Dear Prudence: Wedding gift etiquette?

Emily Yoffe, a.k.a. Slate's advice columnist "Prudence."


TESS VIGELAND: Now, every so often we get a question from one of you where I think to myself, "I wish I could ask Ann Landers about this." Or maybe Dear Prudence at Slate.com. It's usually a question that's about money but not really about money. And we got one like that this week. Ursula contacted us from Surry, Maine, with a dilemma.

Ursula: My fiance and I would like to request that our friends not give gifts we do not need for our wedding, like dishes and china. If they decide in their generosity to give a gift, we want to ask that they contribute to a fund for something we want, like land or gift certificates. Is there an artful way to make this clear to our guests?

Now this is a question that I know Dear Prudence has answered more than once. So we called her up! Emily Yoffe, a.k.a. Prudence, welcome to the show.

Emily Yoffe: Thank you.

Vigeland: Now, I'm not going to pretend I don't know your thoughts on this. You are not a fan of these "give me cold hard cash" wedding registry, right?

Yoffe: When people are getting married, their friends and loved ones want to get lovely things for their home. They don't tend to want to get them a home.

Vigeland: Is it ever OK to put qualifiers on gift giving, really no matter what the occasion might be?

Yoffe: Well, there are ways to do it. First of all, let me just say, when you send the invitation that is not the place to specify the gift. The money question is really touchy and hard. It's probably best if the word gets put out by other people in the family -- "Look, they're paying off their student loans" or "they're saving for a house" -- so if you feel moved to write them a check, of course they'd appreciate it. But you just can't say, "Hey, don't go shopping for me. Here's my PIN number, make a deposit."

Vigeland: That's so romantic, isn't it? You know, you mention the invitations, and I will say that I did receive a wedding invitation one time that listed the gift registry. It didn't ask for cash, but it did actually list the gift registry. And you're saying "nuh uh" to that as well.

Yoffe: Well, how did you feel when you got that?

Vigeland: I thought, "Oh, well I guess that's the price I pay for going to the wedding."

Yoffe: Thank you, yes, exactly. You thought, "Oh! Price of admission." That's not the feeling you're supposed to get when you get a wedding invitation.

Vigeland: But I suppose the argument is that we live in modern times, a lot of couples already live together, they've got things like blenders and towels. So, what should a guest do in that case?

Yoffe: How is it ever wrong to go out and say, "You know, I'm so happy they're getting married. I want to get them this beautiful pitcher, so every time they pour their juice or milk with it, they'll think of me and I'll imagine them enjoying it." I mean, that is part of the pleasure; it's not just an economic exchange.

Vigeland: All right, well Ursula, there you go. Dear Prudence says maybe you should be a little more prudent about all this, right?

Yoffe: Enjoy everyone's good wishes, even if it takes a physical form of a blender.

Vigeland: Emily Yoffe is Dear Prudence at Slate.com. It's been awfully fun. Thanks so much for joining us.

Yoffe: My pleasure.

Vigeland: OK, what's your reaction to requests for gifts of cold hard cashola? Tell us at Marketplace.org. And no, you do not have a year to write us a thank-you note.

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