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Weighing in

Posted by Robin Abrahams  June 10, 2008 04:45 AM

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Well, if a letter about etiquette actually makes it all the way to the Globe's op-ed page, I suppose I'm obligated to weigh in on it. Jodi R.R. Smith of Mannersmith writes:

THE GASP you heard at 6:50 Thursday morning was me clutching my pearls as I read Beth Teitell's words "You have a year to give a wedding gift" ("No time to lose," Style & Arts, June 5). No self-respecting citizen of the civilized world with even the slimmest sliver of social savvy would ever be so remiss as to wait a year to give a gift for any occasion, weddings included.

Especially since we are in June, the height of wedding season, to have this misinformation printed in a large font, in red, on the front page of The Boston Globe's Style & Arts section almost made me spill my perfectly brewed cup of English breakfast tea. (Luckily, my pinky was politely tucked in, thus stabilizing my china teacup. Phew!)

You have fallen victim to one of the nastiest manners myths out there, the First Year Fallacy. Someone somewhere began a vicious rumor that a guest can wait up to a year to give the wedding couple a gift. The twisted reasoning states that the guest can then be sure the couple will stay together before having to give a gift. This is simply not true. Ideally, gifts should be given before the wedding. If the wedding does not take place, the gift will be returned.

Your readers deserve to know the truth.

First off, do click on Ms. Teitell's piece; it's not about weddings at all, but about the ridiculous pressure on women to become "yummy mummies" again, like, 30 seconds after delivery.

Second, a far nastier "manners myth" is the idea that weddings are fundraisers. Surprise: you don't actually have to give a wedding present at all. It's not the price of admission. You are at a wedding to celebrate with the couple. Of course, if you like someone well enough to go to their wedding, you will like them well enough to get them a present--one that is appropriate to their stage in life, your relationship with them, their need, and your budget.

But there's the rub. Gas is $4 a gallon. Food prices have doubled. We are all feeling the strain this summer, and Ms. Smith is right about one thing: June is "wedding season," which means that people--especially those in their 20s and early 30s, not the most financially stable of ages--might have more than one wedding to attend in the next few months, along with graduations and Fathers' Day.

So pace Ms. Smith, Miss Conduct says if you can't afford a wedding present, don't go into debt for one. Go to the wedding anyway, and give a nice card. If your cash flow situation will ease up in a while, give the couple a present then. You don't owe them anything but your joyously present self--and anyway, getting wedding gifts in dribs and drabs is more surprising and fun and makes the thank-you-note-writing chores easier because they don't all have to be written at once.

Miss Conduct, revolutionizing etiquette by remembering occasionally that some people are poor--the favorite manners maven of the Prim & Proper Proletariat.

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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About Miss Conduct
Welcome to Miss Conduct’s blog, a place where the popular Boston Globe Magazine columnist Robin Abrahams and her readers share etiquette tips, unravel social conundrums, and gossip about social behavior in pop culture and the news. Have a question of your own? Ask Robin using this form or by emailing her at missconduct@globe.com.
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Who is Miss Conduct?

Robin Abrahamswrites the weekly "Miss Conduct" column for The Boston Globe Magazine and is the author of Miss Conduct's Mind over Manners. Robin has a PhD in psychology from Boston University and also works as a research associate at Harvard Business School. Her column is informed by her experience as a theater publicist, organizational-change communications manager, editor, stand-up comedian, and professor of psychology and English. She lives in Cambridge with her husband Marc Abrahams, the founder of the Ig Nobel Prizes, and their socially challenged but charismatic dog, Milo.

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Curious if you should say "bless you" to a sneezing atheist? How to host a dinner party for carbophobes, vegans, and Atkins disciples—all at the same time? The finer points of regifting? Ask it here, or email missconduct@globe.com.

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