Why Is It So Difficult To Accept “No Gifts”?

[Via Emily Orpin]

[Via Emily Orpin]

I’ve been invited to my first wedding where, in lieu of a registry, the couple has asked that anyone inclined donate to one of their favorite charities. It’s a wonderful gesture, and I’ll absolutely be donating, and yet somehow I’m plagued with anxiety over the thought of not giving the couple themselves a gift. Even though they asked that I not! Even though I’ll be giving money elsewhere!

This is, of course, ridiculous. But it’s something that I realize others might feel if presented with the same situation, or even further, if the couple specifies no gifts or spending at all. I think this reaction comes from a good place. We’ve been taught that giving is good, and for multiple reasons–it’s an opportunity to show we care, to show we know the recipient’s taste, and often a physical marker of our presence at an event. But notice that many of those reasons have to do with us more than the recipients. The entire concept of gift giving hinges on one thing: the recipient actually being thankful for the gift.

It’s also difficult to think of someone not being thankful for a gift, because most of us have been taught that money/stuff is good no matter what (yay capitalism). We chide that they must be being coy, and insist on giving small tokens or even large gifts anyway, under the assumption that they’ll be appreciated. Don’t do that! Not only is it disrespectful to the couple’s wishes, it’s disrespectful to their intelligence. It suggests that you know better than them what they actually want, and that they’re being dishonest about their desires.

Here’s another secret (that’s maybe not a secret, maybe I’m just a terrible person): The couple will likely not remember what you got them. Yes, immediately after the wedding I had a mental list of who bought what off the registry, who sent checks, and who gave cards. And I was very thankful for everything we received, and wrote thank you notes indicating so. However, almost two years later, it has all blended into my life. Aside from a few gifts that are distinctly tied to the giver, I can’t really recall who got us our plates or who gave us a check that allowed us to buy plates. I think that’s fine. There’s warmth in my heart for everyone who bought us gifts, and everyone who didn’t but who spent their time and money to celebrate with us.

Gifts are a symbol of love and consideration and joy, but they are not those things. If a couple asks you not to give them gifts, or to donate your money or time elsewhere, they are saying that they don’t need that middleman. But if you’re really freaking out, bring a card.

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Hostess Gifts Are a Bit Weird, No?

A tea cup is actually a fantastic hostess gift, now that I think about it. [Via Wikimedia Commons]

A tea cup is actually a fantastic hostess gift, now that I think about it. [Via Wikimedia Commons]

We’ve talked about hostess gifts plenty, but I was thinking about them the other day and I realized that they are sort of a strange custom. Something like wine, that could theoretically be used during the party (though you should never expect it!), makes sense, but when you get into some of the other ideas that end up on lists of “great hostess gifts” things start to get a little strange.

Like, “thank you so much for inviting me to dinner- here is a set of hand painted playing cards!” Or “a single teacup and saucer!” Or “a wine stopper from Italy!” All very nice things, but they seem so unrelated to the event at hand and so small and knicknacky that they really can’t be of much actual use to the recipient.

I’m not saying that we should abolish hostess gifts, because obviously they do serve a small purpose in showing your appreciation for something someone is doing for you. But, I do think that when you want to get a token gift in the under $10 range, it’s best to stick to consumables- chocolates, jams, flowers, pastries, wine that can actually seem luxurious at that price point rather than a small bit of junk that will end up in the donation box in six months.

Inviting Parts of a Group to the Rehearsal Dinner

Soon your rehearsal dinner is gonna look like this.

Soon your rehearsal dinner is gonna look like this.

Dear Uncommon Courtesy,

For the rehearsal dinner the night before our wedding, we are planning inviting all our out-of-town guests. However, I have a large group of friends who I met while we all lived in the wedding location. Some of these friends have since moved away from the wedding location while some still live there. Is it okay to only invite the ones who now live out of town to the rehearsal and exclude the ones who still live in town, though they are part of the same set of friends?

Sincerely,

Not Wanting to Exclude

Official Etiquette

Officially, you don’t HAVE to have a rehearsal dinner and even if you do, traditionally you only have to invite your bridal party and immediate family. It is a nice gesture to invite out of town guests and it’s fine to draw clear lines if you can’t afford to host everyone.

Our Take

Jaya: My idea is that everyone can understand setting a hard line between people who had to travel and people in town. This isn’t a “we liked these 5 people more so we invited them” situation.

Victoria: Exactly. Although, I will bring up the point that if we are talking about 10 people out of town and 1 person in town….maybe at that point just bite the bullet and invite all of them. But if its a fairly even split, then yeah, people will understand. I am interested to know when this whole “invite the out of town people” thing started. And at what point it gets ridiculous. Like if 3/4 of your wedding list is at the rehearsal dinner….

Jaya: Yeahhhh, I mean, I think it has decent intentions. If people have traveled you want to make them feel welcome.

Victoria: Totally!

Jaya: And then I think it went to “all out of town family” which again, reasonable. And then all out of town everyone.

Victoria: Haha yeah, I think so. My cousin got married in…..like 2008? And did not invite out of town family to the rehearsal and we were fine. I think maybe we arrived the morning of the wedding anyway. We will see if that holds true at our next family wedding this fall.

