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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