The Real Rules of Wedding Registries, No Nikes

The Real Rules of Wedding Registries, No Nikes

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It's clear from the rag tag comments on Motte's post about Bridal Gift Registries that the Boundless Line readers would benefit from reading Miss Manners on Painfully Proper Weddings, by Judith Martin.

Contrary to the title, this book is a painless and quite entertaining read. More importantly, it's a needed reminder that etiquette is more than a set of stuffy old rules. It's the means by which we may interact with other people in a way that has their interests at heart. It's a more formalized version of the second greatest commandment, if you will. It's the Golden Rule applied to specific social settings.

What it isn't, is a hodge-podge of personal opinions about what seems like the right or logical way to proceed in certain settings (see the comments on Motte's post to see what that looks like). If we were left to our inclinations alone, it's not hard to imagine weddings devolving into chaotic get-togethers.

In case you're not inclined to read the whole book, here are a few snippets:

1. Registering for anything and everything is crass, as is including little "we are registered at" cards in the wedding invitations. (If you register, keep it to yourself until and unless someone asks you if you have and where.)

2. Wedding gifts are given at the discretion of the guests -- it's their way of saying, "we want to help the young couple get off on the right start"

3. Wedding gifts are not the price of admission to the ceremony or reception, nor are gifts expected to cost a certain amount or cover what the bride and groom spent on dinner.

4. It is never appropriate to ask for cash, nor offer the "option" of guests paying for certain elements of the wedding or honeymoon, nor even to suggest "in lieu of gifts, please donate to our favorite charity" (for more, see point 2.)

Just because you think something is done out of respect for etiquette doesn't mean it is. Many of the customs we Americans have adopted around weddings are in fact directly opposite of what's required. In many cases, one bride goofed, or misunderstood a tradition, and all her friends copied her, thinking she knew what she was doing. And before long, everyone was doing it.

My favorite example, from Martin's book, is that rectangular piece of tissue paper that accompanies all invitations these days. It's original purpose was to separate engraved invitations from one another, in order to prevent the ink from smearing during their transport from the print shop. As soon as the ink was dry, the tissue was discarded -- before the invitations were sent. Not only do most brides no longer engrave their invitations (too expensive), they keep that tissue in place for mailing (too funny). But alas, I did. I thought that was what etiquette required.

When in doubt, check.

This is just a taste of all the good and essential detail Martin covers in the book. I loved it so much -- even though it forced me to reckon with the many mistakes I made in my own wedding -- that it's my new favorite gift to give recently-engaged brides.

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  • Comment by  jomamma:

    LOL, the Nike thing was a joke!  Anyhow, I had a friend who got married and they asked for money from all their family  so they could buy a house.  Before you think that's crazy, I think that it wasn't such a bad idea when considering the circumstances:  They lived in the porrest county in California in one of the cheaper cities and houses that aren't even too nice are $240K.  So is this such a bad idea?

    So if boundless is encouraging people to live on one income (which I agree with) shouldn't this be a consideration?

    OK, so if people all the time ask for money and people are OK with it, wouldn't that make that type of ediquette alright?  I for one almost always give cash because I know they will probrably use it for something good.

  • Comment by  VV:

    Well, I've never received an invitation (to a shower, at least) that didn't have the little, "registered at", cards. These days however, I find that people appreciate the registry more because it doesn't leave them in such a confused state about what to give. The thing that gets me is, at least from the giving point, you spend all that money on a gift for the shower, and then you have to spend again for the wedding. That can get expensive.

    Here's a question I've always had: what if you are IN the wedding, a member of the bridal party. You've already spent money on: dresses, shoes, bridal shower, gift, insert wedding expense -- do you also have to give a wedding gift, and if so, how much? oooooh confusing. Often the desire is there to give to your fellow friends who are starting life out together, but that can get expensive for someone who'se trying to save a few pennies herself. :-/

  • Comment by  DannieA:

    goodness...just do or don't, don't undermine what people do or don't do for their wedding.  

    It's their special day...

  • Comment by  CandiceWatters:

    jo mamma, it's one thing if you, a wedding guest, want to give the couple a cash gift. Not even etiquette would tell you not to. It's quite another, however, for the bride and groom to ask you to. Weddings are not about setting bride and groom up financially. They're about exchanging vows, joining lives, in the presence of God, family and close friends. That you would even ask about the propriety of a cash-for-house request shows just how far we've come in our understanding of the purpose of a wedding.

    v&v, read the book. Miss Manners answers your question and any other you could possibly conceive!

  • Comment by  LeannK:

    I always thought that piece of tissue paper was weird as well as the two envelopes. One outer envelope with the address and formal names and the interior envelope with the "common" names. My husband and I made our own invitations and just had one envelope and no tissue paper. Served our purposes and was cheap.

  • Comment by  JMarie:

    Thank you, thank you, thank you, Candace, for this post!  The comments on Motte's post were all over the place.  Etiquette is a set of guidelines for how to function politely in society, and as society changes, so does the etiquette (albeit more slowly, with more respect for tradition).  I think most etiquette columnists nowadays have come to accept wedding registries as having a place, and a recent article on Slate.com even advocated registering for honeymoon money or requesting cash.  That's likely due to people setting up house first and then getting married (though in some cultures, giving cash is customary).  However, it's still considered quite rude by most to include the registry information in the invitation (yes, I, too, have received invitations like this).  If someone wants guidance in choosing a wedding gift, it's a simple matter to ask the bride, groom or their family members if there is a wedding registry.  Gifts should not be expected or demanded, and putting registry information in an invitation really does come across as a gift grab.  When I'm married, I would be really sad if someone didn't join the celebration because they thought a gift of a certain value was the price of admission.

