Do I Have To Buy My Cousin A Registry Gift For Their RENTAL?

plutos-housewarming-movie-poster-1947-1010686166Dear Uncommon Courtesy,

My cousin and his girlfriend are moving in together and are having a house warming party (for a rented apartment, mind you). This was fine with me right up until the point where they sent out their gift registry along with a hefty list of preferred colors separated by room (i.e. Red kitchen accesories, purple bathroom thingies, etcetera). I am really put off by the whole thing, specially considering that at my very simple, registry-free wedding my cousin didn’t get me anything himself, but rode along with my aunt and uncle’s gift. Am I being overly touchy about it, or am I right to have “EFF THAT” as my first thought? I mean, I’m gonna have to get them another present when they get married (along with bachlorette and wedding shower ones)?
Thank you very much! 
Off The Registry
Official Etiquette
As we’ve mentioned before, Miss Manners does not consider a housewarming an appropriate time for anything but token gifts, and that goes double for non-permanent quarters, such as a rental.
Our Take

Victoria: Okay, so yeah, this is a no, this is not okay, for me.
Jaya: I’m gonna agree with you there. I think I’d be okay if they had bought their first house together, but for a RENTAL this is too much.
Victoria: Yeah, and I would say if they bought a house and then got married a year later, I would probably still get a present, but it would be MUCH smaller.
Jaya: Definitely. And I think this is another example of people expecting every life moment deserves a gift.
I am all for celebrating more life moments than weddings.
Victoria: Yesss. Not every moment needs a huge gift.
Jaya: I think there are a lot of important milestones that don’t get as much attention, and too much emphasis is put on pairing up or having kids. However, the goal should probably be fewer presents all around.
Victoria: I mean, don’t get me wrong, I love gifts, but like, token gifts are a thing because no one wants to shell out $50 every time someone wants to feel good about their accomplishments. Bring a bottle of wine, a plant, some jam. And like, I’ve said to people who are going to be buying a place soon- wait to make major household purchases until you do actually buy a house, so that your stuff will fit THAT house, not the apartment you had 3 apartments ago.
Jaya: Exactly. You can’t be buying Kitchenaid mixers any time someone rents a new apartment. I will also say, however, that it doesn’t matter that this cousin did not get LW their own gift for their wedding. Or that LW’s wedding was simple and registry-free and the cousins has a color coded list.
Victoria: I mean, I guess everyone has their own internal calculations and if you need to take that kind of thing into account, no one will know (unless you write it into a letter to an etiquette site!)
Jaya: Haha yes! LW is absolutely allowed to have “eff that” as a first thought because, well, you’re allowed to think however you want as long as you don’t call up your cousin and tell them off.
Victoria: Haha yeah. And like, no one knows your financial situation. Maybe you are about to have a baby and your budget isn’t quite as elastic as it might have been. And maybe this cousin is younger and at the time of the LW’s wedding, it was appropriate that he latch onto his parents’ gift.
Jaya: Exactly. No gift giving/non-gift giving should ever come out of that sense of obligation or “well he didn’t get me anything 2 years ago so I’m not getting him anything now.” If you’re going to be going to a housewarming party and find the registry off putting, bring a box of cookies or wine or a bouquet, same as you would for any party.
Victoria: Exactly. And maybe if people don’t bring anything off the registry, people will be like, oh, no one is into this, and then they will tell their friends and no one will do it anymore.
Jaya: One can only hope!
Victoria: The thing with a registry for weddings is that it’s ultimately an organizational tool because the event itself is so much bigger than most life events that people need to have gift ideas without 200 people calling the happy couple. Are 200 people really coming to your housewarming?(And obviously, sometimes people have registries for small weddings, which is fine, but thats because weddings=registry in our culture even when they are unnecessary)
Jaya: You’re so smart about this. But to play devil’s advocate (ugh), maybe this couple isn’t planning on getting married and can’t afford to buy a house anytime soon. Maybe this is their big moment, and they’re trying to treat it as such. I understand that, and as long as they understand that nobody is obliged to buy anything off a registry, there’s little harm in what they’re doing. That’s probably not the case but I like to believe the best.
Victoria: There’s generally no harm in HAVING one, and I think if you want, you can make one and then only give it to people who ask for it. And honestly, do a little white lying and be like, oh well, this is our wish list of things we want to buy for the house eventually. It will go down a lot better. And I definitely keep ideas of things O want for my birthday and christmas throughout the year on, say, pinterest, so that when my mom inevitably asks, I have some ideas. So it’s basically the same thing, and I think thats okay. But issuing an invitation and having “housewarming registry” stuff all over it is a bit…greedy, because it makes it look like you are only having a party to get gifts.

