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.

I Met The Rudest Person Who Also Doesn’t Understand Commerce

An artistic interpretation of the event. [Via Wikimedia Commons]

An artistic interpretation of the event. [Via Wikimedia Commons]

I was visiting my parents in South Carolina over Thanksgiving, and my mom and I went on a little trip to Asheville, just over the border in North Carolina (remind me to write a post about the nearby Biltmore sometime). It’s a totally great little city, we had a tasty lunch and I spent a ridiculous amount on yarn from a cute yarn shop, but then it all turned sour when we had the RUDEST shopping experience ever.

The store looked like your run of the mill Irish/Scottish gift shop. There was a cool tartan cape in the window which intrigued me, so in we went. Only to get about two feet into the store because the rest of the way was blocked by a table and this old lady. So we look at the stuff right in front of us and she asks if we are looking for anything in particular and we say, no we are just browsing. And instead of letting us by, she says “we don’t browse here, it’s a specialty shop.” So we left in a bit of a huff. (Okay, that doesn’t SEEM that rude at the outset, it was all in the tone.) But being a millennial, I immediately hop on to Yelp to see if it’s just us or if its the horrible shopkeeper. I find DOZENS of one star reviews recounting MUCH worse experiences than ours. They mostly start off the same- the woman won’t let people into the store, she asks if they are looking for anything particular, kicks out people who are browsing. But for those who engage her in conversation:

“She demanded to know our heritage (if we were Irish, welsh, or Scottish) as soon as you walk in, so be prepared to bring your ancestry.com profile. When I told her my Welsh last name she said it wasn’t welsh and that I couldn’t come in.”

“She proceeded to tell us, unsolicited, that she was a hillbilly and intimated she did not care for the influx of people from places like Height Ashberry and Seattle.  And how our country’s foreign policy was off balance.  She proceeded to rant about our foreign policy with Egypt.”

“All that is bad enough, but the blatant statements about the confederate flag, newspaper articles she thrusts in front of you about the lies concerning the flag, and other comments we didn’t stay to finish listening to were shocking.”

“As we walked out the door, we encountered a Hispanic family (also just wanting to browse this cute shop on a cute street in the lovely town of Asheville, just like we wanted to do) and the way they were treated was truly appalling. This woman is racist, rude, and bad for Ashevilles business.”

I even found a Scottish Kilt enthusiast message board with a 5 page thread about how awful she is!


The thing is, if you are a shop that sells an expensive specialty item (kilts in this case, I GUESS), it’s FINE to be by appointment only and close your doors to everyone else, places like bridal shops do it all the time. However, if you have a cheerful window, an open door, a cead mille failte (a hundred thousand welcomes) sign in your window, you have to expect that people will wander in. Especially if your shop is on a busy street in a tourist district. Just put up a “by appointment only” sign! She must be independently wealthy and run the shop specifically to yell at people because there is no WAY she is making much money.

Why Are Napkins So Confusing?

It’s always polite to shove your sexual conquests in a competitor’s face

I spent Thanksgiving afternoon ironing linen napkins in anticipation of dinner, and in the middle of that task my mom asked me which side of the plate the napkin goes on. I blurted out “left” because that sounded right to me, but I realized that as much as I had “knife on the right, fork on the left” drilled into my head, I had no idea where the napkin should go.

After looking it up, it’s confusing as hell. According to Etiquette Scholar, napkins are placed in the center of the plate at formal dinners, but wherever you want otherwise. There are also almost a dozen sizes of napkins for every type of occasion, from formal dinner to buffet luncheon, and that’s ridiculous. It’s 2015. We recognize that it’s a big ask for someone to have a full set of cloth napkins, much less 10 different sets. They’re also supposed to match the tablecloth, which is presumably white or ivory.

This is very boring! Let’s do away with this. Cloth napkins are lovely to have, and sure they shouldn’t obviously clash with the rest of your decor, but if you have a blue tablecloth and green napkins that is just fine. I have red checkered napkins and no tablecloth, and my life is great! But I think we can take one thing away from the traditional etiquette–no matter the occasion, put the napkins and flatware in the middle of the plate. That way you don’t have to worry about which sides things go on, plus you save room on the table.

