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Marissa Lingen

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Off the registry [Sep. 1st, 2014|12:40 pm]
Marissa Lingen

One of my friends is getting married, and she asked (sounding exhausted, poor dear) whether it was lazy and irresponsible not to do a gift registry. I said not at all, that a registry is for your convenience and the convenience of your guests, and if it isn’t convenient for you, don’t do it. Symmetrically, I have also had at least three conversations in the last four months about what to get people who either haven’t registered or who have but whose registries have been picked clean by the time the person talking to me got there. So here we are! Wedding gift ideas for when the registry, in one way or another, fails you!

Money. Yes, I know that in some subcultures this is not the thing to do from the giving end. I don’t really know of any in which it’s not the thing to do from the receiving end, though. If you are the best friend/person of honor, odds are pretty good that they were thinking maybe something they could look at specifically, rather than money. Otherwise, hard to go wrong with money. I have never once heard a bride or groom say, “Darn that money; I did not want any money.” (I have occasionally heard, “Auntie so-and-so really didn’t have to do that!”, but that’s Auntie’s choice.) But if you don’t want to give money, don’t. (Among other things, money makes it very clear how much you spent on their wedding gift, because it’s right there on the line of the check. Some people feel uncomfortable with that. If so, read on.)

Art. Rule of thumb: this is a better idea the better you know the people getting married. Another rule of thumb: small things that you think are beautiful are a better idea than big things that you think are beautiful unless you REALLY REALLY NO REALLY know that the recipients of the gift want that specific seven-foot-tall welded nearly-abstract sculpture that turns out to clearly be a goat when you look at it for more than a minute. When Mark and I had to pick out a wedding gift last fall, we chose one of Tim’s prints. We did not pick one of the panoramas that is longer than I am tall, because the people who were getting married had never said to us, “You know what would be really great on the wall of our living room? That bridge panorama, that’s just gorgeous. If he could do a seven-foot long print of that, it would really be the best thing.” It is just gorgeous. It’s amazing. But he also had several other amazing things that had better odds of fitting in a home we’d never seen, just in physical terms. If you choose art, there’s some chance that the recipients are going to say, “Oh…that’s…really different…” because taste in art varies so much. You don’t want to compound that problem with, “That’s amazing! That’s so gorgeous!…where are we ever going to put it.”

Food. I know, they won’t be looking at it on their 20th wedding anniversary saying, “This is the ham that Jen gave us!” (Well. Unless they’re related to Klages; then all bets are off.) But honestly, a lot of people aren’t looking at their blender on their 20th anniversary with that thought anyway; either it breaks or they’ve forgotten who gave it to them. If you know that the people getting married cook or bake, stuff they might not buy themselves all the time–or might still appreciate if they do–is great. (I personally think that vanilla beans are always a great gift. ALWAYS. Nobody ever gets them for me. Literally. I have never once gotten them. But they would always be a good gift. I have actually gotten truffles and truffle oil and saffron, and they too are good gifts, even though I buy myself saffron every time we run out–this is how I can tell we are rich by global standards. And/or I am a spoiled cook.) If you don’t know that they cook/bake, treats like a wheel of good cheese, chocolates, a jam of the month club, bacon of the month club, fruit of the month club, etc. are things that they can eat without having to know a great deal about preparation. Labeling a basket of this sort “honeymoon snack attack” or “never too soon to spice up a good marriage” or “here is your cheesy themed present” is not necessary unless you have the sort of relatives who will look at each other and say, “Why did they give me cheese/spices/what the heck is this?” But some people do have that sort of relatives if they are given something that is not tea towels, so.

Strong drink. Might have a better chance of lasting to be opened on a large-numbered anniversary than the food. Then again might not. People in liquor stores are often quite good at helping you with “I want a ‘special bottle’ and my friends drink this sort of tipple.” Then if you blanch at the price you can say, “Not quite that special; they’re not that good of friends, I’m afraid,” and unless you’ve chosen a horrible liquor store, the clerk will laugh and get you something more like what you wanted. And if you’ve chosen a horrible liquor store and the clerk tries to pressure you into buying the expensive thing, you walk out and go somewhere else.

Obviously with both food and strong drink, you will have to remain sensitive to key questions like “do my friends have dietary needs.”

