show up with the excuse "Well, we saw this on your website and thought we should be here."Readers, what do you think? Please share your opinions with Etiquetteer at query <at> etiquetteer.com.By the way, you are quite correct to send a separate card for each event in the wedding invitation. Etiquetteer wishes you both long life and happiness, both before and after the wedding!

Dear Etiquetteer:Don’t you think it would be nice for someone to champion the return of the Morning Wedding and the Wedding Breakfast? This would include a luncheon for the famished wedding party, closest family and long-distance guests who cannot readily find a place to eat lunch if they require it, and old-fashioned afternoon Reception (light tea-type foods, punch and/or champagne, cake and dancing. Couples would have much more choice of venues (churches and halls and whatnot) and it would not cost nearly as much if they did not want to spend a lot of money. And people could drive home while it was light during much of the year.Dear Early Bird:Indeed, it sounds charming! Etiquetteer has attended many weddings over the last 38 years at all times of day and night, and some of the loveliest have been morning or afternoon weddings. Etiquetteer is happy to join you in your call for a return of the Wedding Breakfast, not least because of Etiquetteer’s fondness for eggs benedict and champagne.Of course, now it’s all your fault that Etiquetteer can’t stop singing "A Frog Went A’Courtin’." 

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Random Issues, Vol. 4, Issue 10

Dear Etiquetteer: My husband and I need some clarifications on the "proper" amount to spend on a wedding gift. Now that we’re in our forties, we don’t go to many weddings, so we may be a bit out of it. He thinks we should spend at least $100-150 on a gift. I think that’s a bit high, and that $50-75 should do, especially since we are on a budget. Am I just in a time warp (or a cheap skate)? Dear Gifting: This may sound awfully sentimental, but Etiquetteer thinks you should give what your heart dictates. When you find the perfect wedding gift for your friends, get it, whether it's $50 or $150, or even $1,500. The value of the gift is more than money, and one hopes that the Happy Couple will value it the more because it comes from you and your husband.

Dear Etiquetteer: I have a friend who just moved back to Massachusetts. Before he moved out of state, he and his partner had a commitment ceremony, which I attended and gave gifts. Now that they’re back, they’re planning an official marriage ceremony. Should there be another invitation, am I obligated to give another gift? At this point, I'm putting the cart before the rolling stone, but I was curious, and figured you'd be the right person to ask. Dear Generous: While the last Mae West was known to say "Too much of a good thing is wonderful," Etiquetteer will have to trump her with the more prosaic "Once is enough." Should you be invited to the wedding, attend with a Happy Heart and send a Lovely Note. Your social obligation will then be complete.

Dear Etiquetteer: A friend and I recently decided to go to a play. I offered to buy the tickets because I could get a special two-for-one discount and we could get better seats than we could normally afford. My friend forgot to show up for the play even though we had discussed a time to meet at the theatre the night before. My winter coat had a great fourth-row orchestra seat all to itself. Should I still follow up with my friend to ask her to pay for her ticket? We’ve discussed buying tickets to an upcoming show and an alternative would be to ask her to purchase two tickets at comparable price instead of reimbursing me for the show she missed. I’d appreciate your advice on how to handle this one.Dear Played:Your winter coat has historic company. J. Bruce Ismay, after he retired from public life once the Titanic inquiries were done, was known to purchase two tickets for concerts at the Wigmore Hall. That way he could keep his coat with him and no doubt avoid waiting in that long coat check line at the end of the concert.By all means your friend should fulfill her obligation to pay for the ticket purchased at her instruction. If the two of you agree that she should do so by purchasing seats for a future theatre night for the two of you, that’s Perfectly Proper. But should you prefer cash reimbursement, you are within your rights to insist on it.

Dear Etiquetteer:What do you think the conventional wisdom is regarding calling or e-mailing to ask about the status of a job application? I interviewed over three weeks ago for a professional position with a religious order and have heard nothing since then, even though I sent thank-you letters to the Mother Superior and the others with whom I interviewed.Any wording advice, if you even think I should? I don’t want to sound anxious or desperate, but I am interested in getting an idea of how much longer I’m going to have to wait for an answer.Dear Dangling at the End of the Rosary:After three weeks, Etiquetteer does not find it At All Improper to contact a potential employer with whom one has interviewed to find out the status of the search. You may telephone or e-mail, whichever is attuned most to their corporate culture. Etiquetteer encourages you to remember that companies only care about you in terms of what you can do for them and to tailor your communication accordingly, such as:Dear Sr. Olive Inamartini:It was a pleasure to speak with you three weeks ago about the position of Grand Panjandrum of the Cloister of St. Fistula, and I am e-mailing today to find out how the search is progressing and if I can offer any additional information to you or the search committee. I remain very interested in the position and look forward to hearing from you.

Find yourself at a manners crossroads and don't know where to go? Ask Etiquetteer at query@etiquetteer.com!

Etiquetteer cordially invites you to join the notify list if you would like to know as soon as new columns are posted. Join by sending e-mail to notify@etiquetteer.com.