Some Thoughts On Talking About People

It’s a pretty known thing that gossip is rude, but that doesn’t really matter, because we all do it. It’s rude but often it’s catharsis, and even if you love the person you’re talking about, sometimes you need a safe space to ask why are they like that? or omg I’ve noticed that too. But when does discussing the particularities of our friends and colleagues turn into something hurtful?

There’s that explicit rule of if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all. As you’ve probably learned, that doesn’t really work IRL. There’s also more of an unspoken rule that if you wouldn’t say something to the person in question’s face, don’t say it behind their back. That’s certainly a better rule to follow, but still tricky, since maybe you don’t think that you’re saying will cause hurt feelings, but to the other person it does.

I find that I’m very attracted to gossip. Perhaps it’s the journalist in me. I’m curious about everyone’s business because I just want to know what’s going on in the world (and maybe I suffer from FOMO). I’ve been trying to stick to that latter rule by not just saying things that’d I’d only say to someone’s face, but also assessing why I would or wouldn’t say something to their face.

I’ve also been wrestling with what to do when people around me are gossiping or trash talking and I don’t want to participate. To be fair, there’s a bit of a spectrum, with “neutrally discussing someone” on one end and full on trash talking on the other, but what to do when I find myself in a situation when people are saying mean things about someone. Firstly, I try to see if the things they’re saying are true, because it’s rude to stand by while lies spread. If they are true, I see if the tone is actually mean, or if I’m just a sensitive baby who doesn’t like anyone using anything but the most loving tone toward my friends/acquaintances/someone I heard a nice thing about once.

I’d like to say that if someone’s being needlessly mean, I stand up to them, but usually I don’t. I get nervous and quiet and try to change the subject. This is not really advice. But my journey into gossip has left me with one tip: be aware of who is around you. People may have different relationships to the person you’re talking about. People may not know if what you’re saying comes from a place of love and understanding. Create context for your criticisms so they don’t seem like needless bashing, and accept that even if you have negative thoughts about someone, someone else may have a lovely relationship with them.

Or just hide and a cave and don’t talk about anyone, whatever.

Etiquette Confessions: I’m Terrible At Giving Gifts

tumblr_llk5tj6wJI1qayyfbo1_500If there’s one thing we don’t want this blog to be, it’s untouchably aspirational. Too often conversations around etiquette require their readers exhibit superhuman feats of kindness, organization, and memorization. That’s not how life goes. Pretty much everyone I know is trying to be a kind, courteous person, and pretty much everyone, including me (oh god especially me) fails at some point. In hopes of proving that you don’t have to be perfect in order to be courteous, we’re going to confess some seemingly simple bits of etiquette that we’ve never been able to do well. Here’s one of mine.

I think there has been one time in my life when I’ve given a good gift. I didn’t even actually give it, I just orchestrated all my friends to chip in and buy this thing for my boyfriend, and the idea of even getting that thing was someone else’s idea. I’m pretty good at telling other people what to do! But I am awful at giving gifts.

It’s not like I don’t care about people enough to give them gifts. I very much do care! I can just never think of anything to give. All of a sudden it’s a week until Christmas and I have no clue what anyone wants. So I find a local store and buy some token thing for everyone that needs a gift (husband, parents, siblings). They’re all fine but they’re never great. I’m even worse at birthdays, which seem to come out of nowhere, and often end up buying a friend a drink or dinner.

When I was a teenager I had this idea that, instead of gifts, I’d write all my friends heartfelt letters on their birthdays, telling them how much they mean to me and what great people they are. This lasted for about a year, and I think got to the core of what my gift-giving abilities are lacking–it’s not that I can’t buy a gift, but I lack the creative gene to give a thoughtful gift. I long to be the type of person who shows up with a present my friend didn’t know they wanted but now can’t live without. Something that wasn’t on a registry or gift list. I will likely never be that person, but I like to think I’m thoughtful in other ways, so hopefully that makes up for it.

I am GREAT at gift wrapping though.