Towels and sheets. I know, I said your friends were not registered or the registry had been bought out. But linens wear out. They wear out. Seriously. They. Wear. Out. Spares are good. Put the receipt in the package in case everyone else thought so too, or in case the people who are getting married hated the colors or materials you picked, or in case you guessed wrong on the size. Sheets. Towels. In fact, if you have loads of extra cash, go buy some for people you know who are not in the “just getting married” demographic. Linens for everyone. Is there anybody who couldn’t use a few new linens, other than the person who just sighed, “OH FINE” and went and bought some? I just wore enough holes in one of our big lovely bath towels that it is now a big cruddy bath towel and had to get relegated to the rag towels, and another one is close on its heels. I rolled my eyes at the label “guest bath towels” in one of our wedding presents, because we did not have a guest bath and did not anticipate having one for some years. But I didn’t return those towels, because: towels. Useful, regardless of how they were labeled.

What about charitable donations? I am less keen on recommending this absent specific knowledge of your friends’/relations’ relation charitable inclinations for several reasons. First off is that if the people who are getting married want to donate the money you have given them to charity, they can! Hurrah! So write them the check and let them do it. Because you are giving them a gift, not trumpeting your own charitable inclinations. You need to be really careful that you are not making this happy occasion about you. We have a cultural perception that if we put the words “FOR CHARITY” on something, it cannot be selfish, but actually it can. It really, really can. Your friends and relations will prioritize charitable needs/causes differently than you do. They might know things you don’t about a charity you thought was innocuous, or have different opinions than you do about its policies. Be really, really careful about this one. The people getting married should feel absolutely sure that you were thinking of them on their special day, as well as of whoever else you wanted to help.

String, or nothing. This was Mark’s suggestion, but he’s actually right. Presents are always optional. They really, really are. The reason the traditional etiquette guides consider it rude to put, “No gifts, please,” on invitations is that gifts are always optional. They are always supposed to be something that your guests feel spontaneously moved to give you, not something that they are dragged into. If you truly can’t think of anything you want to give people, you don’t have to give them things. “The gift of your presence is enough” should really, literally always be true.

Originally published at Novel Gazing Redux


[User Picture]From: blairmacg
2014-09-01 05:58 pm (UTC)
I'd add Cool Experience to the list, with the same caveats as Art. For some, a gift certificate for ziplining would be totally awesome. For others, two tickets to a local theater. Or winetasting. Or whale watching. Or... whatever!
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2014-09-01 05:58 pm (UTC)
Good thought!
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From: swan_tower
2014-09-01 06:57 pm (UTC)
Thumbs up to this. When my parents asked what big-ticket item we wanted as a wedding present, we asked for help in making an awesome honeymoon happen. My mother said, "are you sure you don't want a piece of furniture or something you can look at twenty years from now?" I said, "I will look at pictures from the honeymoon and my memories of same."

For us, that was the absolute right choice. No question about it.
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From: sheff_dogs
2014-09-01 11:28 pm (UTC)
Towels, well yes, but ... when my best friend got married she didn't have a list. People asked me, and another friend who was thought to know, what they would like. Unbeknowst to each other we both said towels. She is still using some of those towels thirty years later, twenty years after the divorce. The pile of towels at the reception was taller then the groom. They considered towelling rather than papering a room!

If you know they cook really good pans, especially big ones are worth considering. I still use a cast iron frying pan brought as a twenty-first birthday present. The pan had it's own twenty-first over a decade ago and I sent my SIL acard to thank her for not giving me the leather gloves I had asked for.

I have been given vanilla pods, a bundle, yes a BUNDLE of them, by a friend who had holidayed in Madagascar.
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From: athenais
2014-09-01 11:56 pm (UTC)
I approve all these choices. I am afraid we got giddy after the first ten minutes of selecting things for our gift registry and put down stuff we thought was silly. Guess which things got bought first? Yeah. We never once used the breakfast-in-bed tray.
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2014-09-02 12:21 pm (UTC)
People really do want to get silly things for you sometimes, though. One of our oldest family friends got us a picnic basket with its own strapped in plates and things even though it was a whim of her own, which is fine; people do get whims and I love them for it. That is not the kind of picnicking I do on the rare occasions when I do picnic, though--the basket is immensely less convenient to carry than a backpack or a cloth grocery bag, and not insulated to make it worthwhile like a cooler, and I never did figure out what one was to do with the thoroughly soiled plates and things after, because throwing them back in the cloth-lined basket is clearly the wrong answer once they have mustard and vinaigrette and guacamole all over them. It's the sort of thing that seems elegant and then requires much more coping than it seems, or else picnicking on grapes alone. And Mris cannot live by grapes alone.
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[User Picture]From: desperance
2014-09-02 01:55 am (UTC)
I personally think that vanilla beans are always a great gift. ALWAYS. Nobody ever gets them for me. Literally. I have never once gotten them. But they would always be a good gift.