The Founding Fathers and Etiquette

So distinguished! [Via Wikimedia Commons]

So distinguished! [Via Wikimedia Commons]

While they weren’t busy declaring independence, fighting a revolution, or bringing forth a new nation, the founding fathers were also writing a bit about etiquette!

George Washington

It makes sense that the most famous founding father was the only one to write a whole BOOK of etiquette. Washington wrote his Rules of Civility at the tender age of 15 in 1745, as part of an educational exercise, probably copying from a European manual of etiquette. As a young man, his social prospects were not that high- his father had died when he was a young teenager and had left a lot of land but not much money to support his mother and four younger siblings. Part of his purpose in learning these rules might have been to better his station in life. Highlights:

  • In the Presence of Others sing not to yourself with a humming Noise, nor Drum, with your Fingers or Feet.
  • Kill no Vermin as Fleas, lice ticks &c in the Sight of Others, if you See any filth or thick Spittle put your foot Dexteriously upon it if it be upon the Cloths of your Companions, Put it off privately, and if it be upon your own Cloths return Thanks to him who puts it off
  • Do not puff up the Cheeks, Loll not out the tongue rub the Hands, or beard, thrust out the lips, or bite them or keep the lips too open or too close.
  • Shew not yourself glad at the Misfortune of another though he were your enemy
  • In Speaking to men of Quality do not lean nor Look them full in the Face, nor approach too near them at lest Keep a full Pace from them.
  • Be not tedious in Discourse, make not many Digressions, nor repeat often the Same manner of Discourse
  • Take no Salt or cut Bread with your Knife Greasy.
  • Let your Recreations be Manfull not Sinfull.
  • Labour to keep alive in your Breast that Little Spark of Celestial fire called Conscience.

Thomas Jefferson

Jefferson believed “it would have been better, in a new country, to have excluded etiquette all together.” When he took office in 1801, he took the opportunity to bring his “republican simplicity” (quite the hypocritical statement for someone who brought a French chef and 86 packing crates full of books, household goods, art, and other fine things back with him from France) to the Executive Branch. He described it as suppression of “all those public forms and ceremonies which tended to familiarize the public eye to the harbingers of another form of government [ie monarchy].”

Washington and Adams had had “presidential levees” which were receptions held by the President and First Lady. Levee was a word that came from European courts and so Jefferson abandoned them in favor of small informal dinners. He also made sure to never be mistaken for a king- choosing to shake hands rather than bow, riding out unaccompanied, and dressing informally. He most famously introduced a “pell mell” policy for dinners and public ceremonies- rather than the guests proceeding in according to rank, they came in in no particular order. This angered a lot of important diplomats, but Jefferson stuck firm to it. Some of Jefferson’s more republican policies were later changed back to a more formal etiquette by subsequent presidents.

Alexander Hamilton

I don’t know if you realized, but recently a musical came out about Alexander Hamilton and it’s pretty good! Though it doesn’t specifically speak about Hamilton’s opinion’s about etiquette, there is a great song called The Ten Duel Commandments that outlines all the rules of the code duello that duelers like Alexander Hamilton (and PS that duel with Aaron Burr was not his first time at the dueling rodeo- he was in at least 10 others before!). Hamilton, being a pretty good guy, actually threw away his first shot by trying not to hit Burr- very gentlemanly of him! But that got him killed, so I guess maybe being a gentleman isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be ¯\_(ツ)_/¯.

