September 21st, 2018

Wedding gift etiquette

This post is a bit off-brand, but I read a really egregious wedding-gift-etiquette post this morning–it very strongly implied you should attempt to “cover” the cost of whatever wedding catering you eat with the cost of the gift you give, with the kind of caveat “Of course you don’t have to but c’mon everyone knows you should.” Um, no. Also, I was chatting with a newly engaged woman on the weekend and threw out some random wedding etiquette facts from when I was researching weddings in 2012 when I got married, and I got some looks–I know a LOT. When I research, I really research, and since I don’t intend to get married again, all that info is just sitting in my head, going to waste. So here it all is–wedding gift etiquette! Everything I know!

1. You never have to give a wedding gift. It’s not a rule of etiquette by any respected authority I’ve ever seen. In fact, of all the occasions commonly celebrated in North America where there are often gifts given–birthdays, engagements, retirements, etc., etc., etc.,–the only ones I’m aware of where a gift is an obligation of attending are showers, wedding and baby. Shower is a short form of shower with gifts, and gifts are the point of those events–if you don’t want to/can’t give a gift, send regrets and that gets you out of the obligation. For everything else, gifts are optional. Pretty often, we WANT to give gifts because we want to celebrate the people involved and gift-giving is one way that a lot of people do that, but everything from the whether to the when to the how much is up to us.

2. While not a regulation, gifts are certainly a norm. Most people do give and expect gifts as most weddings. Etiquette experts have been talking for years about how weddings are celebrations of love with one’s nearest and dearest and not a transaction, but if the culture in your family say you owe your cousin at least a dust-buster to cover your chicken cordon-bleu, then that’s the culture in your family and your cousin won’t be less mad if you tell her no dust buster and also she’s wrong. Also many cultural groups consider money the only acceptable gift and some consider it a terrible gift; some hate registries and some hate people who don’t have registries. I don’t know what to tell you except know who you are dealing with.

3. Wedding gift-giving is not affected by attendance. Unlike the showers mentioned above, which are really in-person-only affairs, whether you attend a wedding or not should not affect whether you give a gift. In fact, some people will give a nicer gift if they don’t go because they have more space in their budget due to not having to pay for travel, hotel, party clothes. That’s certainly not an expectation though. Basically, if you don’t go, you just send the gift you would have given anyway. If you weren’t going to give a gift, I would strongly encourage a card–in all cases, but especially if you’re not going. A lot of people (myself included) feel their weddings are a really important day in their lives and if your only response is “not coming” and then silence, that is easy to think that you are trying to end the friendship.

4. Wedding registries are suggestions not requirements. Registries of any type are supposed to be helpful ways to feel confident you have bought the couple a gift they will like and use. Thoughtful couples will select items in a wide range of price points, and thoughtful guests who wish to spend on the high end will not simply buy up a bunch of the low-priced items because that is a dick move. Other ways to feel confident you given the couple a gift they will like and use include giving money, giving gift cards to a store or restaurant or other place you know they like, or knowing them so well you can figure out a non-registry, non-cash/card gift that you feel confident they will enjoy. There is no hierarchy among these choices.

5. There is no minimum amount to spend on wedding gifts. You just give what you can afford and want to give, period. This was actually a lot easier when I was broke, as there was a hard upper limit, the end. I once gave a pair of newlyweds a $15 board game and felt proud of myself because it was on sale and I wrapped it nicely, so it seemed slightly more expensive. For weddings during periods of financial turmoil where I’ve had to travel to be there, folks have gotten a pretty card with nothing inside but my heartfelt good wishes–by strict budgetary standards, I probably shouldn’t have even been there, so a gift was out of the question. Once I was making a decent living it got more confusing because what I could “afford” was relative. Basically I try to find a nice present on the registry that I feel good about giving. Also getting married myself was useful, as people gave us gifts and I learned what those people consider a nice gift!