...So I am not in fact weird in my persistent holiday feeling that this time maybe I should just buy a few dozen vanilla beans and make gifts of them to friends? For this reassurance, much thanks...

(Last year I made vanilla essence and vanilla sugar, because I was worried that the bare bean might seem just a little too strange. But hey, you're probably right. These are, after all, my friends...)

...And in other news, "String or nothing?" say the boys: "String! Always string!" (Many of our presents came with ribbon attached. Ribbon was good. But our Christmas tree came tied up in string. Pine-infused string! Best toy ever!)
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From: diatryma
2014-09-02 04:17 am (UTC)
I gave my mother 1.75L of homemade vanilla extract. She'll use it, though not as quickly as in her prime baking years (she can still do it, but many recipients moved away.) I am still proud of that gift months later.
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2014-09-02 12:17 pm (UTC)
The dog always comes sniffing around, because she gets a few presents at Christmas and her birthday, so when there is wrapping paper, she has to see what it is. We always translate her behavior as, "Is it bacon? No? Should have gotten bacon," as she sniffs and wanders off.

I don't know what she'd think of pine-infused string, honestly; being a dog and not a cat she probably wouldn't frolic after it, but she might think it was good for just plain chewing on, and then we'd have to take it away. (We are the Meanest Monkeys.)
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[User Picture]From: ashnistrike
2014-09-02 02:55 am (UTC)
Our go-to wedding gift is the Penzey's Spicy Wedding box: a bunch of high-quality spices and mixes, plus bonus spices that have wedding-related meanings. ("According to X culture, keeping a whole star anise in your kitchen ensures a happy marriage"--I don't recall which culture but I do still have the anise in the back of the cabinet.) They'll let you switch stuff out if you ask, if you know that dietary restrictions or preferences preclude a particular item.

Besides the Penzey's box, the non-registry gifts that we really liked (and have used for gift-buying inspiration) included Shakespeare tickets and a fold-and-carry picnic blanket. That blanket may be the gift we've used the most often outside of the everyday plates.
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From: diatryma
2014-09-02 04:18 am (UTC)
Thank you for posting this; you have reminded me to order the missing part for my parents' electric frying pan, which was a wedding present from my mother's aunts.
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2014-09-02 12:14 pm (UTC)
Still perfectly good!

Sorry, I was having a Grandpa moment. Carry on.
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From: diatryma
2014-09-02 08:20 pm (UTC)
It will be once I get that part and they can plug it in again!
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[User Picture]From: sam_t
2014-09-02 08:22 am (UTC)
"Yes, I know that in some subcultures this is not the thing to do from the giving end. I don’t really know of any in which it’s not the thing to do from the receiving end"

I do know people who would not want to get money as a wedding present, unless you know them quite well and had had a conversation with them first along the lines of "I know you'll be needing X big thing but I can't buy you a whole one. Can I contribute, though?" In that case, vouchers for a department store say "I have no idea what to buy you" but not "I am worried that you can't afford food".

I like the luxury/unusual food ideas, possibly with the caveat that the presents may be stored temporarily by someone who is (a) not the bride and groom, and (b) busy, so label anything that needs special handling in large letters.

My parents were given a parcel for Christmas one year, delivered well in advance with instructions to keep cool but not in the fridge, so they put it in the garage. On Christmas Day, they discovered that although a wheel of cheese was a lovely thought for a gift, mice have no qualms about opening presents before Father Christmas has been round.
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2014-09-02 12:13 pm (UTC)
Oh, I knew I was forgetting something! And it was this about labeling things well, and in combination with it:

It is always acceptable to send wedding presents on in advance. You do not have to haul them on the day of. You can send them on in boxes clearly marked, "Perishable, open immediately," weeks before the wedding, or weeks after. The actual day of a wedding is not a 5-year-old's birthday; no one will go cry into their cake if you do not turn up bearing a brightly festooned package. If you're doing something perishable, sending things well-labeled and in advance is a wise way to go.
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[User Picture]From: shewhomust
2014-09-03 09:32 am (UTC)
My default is glasses, on much the same basis as your towels - people break glasses, they will need more.

Given the demographic of my friends - most of them by now have established households, if not together then separately - it's not uncommon for them to specify "no gifts, but you can donate to X charity if you like". But as you say, this is their choice, not mine.
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[User Picture]From: firecat
2014-09-04 08:28 am (UTC)
When people asked the OH and me what gifts we wanted, we said "give us something that will remind us of you." (We already had the basic household items.)
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