Hamilton did actually comment on etiquette occasionally (how could he not have? The man wrote NON-STOP!) In fact, he advised Washington on what protocols seemed correct for a new republic. In a letter from 1789, Hamilton recommends three things:

  1. That the President have a levee once a week for visitors (see Thomas Jefferson above).
  2. That the President not accept invitations but give 2-4 formal dinners per year- on Independence Day, the anniversary of his Inauguration, the day of the Treaty with France, and the day of the final Treaty with Britain. He saw these dinners consisting of high ranking US officials and some foreign officials.
  3. That on levee days, the President host informal dinners for members of the legislature. At all these events, the President was not to stay too long.

In addition, as a loving father, he advised his children on etiquette matters, among other things- writing to daughter Angelica in 1793, he says, “We hope you will in every respect behave in such a manner as will secure to you the good-will and regard of all those with whom you are. If you happen to displease any of them, be always ready to make a frank apology. But the best way is to act with so much politeness, good manners, and circumspection, as never to have occasion to make any apology.” Good advice!

Benjamin Franklin

Among many achievements, the polymath composed a list of 13 virtues to live by as a young man in 1726. While not strictly etiquette, they form the basis on which good etiquette is built upon:

  • Temperance: Eat not to dullness; drink not to elevation
  • Silence: Speak not but what may benefit others or yourself; avoid trifling conversation.
  • Order: Let all your things have their places; let each part of your business have its time.
  • Resolution: Resolve to perform what you ought; perform without fail what you resolve.
  • Frugality: Make no expense but to do good to others or yourself; i.e., waste nothing.
  • Industry: Lose no time; be always employ’d in something useful; cut off all unnecessary actions.
  • Sincerity: Use no hurtful deceit; think innocently and justly, and, if you speak, speak accordingly.
  • Justice: Wrong none by doing injuries, or omitting the benefits that are your duty.
  • Moderation: Avoid extremes; forbear resenting injuries so much as you think they deserve.
  • Cleanliness: Tolerate no uncleanliness in body, clothes, or habitation.
  • Tranquility: Be not disturbed at trifles, or at accidents common or unavoidable.
  • Chastity: Rarely use venery but for health or offspring, never to dullness, weakness, or the injury of your own or another’s peace or reputation.
  • Humility: Imitate Jesus and Socrates.


The Etiquette of FOMO

FOMO (fear of missing out) is real. I know a lot of people like to say that it’s just another thing millennials or whatever generation coming up behind us likes complaining about, but it’s absolutely a thing. Two generations ago, if your friends went out without you, you either 1. wouldn’t know about it until afterward or 2. maybe would feel a little hurt but could easily ignore it. Now, often those events you’re left out of are flaunted in your face on social media, or just with people talking about them because they forget it’s sort of rude to talk about shared experiences if not everyone in the circle has shared it. It’s easier than ever to see exactly how much fun everyone is having without you, and your dumb brain naturally concludes that they’re having that much fun specifically because you’re not there. Quit it, brain!

Anyway, let’s talk about how to deal with it, both from the perspective of the person involved and the person feeling left out.