6. Don’t bring gifts to the ceremony or reception. Even fairly etiquette-savvy people don’t seem to know this one and thus there will usually be a card box and gift table at most receptions (not at the ceremony–no one is ready for gifts at the ceremony and you’ll wind up having to hold the boxed dust-buster in your lap) but it’s really not ideal. If the reception is in a banquet hall where the public or even just guests at other events have access, someone will need to watch the gift table and card box to make sure nothing is stolen and as the night wears on and drinks flow, that’s harder to do. Everyone has heard a story about a wedding-gift robbery–those are both awkward and depressing. Also, at the end of the night the gifts need to be taken somewhere–challenging if they are big, extra-challenging if gifts are fragile and whoever is doing the loading is drunk. Stemware gets broken, gifts get separated from their cards and no one ever knows who gave the dust buster, and if the couple is leaving immediately on their honeymoon or even just is driving a smaller car, now it’s a storage concern for someone. Send the gifts to their home before or after the wedding.

7. Be ok with not receiving a thank you note. The etiquette rules are pretty clear on this–wedding thank you notes should be sent within a few months and they should be a personal note about the thing you actually gave, not a pre-printed “Thanks for giving a thing!” But etiquette isn’t a contest and so many people don’t send wedding thank you notes that it’s wise to check yourself ahead of time for how much resentment you might harbour if you don’t get one and if it’s “tonnes” just don’t give a gift. And relying on thank you notes to confirm that the gift even made it to the recipient is not a great plan–per #6, have it sent to their home with a tracking number or use the registry to track.

8. If it’s driving you crazy, stop. One of the worst things about etiquette is that it can sometimes feels like we serve it and have to do whatever etiquette says, instead of the truth, that etiquette was created to help us maintain good relationships. If etiquette drives people to not like each other, they’re doing it wrong. If you are hunting for a wedding gift and angrily thinking/talking about how much you don’t want to buy anything for these people who you barely know/you don’t like/don’t deserve it/have lots of stuff, maybe that’s a sign you shouldn’t go to the wedding at all and step back from the friendship. Or if it’s just a stress reaction, and actually you do like them, could you just skip the gift and enjoy the wedding with lots of love? Or could you chat with them and mention that you’re stressed/broke right now, but since you’ll be friends forever, there will be a chance down the road for you to get them a nice gift? If you can neither comfortably skip the gift nor comfortably talk to them about it, I’d be back to looking at the relationship itself.

9. My favourite thing I got for my wedding is people coming to my wedding, though they could have been doing anything else that Saturday. My second favourite is towels. Seriously, even if they don’t seem like “fancy bath linens” people, we all have to shower eventually and few of us are that into shopping for towels. Even if they have some nice ones already, time comes for us all and eventually they will get around to using yours. I registered for cheap ones because I felt guilty and also like it didn’t matter, but then Mark’s aunt got us Vera Wang towels somehow (!!!) and when I am buried I want my shroud to be Vera Wang towels. That is all.

January 23rd, 2010


I have no major theme or connective tissue for today, just a little things I’ve been thinking of and would like to share with you. Please do not attempt to take them as a whole; they certainly do not come to more than the sum of their parts. I’ll try to visually separate everything on the page for you.


I like rules. Maybe more than a so-called creative person should or is expected to, I enjoy being told what to do. I gleefully tell potential employers that I take direction well, and I really mean it. My friend P calls this my desire to “outsource my thinking,” and she’s spot-on–I appreciate it when someone will bother to form a plan or opinion where I have none–saves me the trouble, and provides the illusion of an ordered universe. Obvious, this won’t work well with things that matter a lot to me (ie., my writing, my clothes, what I’m going to eat), but I am really appreciative of advice (or imperitives) on such low-stakes issues as where to put the butter dish, when to send thank-you notes, and where I may wear my hat.

Yep, I’m an etiquette junky. When I was a tiny, I somehow picked up the Emily Post Book of Etiquette a great aunt had given my mother for high-school graduation (in a much much different edition than pictured here). And I’ve been a lifelong devote to her newspaper columns, and now the family (there’s dozens of’em) have a website. Lately, when I’ve been feeling blue or harried or as if the world just weren’t up to the white glove test, I’ve been turning to the Post family’s Etiquette Daily blog, and it’s been making me feel better. I thought I’d share my story, and the link, in case it might make you feel better, too.