  • Comment by  Carrie:

    Wow! I never thought that including a card with registry info. on it was rude! I always figured it was a courtesy and saved the bride from receiving 200 phone calls asking the same question.

    I had always thought that I would include such a thing in my invitations just so I would save my fiancee and I from having to answer the same question 200 times.

    However, I have learned that Bed, Bath, & Beyond is the default location for gift registries. One time I shopped for a bride and I knew she was registered at 3 or 4 different stores, but I didn't couldn't remember which ones! After going all over the mall, the light came on "Duh! EVERYONE registers at Bed, Bath, & Beyond!" If they aren't registered there, they probably aren't registered at all.

    So, rule of thumb, if you are wondering what to get the happy couple go to Bed, Bath, & Beyond to see what they are registered for.

    (future brides, just register there. this should be part of contemporary wedding "etiquette")

  • Comment by  DanielleT:

    Thanks for this post! I couldn't believe some of the comments on the other post, especially the ones saying the gift value should equal the per-person cost of the reception! How tacky and rude! How is a guest supposed to anticipate the per-person cost, anyway? That's one of the craziest suggestions I've ever heard, so thanks for clearing it up that it is NOT good etiquette to do so.

  • Comment by  Bo:

    Candace, thank you for this post!

    I am getting married next week, and I had a horrible time registering--I was in tears because I felt so greedy! My fiance and I already have a lot of stuff we need to set up house (we've both been on our own for a while), but everyone says, "You need NEW dishes for your NEW life that are YOURS to share!" etc.

    So when people ask me where I'm registered, I tell them that a git is not necessary--we just would love their presence at the wedding itself. I never want my wedding or shower guests to feel like a gift is important (or necessary or any kind of obligation) to me. I hope our wedding is an intimate and fun worship time for everyone. forget the gifts.

  • Comment by  ejp:

    I appreciate the desire to have "proper etiquette" with all things surrounding weddings. However, just because someone writes a book, doesn't mean they necessarily have the final say on how things should be done. With all friendliness, Candice, I don't think you should beat yourself up over "mistakes" at your wedding. I am sure you were trying your best, that most of the guests were delighted to celebrate with you and your husband, and that Jesus Christ was honored, not just a bunch of traditional rules.

    Most of us are not part of high society, and our friends and family probably aren't even aware of the social gaffes that have become nearly traditional. Isn't it a form of pride that says, "I must do this in the proper way, so that the "right people" won't be offended."? Jesus offended the Pharisees by eating with "sinners". Probably Miss Manners would say that a backyard BBQ or potluck wedding meal is uncouth, but if my friends and family are happy to celebrate with me in that way, then it seems like a fine idea, and those who would turn up their nose, or point fingers can be smug and offended. Most of us, I think, will be having too much fun to worry about whether the invitations were "correct".

    Also, it is my sense that there is a fallacy in thinking that there are huge cultural etiquette rules to follow. Maybe I move in an especially multicultural circle, but with friends who are Chinese, and Indian, and Polish and Italian- each has a heritage with unique wedding traditions, though most end up blending them with the "American" ones. Not to mention that I grew up in a church that didn't tolerate drinking or dancing. I was in college before I attended weddings with dancing and toasts. Or look at costs- most of my friends wouldn't dream of asking their bridesmaids to spend more than $100 on a dress, but one, from a wealthy area, picked out a $300+ one, and I was the only bridesmaid who thought it was extreme. I believe that the proprieties are really far more flexible and blendable than most people think.

  • Comment by  ZephGreenwell:

    I think it is fine to ask for anything that you need. I got married young and appreciated every single gift I got. This past weekend I went to a wedding and bought the bride and groom an electric can opener off their registry and wondered how many of these they were getting and if they would ever use it even if it was the only one they received.

  • Comment by  LauraS:

    Did anyone else have the experience of registering for a shower that was not a wedding shower?

    I am moving out of state in a couple months to work with a Christian ministry. Many of my friends from church want to honor me with a shower. I am so grateful--since this is my first time to set up housekeeping for myself, I need all the basics.

    It was suggested that I register, which seemed like the most practical thing to do. But I was dismayed to find that most stores only offer a bridal and baby registry. No housewarming registry.

    Sigh. It's pretty embarrassing to register as a bride when I'm not getting married. :-)

    It doesn't seem to me that it is uncommon for people to need a gift registry for a housewarming shower. Anyone know of any stores that offer a housewarming gift registry?

  • Comment by  VV:

    But here's the thing... the registry is for the shower, no? And then, you are "supposed" to give money as the actual wedding gift. That's how it seems to be done here where I'm from -- or maybe, that's just my experience. Oh, give what you can, when you can, how you can. If anyone loves you, they'll care less. I think etiquette makes those who can't comply feel bad -- not so much the one they would be giving to.

  • Comment by  Oxanna:

    Good post.  Etiquette is sorely ignored by many, and it's good to have reminders.  (With the caveat, of course, that etiquette often is always-changing and varies by culture, hence flexibility is good.  "Blessed are the flexible, for they shall not get bent out of shape." :D)  Admittedly, I think #1 isn't really a faux pas anymore.  Every bridal shower invitation I've seen has a little card about where the bride registered, and I don't think it's greedy - just telling guests where she registered, should they desire to get a gift from there.  Wedding invitations, yes, I could see them as a tad greedy, but not necessarily.

    ejp - This is why I plan on either finding really cheap bridesmaids' dresses if I get married, and/or buying them myself.  No need to make friends suffer!

  • Comment by  Laura:

    Candice, this is my favorite post ever.  Thank-you, thank-you, thank-you for reminding young brides and husbands-to-be that etiquette is important!  Could you please post something about the tackiness of sending e-thank-you cards next?  :)

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