  1. Try to include everyone: This comes with a lot of caveats. Obviously in a perfect world everyone would be welcome and present everywhere, except that wouldn’t be a perfect world because that’d be fucking exhausting. You know when you go to a big party and you’re like “that was fun and now I need to wait a month before I interact with that many people again”? TOO BAD, NO WAITING PERIOD. This is all to say sometimes you just want to hang out with one or two or five people instead of every one of your friends at once, and that’s reasonable. But if you’re planning a party and invite everyone except one person in your friend group, that sends a message, so try to at least keep groups together. This changes if there’s limited space, but you know, do your best.
  2. Ask yourself if you really wanted to be invited:  If you’re feeling left out, try to figure out if it’s because it’s really something you would have enjoyed, or if you just want to be included. Maybe you weren’t invited specifically because your friends knew you wouldn’t like that particular activity, or thought you were busy and didn’t want to make you feel overwhelmed with choices.
  3. Don’t flaunt: This is tricky, because obviously you have the right to post as many picturesque mountain views or selfies with all your friends as you want, but if you know someone wasn’t invited who would have liked to be invited, or has a tendency to feel left out if they couldn’t make it to something, maybe take it easy. Because it is hard to see all your friends enjoying themselves somewhere if you didn’t know about it.
  4. Don’t whine: The temptation to call someone out and go “why wasn’t I invited?” is strong, but generally it is not a good look. Instead, talk to your friends after the fact if you’re feeling raw about it. There may be a reason why you weren’t invited (limited space, other relationship dynamics that have nothing to do with you, email problems), or you could use it as an opportunity to say it’s something you’d be interested in next time around.
  5. Plan your own shit! The easiest way to avoid FOMO is to come up with your own plans. I also think the more people who make plans, the more people understand how tricky it can be. If you email 15 friends, and 5 are gone that weekend, do you change plans for them or forge ahead? If your apartment can only fit 6 for dinner, how do you do it so no one feels left out? It’s hard! And there are no right answers but planning at least makes everyone a little more empathetic to the invitation process.
  6. Mix it up: One great social habit to pick up is to be mixing up which and how many of your friends you interact with, so it doesn’t have a chance to turn into one stagnant “group.” Of course big group parties and outings are great, but plan smaller things too. Get dinner with friends A and B, then next week see a movie with B, C and D, and later invite A and C over for drinks. That way you set a standard of not everyone being invited to everything all the time. People have a chance to get used to seeing their friends doing stuff with out them, knowing that it wasn’t because they weren’t missed, but because sometimes you just hang out in different configurations.
  7. You’re literally missing out on everything all the time: Time to get zen about it! Your friends are probably Gchatting right now. You might be Gchatting or texting or Snapchatting with them too, but they’re having their own interactions every second of the day that have nothing to do with you. And they may even be talking about you! Friends talk about friends, and let’s face it, they’ve probably noticed that weird thing you do (you know the thing). If that makes you uncomfortable, learn to live with it, because just because people you know see each other without you or talk about you when you’re not there doesn’t mean they don’t love you or want to see you. It means they’re people with their own lives and schedules and relationships that naturally look different than yours.

But if it makes you feel better totally brag those vacation Instagrams.

Dealing With Rudeness

Jaya had a great question recently:

A coworker was mistaken for pregnant at a restaurant this weekend by the old, Hungarian waiter, and was understandably upset about it. But someone else in the conversation apparently told her to chalk it up to a cultural difference. What is everyone’s responsibility when running into stuff like that? Because perhaps it’s normal in one culture, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt you.

Jaya: It interests me because I think it brings up larger issues about privilege and who controls the conversation. Like, who gets to determine what is rude. Because if our cultures have different ideas of what is acceptable and what isn’t, no one has the right to tell the other one what they’re doing is wrong. As much as, to me, the notion of commenting on a woman’s perceived pregnancy is horrific.

Victoria: Yeah, and to someone else, its just normal small talk.

Jaya: Right. So I think it’s important to be understanding of that, especially if you’re traveling and in a place where your standards are not the norm. Like, don’t go to Japan and yell at everyone for how they don’t do business like you.

Victoria: Haha yeah, for sure.

Jaya: However, I also don’t think that means that you should just roll over and “relax” if someone insults you, even if they don’t see it as an insult.

Victoria: That’s true. But at the same time, what would your response be? Especially in a case with a waiter or someone who you likely won’t interact with again? (I think for friends and family you should make it clear that you don’t appreciate their comments and that you find it hurtful.)

Jaya: Right. I think it’s up to the person, but I also think that you are well within your rights to speak out. There are plenty of times I just don’t feel like engaging, and I brush something like that off, but that’s because it’s my choice, not because I feel like I shouldn’t.