Kerry Clare wrote this amazing post I think you should read, called Escape the Ego. Don’t be alarmed by the fact that it seems to be about a book called Eat Pray Love–I’m not sure what that is either, but I’m wary enough of the title that I’m not going to Google you a link (sorry!). Anyway, the post isn’t really about that book–it’s about why we read, and write, and what happens when we do. And it contains this beautiful paragraph:

“…I read, I think, to break it down and enable me to see the world in miniature, as manageable. Which, however conversely, is to be able to look at the big picture and regard it all at once, perhaps for the very first time. Fiction is a study in the hypothetical, a test-run for the actual. An experiment. What if the world was this? And we can watch the wheels turn and this bit of sample life run its course to discover. And I don’t mean that literature is smaller than life, no. Literature is life, but it’s just life you can hold in your hand, stick in your backpack, and I’m reassured by that, because the world is messy and sprawling, but if you take it down to the level of story, I am capable of some kind of grasp. Of beginning to understand what this world is, how to be in it.”

To which I say, yes. Also, wow.


Paul Quarrington has died, another hard blow in a rough week for CanLit. I hadn’t, in truth, read much of Quarrington’s work, but I was a big fan of his live performances–a great reader, a great speaker, a surprising good singer (I saw his band, The Pork Belly Futures play in Winnipeg because I was all alone and it was either that or stare at my hotel-room wall–and they were brilliant!!) He had a wonderful big warm presence, and an off-the-cuff joy in performing. I actually went to so many Quarrington events, and just ran into him randomly at so many litsy things, that he started smiling and saying hi to me, even though he had no idea who I was. I was in the process of working up the nerve to introduce myself, and now I am not going to get to do it. Which is sad. But I will be reading the books.


And so ends another miscellaneous week. Hope this finds you well!

December 12th, 2008

Language, Open and Shut

Writing is the only art form that mainly strives to be not itself. Any serious writer dwells in the beauty of language, the elegance of phrasing, sound and rhythm, but over the long-term, the longer-than-a-sentence term, good writing strives to make you stop seeing it, stop seeing the words on the page and start seeing the images and characters those words create. As a writer, I want readers to feel my stories as people and events, not in ink on paper.

To achieve this, of course, the writer is reliant on language, the very thing she wants to make you not see. To achieve an image that transcends ink and paper, you need language like a stone polished so brilliant that we see only the reflection of the world, and not the stone’s surface at all. The rightest word must be the most precise and specific, penetrating and resilient, in order to engage the reader in creating the image in his or her mind. If you just say “tree” the reader might see a budding maple from outside the window of her third-grade classroom, or she might see dying yellowed pinetree on the shoulder of an Alaska highway, but more than likely, the reader will just see the Times New Roman letters t-r-e-e, and nothing more.

A writer seeks to corner an image, an emotion, a sensation–to make it stay put for a minute so a reader can get a sort of fleeting, slantwise glimpse of what the writer sees in *her* head when she thinks about trunks and branches and leaves. You can never do it completely, and some writers are ok with more gaps in the fence than others. The task allottment might differ from writer to writer, or text to text, but the project of creating meaning in a story, novel or poem is always a joint one between writer and reader.

In conversation–well, in good conversation–statements are like story-writing. When I describe my day, date or dinner to you, I’m trying to give you enough information that you can recreate it in your own head. Same as a story. But dialogue is a much more delicate dynamic than text, and we not ever *just* offering information–in conversation we ask for information in return. And there is a very different linguistic necessity in asking questions, or even opening topics, than there is in making statements/telling stories.

I’ve had considerable sensitivity training, in the formal sense (there are many life experiences that qualify as sensitivity training, I know) and one of the things I’ve been taught is to open language as wide as possible, to leave space in a question for *every possible answer*.