Jaya: Yeah, I also think it depends on where it is. Like, if you’re getting married in the middle of nowhere and there’s nothing to do, it’s nice to offer a fun dinner instead of your guests sitting around ordering room service in your weird suburban home town.

Victoria: Yesss!!! That’s a very good point.

Jaya: But sometimes I’ve gone to weddings in fun destination places and it’s like, quit it with the events, I want to explore! That’s a sad thing to measure, though. “Is your wedding destination boring as hell? If so, entertain people.”

Victoria: HAHAHA. I mean, you could just be practical about it….like, okay, our hotels are actually miles from any food and people didn’t bring cars, so let’s entertain them vs. we are downtown in a big, cultural city, people will be fine.

Jaya: Right.

Victoria: Or like, we decided to make everyone camp in the middle of the woods for four days so we are providing ALL the meals.

How to Pee In Regency England

Francois Boucher "La Toilette"

Francois Boucher “La Toilette”

There is nothing that demonstrates the change in etiquette over time like the etiquette around bodily functions. To a great extent, this is because of practicality. It is only the technology that allows us to distance ourselves from our excretions that allows us to be squeamish about them, in the past they were a fact of daily life that people had to see up close.

For example: during a dinner party, once the men and women had separated, a man might pull out a chamberpot and use it without even breaking the flow of conversation.

The French were appalled at the uncivilized behavior of the English.

The French were appalled at the uncivilized behavior of the English.

What did people use?

There was actually quite a variety of privies (what toilets were called). Some London houses had a kind of toilet like we have today, with water that flushes the waste. However, they didn’t have the technology to trap the smells, so they could be a bit unpleasant. Some homes had ‘earth closets’ which used a fine dirt to contain smells.

Most common people used a privy/outhouse, a hole in the ground with some kind of seat over it. These emptied into cesspools, which were ideally emptied regularly by “night soil men,” but in poorer areas, they were allowed to overflow and were a large contributing factor to disease.

Of course, at night, you wouldn’t want to go too far from your warm bed, so people would use a chamberpot. A chamberpot is a bowl or container (as plain or fancy as your circumstances would allow) that is kept under the bed (or sometimes in a special stool to conceal it and provide a seat) to be used during the night. You (or your maid) would empty it in the morning.

But what about when you were out and about? Many places didn’t have public toilets back then, so a well of lady would travel with a bourdaloue, a very small chamberpot that she could discreetly put under her skirts and then hand to a maid for disposal. Of course, men could always use a handy wall or alley.

Bourdaloue (don't mistake it for a gravy boat in an antique shop!)

Bourdaloue (don’t mistake it for a gravy boat in an antique shop!)

How did they go?

If you’ve ever helped a bride to the bathroom, you know that it can be difficult to maneuver when you are wearing a fancy dress. However, we have difficulties because we don’t do it every day! Women in the Regency period didn’t wear underwear (well, they didn’t wear confining underwear like we do), so they didn’t have to futz around under their skirts. And with a chamberpot, you could just move it under you rather than trying to fit yourself around a stationary toilet.

For wiping, there might be scrap fabric, moss, or straw. That one ply toilet paper in public restrooms doesn’t seem so bad now, does it?

Sushi Etiquette

Candy sushi is my kind of sushi [Via]

Candy sushi is my kind of sushi [Via]

I don’t even like sushi that much, so I might not be the best person for this, but when has that ever stopped me? Where we lived in California growing up, there was a sushi place that had a bar with a little channel of water and the sushi came by on little boats. It was great and I don’t know why more places don’t do it.

Luckily, most Americans will never go to Japan so we can enjoy sushi like the heathens that we are in nice, moderately priced Japanese restaurants. Or even better, via Seamless in the privacy of our own homes. However, if you want to show off your good manners or start planning a trip to see that guy in Jiro Dreams of Sushi, here are some tips:

Basic tips:

  • Don’t rub your chopsticks together because it implies that they are cheap. While you are at it, also don’t stand them up right in a bowl of rice (or anything else) because it is considered bad luck.
  • Don’t ask if something is fresh or ask for what’s fresh because it insults the chef that it isn’t all fresh.
  • Do eat sushi (the items with rice) with your fingers. Only eat sashimi (just fish) with chopsticks.
  • Do dip the fish side of nigiri (rice with fish on top) into the soy sauce, never the rice side, as that picks up too much soy sauce.
  • Do try to eat each piece in one bite (might be more difficult in some places, so two bites is okay too)
  • The pickled ginger shouldn’t be put on any sushi, but rather eaten between pieces as a palate cleanser.
  • Better sushi places put exactly the right amount of wasabi already on the sushi, so you shouldn’t add it to your soy sauce (except for sashimi)
  • If you order soup and aren’t giving a spoon, drink it from the bowl

Advanced tips:

  • Sit at the sushi bar and order your sushi directly from the chef (get drinks and sides from the waiter)
  • Eat each piece directly as the chef hands it to you because it is at it’s peak and will taste the best
  • Order omakase which is the chef’s choice if you are adventurous. However, it’s a bit rude to leave food on your plate, so be aware of how hungry and experimental you are.