Victoria: True. I guess, that for me, there’s not much point in engaging, especially when a person is likely to become very defensive. For me, I see it as, it’s up to me to manage my feelings on a situation and can be helpful to think to myself “this person has a different idea about what questions are okay and which are not and I will just choose to believe that they didn’t mean anything hurtful” or just “they’re rude and they suck.” But I guess it also depends greatly on the situation and exactly what was said. Or wait, scratch part of that- the “it’s not up to me to manage my feelings” part….more like….I’m in charge of my feelings and I can’t always choose what people will say or how they will act, but I can choose how to feel about it? Oh I don’t know, this is a hard one.

Jaya: That’s a huge part of it! Like, is it emotionally worth it for you to engage?

Victoria: Haha okay, good, I am making sense.

Jaya: Yes! There’s a lot to weigh.

Victoria: Oh! I thought of a better way to phrase it- the only thing in a situation you can control is your reaction to it.

Jaya: YES, which is not to say you need to “control yourself” and do nothing, but really, you do you.

Victoria: So you have to think- is this something that is very important to me? Is this someone I will have to see frequently? To what degree am I willing to escalate it? Yeah, and obviously, we have to point out one of the etiquette golden rules: it is never okay to counter rudeness with more rudeness.

Jaya: I break that rule all the time.

Victoria: Hahah, I mean, we’re all rude sometimes.

Jaya: HOT TAKE: sometimes it’s okay to counter rudeness with more rudeness.

Victoria: lol. I mean, its not OKAY, but sometimes we are people who lose control of ourselves. And that is forgivable.

Jaya: I think, at its worst, etiquette encourages a lot of people to just grin and bear it for the sake of comfort.

Victoria: Well, I mean, I think they are polite ways and rude ways to respond to something that isn’t just grin and bearing it.

Jaya: Oh totally.

Victoria: Like someone is being a racist jerk. You can punch them Which would be rude. Or you can gently but firmly point out that they are being racist and remove yourself from their presence.

Jaya: But yeah I think people use etiquette and politeness to be like, a blanket rule that any sort of response is rude.

Victoria: Well, they are wrong 😛

Jaya: Hahaha duh. Mainly all I want to say is let’s never make comments about anyone’s bodies or really comment on anything and then we can all live and quickly die in dignified silence.

Victoria: Hahah yeah, but sadly there are rude people out there always.

Jaya: Can’t we send them to the moon yet?

Victoria: someday!

Jaya: Everyone fund NASA

Victoria: Someone should run for president on that platform

Jaya: You do it

Victoria: Victoria for president! (except not because it sounds like a really hard job!)

Jaya: Hahaha yeah. Etiquette counselor to the president.

Musing On Future Etiquette: Music With No Headphones

Ahhh, those were the days

I really don’t want to think listening to music in public with no headphones (and not in the carrying around a boombox in the park style, I mean blasting music out of your iPhone in a crowded subway) is going to be a thing, but all signs are pointing to it being a thing. Over the past few years I’ve increasingly encountered people playing loud video games, having FaceTime conversations, or listening to music without headphones, and at this point I believe it’s just something we’ll have to deal with. There’s a silver lining though: A BRAVE NEW WORLD OF ETIQUETTE.

Let’s say you’re sitting on the bus, listening to the Hamilton cast recording (like we have been for the last two weeks) with no headphones. Someone comes on the bus listening to another song at a similar volume, and sits next to you. Who is in the position of power here? On one hand, you can say you were there first, and thus deserve to continue listening to your music while the other person has to turn theirs down. On the other, perhaps the rules should go by turns. You had your time, and now this person has theirs.

I hope it will continue to stand that, if someone asks you to turn your music down or to put on headphones, you will. After all, it is still against the rules on most forms of public transportation or in public areas to play amplified music without a permit. But as much as etiquette is about comfort and being a social lubricant and all that, I also think it’s about having some sort of guidelines for everyday behaviors, and those change often. Fifty years ago pulling out your phone during dinner would be incredibly impolite (largely because you shouldn’t flaunt technology you got via your time machine like that), but now we understand that sometimes it happens, and there are polite and impolite ways to check your email with company. Things change, and etiquette needs to change with them.

But also, please use headphones when listening to music in public.