You’d think that’d be easy–by the very fact of asking a question, we admit we don’t know the answer. But quite often, the words we use to ask can imply that we believe we know the range of the answer. When I point at a woman’s wedding band, and say, “How long have you and your husband been married?” that’s (say it together, grad school kids) heteronormative. When I suggest that an acquaintance buy a certain item, I suggest I know she can afford it. When I make an idle joke about a colleague being “off her meds,” I imply that I know she’s never taken mood-stabilizers.

And, as we’ve so often established her at Rose-coloured, what do I know?

Most people are tough enough to weather such slights, and generous enough to forgive them. But it’s alienating, absolutely, to misapprised (literally, mis-seen) again and again. And if one is going through a particularly vulnerable time, maybe you aren’t that tough. Around this time of year, there’s a lot of seemingly inoccuous queries about family that could be truly upsetting if your family is dead/abusive/too distant to afford plane fare. Never even mind that we aren’t all celebrating the same holidays–even as a Jew who enjoys Christmas, I don’t find it so unreasonable that *everybody* stick to saying “Season’s Greeting” to those whose denomination is unknown.

That my version of “open” language comes from sensitivity training leaves me open to a little bit of mockery, sometimes, and other times is just confusing. I am so well programmed (I actually eventually taught the class) that I really fear hurting someone by asking loaded questions like, “How was your Mother’s Day?” “Why don’t you buy a new one?” “Are you going to talk that over with a friend?”

So I’m a little over-delicate–I don’t ask a lot of questions if I can’t make them very neutral. Because I am actually passionately curious (read: nosy); I want to know everything about your life you feel like telling me. But there’s the thing, I want to know *anything*–and if I slant the question so that it sounds like I already know, or expect to know, why would you speak at all?

When I tell a story, on the page or in conversation, I want to give you the gift of what I know, more or less elaborately done up with paper and bow. When I ask a question, I want to give you clean a clean and empty box, with the flaps folded back, to make it easier for you to give me anything at all.

Can I put this lightly?

December 9th, 2008


I have an intense devotion to etiquette, brought on by a lot of underaged reading of Amy Vanderbilt and Emily Post. I have thoughts, which I try not to share, on how one should conduct oneself regarding coasters, hairpins, floral arrangements and divorce. The reason I do not share these things is that they are antiquated and unhelpful, and most people only find my rule-following annoying and compulsive, not, as it is meant to be, respectful and friendly.

And then when there is a rule that I could usefully follow, such as RSVP, I drop the ball. I have been corrupted by modernizing forces, aka Facebook–where RSVP is not the French acronym for the polite imperitive, respondez-vous, s’il vous plait but a vaguer suggestion, “respond if you want it to show up on your wall, if you want someone to save you a seat or a sandwich, or if you feel like it. No committment required; feel free to ignore if unavailable/uninterested.”

Such is the social climate of Facebook–that’s the way it works, and it is respectful to follow the rules of Rome when there. But Facebook is not the Governor General’s awards, and despite the fact that I felt very sad about not being about to go, it never occurred to me to call and tell anyone this, despite the swirly-script RSVP clearly printed on the invitation. So I now also feel very sad about making the nice GG people call me to find out that I will not, in fact, be there tomorrow.

I have learned a lot from this experience, and will be rereading my Post and Vanderbilt shortly. Until then, if you are going the GGs, or any of the attendent amazing events, have an extra good time on my behalf.

Stared at the grown-up feet while they danced and swayed

April 14th, 2008


I have extremely weak eyes. Aside from being some godawful prescription that renders me unable to go to the beach with people whose hands I feel uncomfortable asking to hold, my eyes also water at almost anything. Pepper, bright reflections, laughter: all render me teary. Wind is the worst–it totally reproduces the effects of tragedy on me. In addition to streaming tears, wind actually turns my eyes red; even the edges of my nose. If I have to walk very far on a windy day, I look like my heart is broken.

Which never used to matter, until I became a pedestrian in chill and populous cities. Now long walks are one of my principal means of locomotion, and I can’t stay home because it’s gusty. Thus, I find myself the recipient of many compassionate stares as I stroll through Toronto, bouncing to my iPod, carrying my groceries, looking like I’m about to throw myself on the casket. People offer tight-lipped smiles, encouraging nods, nervous stares. Bus drivers look horrified, possibly worried I will look to them as authority figures to solve whatever problem I am having (many, it seems, do).

