Today's column is online here. I advise two good-hearted locals who are struggling with questions of shower and birthday gift-giving etiquette. T.P. from Boston wrote:
How should I word the invitation for my son's sixth birthday? We usually ask guests to do a book exchange in lieu of a gift. I always have gift-wrapped extra books on hand. Where does this fall on the rudeness scale? Between two kids we end up spending hundreds on gifts, mostly for kids we hardly even know.
I suggested the following, and invite you to give your ideas as well--
T.P., requests for no gifts or alternate gifts should, first and foremost, be clear. "Instead of a present, bring a book to swap!" is clear. "Please, no gifts unless you feel moved to make a donation to the Worthy Child Charity" is passive-aggressive and leaves everyone feeling confused. Keeping extra books on hand for those who forget or don't like what's on offer is a sweet idea, but why gift-wrap books that are meant to be swapped? Now that the kids are old enough to read, they might like to see the titles.
Also, while I don't have children myself, I strongly suspect that you can cut back on the amount that you spend on presents for O.P.K. (Other People's Kids) without suffering social sanction. I will have an open thread on my blog for parents who want to share economical gift ideas--see what other readers suggest for you!
What do you think, dear readers?
(For more musings on the difficulties of 21st-century gift-giving, along with a few solutions, check out my Perspectives Essay, "When Everyone Has Everything," from last September: "Giving gifts serves symbolic functions--cementing relationships, celebrating life transitions--as well as the practical one of providing people with stuff they need. And this is at the crux of today's etiquette dilemmas: For the first time ever, most of us have too much stuff and not enough money.")
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