I can’t explain, because no one ever asks. Not once in all my watery years in Toronto has anyone asked the question I see itching behind their own eyes: “Are you ok?” Compassionate people, Torontonians, but even compassion has its limits.

A little boy under a table with cake is his hair

April 1st, 2008

The Writers Trust Dinner

…is where I went tonight and now I need to stay up an extra twenty minutes past my bedtime (already long past) to tell you about it.

I was Very Worked Up about this event, as you may know. If you did not know anything about it, the Writer’s Trust sponsors and organizes a large number of awards and other programs for writers. For instance, the Journey Prize, for which I am short-listed. Their big gala is tomorrow, when the winners will be announced, but since nominees, employees and board members had not yet met in most cases, and because many people had travelled from quite far to be there, they gave a dinner party beforehand to bring us all together.

What a wonderful idea, despite the fact that it combines all my love/hates–strangers, famous people, eating standing up. But I had my annual hair-straightening indulgence this afternoon, and wore make-up and my party tights (argyle!), so I felt semi-ok after a few minutes wandering around introducing myself to people I didn’t know. The people from the Trust were really friendly, and tried to introduce everyone to everyone, plus there was a speech where all present were given little intros. It was quite interesting to put faces to some of those names; people look very different when they are moving and talking than in a little window on the back of a book.

I have also learned a little bit of wisdom about writer-parties, which I will share, in case you need it: writers are perceptive and observant. They notice body language and respond to it, so if you reveal in your posture or gaze that you are feeling uncomfortable, some writer will likely arrive at your side and try to set you at ease. On the other hand, writers know other writers to be weird, so if you pretend you are having a grand time staring at this bit of the wall where it goes behind the bookshelf, writers will think that’s plausible and leave you to enjoy yourself uninterrupted. So I looked uncomfortable because I was uncomfortable, and numerous people were very kind, and then I wasn’t uncomfortable anymore and I just looked like myself.

And I only lost one bit of food to the floor. If you are reading this, dear host, there is a baby carrot under the chaise lounge and I’m really sorry about that. Otherwise, it was a wonderful wonderful night.

Good night!

Set out for / a great adventure

January 23rd, 2008

Department of Bad Days

In a land far far away, Wren is posting again, and there is much rejoicing. And she informs us that someone said that today is the most depressing day of the year, which seems about right to me, the afternoon, anyway. Even before I read that insight, I was working on a list of the 10 worst things people have ever said to me. These are social context, not yelling on the street or anything–the people who said this stuff allegedly like me. In fact, some were actually flirting. Tomorrow, I’ll go back to 1000 Things of Positive Goodness, I swear. Because tomorrow is not the most depressing day of the year.

“Is that a lisp I detect?”
“What do you mean you haven’t read *Harry Potter*? I thought you *loved* books?”
“It’s good to see a woman who isn’t self-conscious about how much she eats.”
“Where are you from? I mean originally? I mean your family…what *are* you?”
“You’re a proofreader? I found a typo just the other day…”
“If you’ve never seen that tv show, I’ll just give you a little backstory.”
“Oh, I don’t drink either. Just some wine on special occasions, or beer if it’s really hot, or like before dinner…”
“Hey, you’re a writer? That’s so cool, I’ve been looking for someone to tell about my idea for a novel.”
“You always wear something interesting.”
“You know what’s wrong with the publishing industry? Too many Jews.”

Humanity sorta makes you want to weep sometimes, doesn’t it?

Oh shoplifter / why did you take her?

September 12th, 2007

What would you do?

If you had been involved in a conversation that didn’t go that well, and later you looked up the word “meretricious” (attractive in a showy way; plausible but not genuine) and you realized you had misinterpreted it as “meritorious” (deserving reward or praise)? Would you go back to the person and explain your error? Or just let that person think it’s your values and not your vocabulary that’s wanting?

I ain’t that lonely yet

So Much Love by Rebecca Rosenblum

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