Oh baby, did I just blow it?
September 21, 2009 11:33 AM   Subscribe

Are baby showers, by default, supposed to be surprises?

A few weeks ago a few friends threw a lovely baby shower for me. It was supposed to be a surprise, but several out-of-town family members ruined the surprise for me. I was fairly peeved by their unintentional thoughtlessness until I found out that the organizers didn't actually specify that it was supposed to be a surprise. At the time, I just wrote it off to an oversight on the part of the planners, but now I'm not so sure.

Why? Because just now I was discussing baby showers with a pregnant friend of mine (one of the organizers of my party, btw), explaining that I might or might not be able to make hers, because I was totally going to try but that it's also just a few days after I'm supposed to have this kid, but I'm still going to do my very best to be there for her. She was perfectly gracious about it, but then she was like, "don't let anyone know you said anything to me!!"

Again: the shower invite said nothing about the party being a surprise, so I had no reason to keep mum about it, but somehow I feel like I've just committed a faux pas.

So: should one always assume that baby showers are surprises? Is this some sort of east coast/pennsylvania-area tradition? I consider myself fairly well-versed in all things etiquette, but in my mind if you're throwing a surprise party for a person, whether we're talking showers or birthdays or anniversaries or whatevers, YOU SAY EXPLICITLY ON THE INVITE THAT IT IS A SURPRISE. Am I wrong? Have I just completely stepped in it, or is it a simple case of regional culture clash?
posted by shiu mai baby to Human Relations (38 answers total)
In my neck of the woods they are not presumed to be surprises, but it might be a regional assumption.

Congratulations, in any case.
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 11:35 AM on September 21, 2009

I've never known a single one that I've been involved in to be a surprise, and I've lived in New England and California.
posted by brainmouse at 11:37 AM on September 21, 2009 [1 favorite]

If the organizers want it to be a surprise, they need to say so.

I colluded with a friend on a surprise baby shower for my wife, and we explicitly stated it on the invitation.

And it was a genuine surprise to her.
posted by jozxyqk at 11:38 AM on September 21, 2009 [1 favorite]

At my place of work there is currently an open invite posted by a co-worker for another (pregnant) co-worker's baby shower, complete with where she is registered.

Maybe it's a regional/cultural thing?
posted by 6:1 at 11:38 AM on September 21, 2009

On re-reading, I realized that you're only dealing with a single person here: the party planner who assumed everyone would know it was a surprise is now your friend who assumes everyone would know it's a surprise. One person does not a trend make.
posted by brainmouse at 11:39 AM on September 21, 2009 [2 favorites]

If it's supposed to be a surprise, you need to say so. And I'm in the mid-atlantic (DC).
posted by somanyamys at 11:39 AM on September 21, 2009

South east agreeing with the "Never, not once". How would you know what to get mom/baby it there isn't a registry?
posted by anti social order at 11:39 AM on September 21, 2009

If you're throwing a surprise party for someone you need to say "surprise" in the invite. Their is no default, unless by "party" you mean "intervention."

If you're invited to a party where there's a chance it might be a surprise, you should ask the party planner if it is a surprise or not before you discuss it with the guest of honor. That's just common sense.

The planner is ultimately at fault, but the people who spoiled the surprise deserve at least a "duh" for not checking first.

(New England here, and my wife's shower was not a surprise)
posted by bondcliff at 11:41 AM on September 21, 2009

Disagree with bondcliff -- default is very strongly "no surprise." You do not need to check otherwise for every shower, birthday party, etc. you're invited to. The inviters screwed up, not you.
posted by brainmouse at 11:42 AM on September 21, 2009

I'm from Pennsylvania and I've never heard of baby showers being expected to be surprises. In fact, when my good friend was pregnant, she planned and threw her own shower. Then again, that's the only shower I've ever been to, and I don't know many pregnant women so I'm certainly no authority on this.
posted by Shesthefastest at 11:43 AM on September 21, 2009

Well, the registry information was included in the invite (both hers, mine, and another one I'm going to in a few weeks), so that part isn't shocking to me. If anything, the fact that registry information is supposed to be part of any shower invite is the reasoning why it's sort-of in bad taste to have a wedding or baby shower thrown by a family member (e.g. it seems kind of gift-grabby), but that's a rule that's fading with every year.

The friend in question was one of the organizers of my party, but there were four other women involved as well, so this thinking is not just limited to her. All of the organizers are from this area, however, which is why I'm starting to believe it is a regional thing.

And a friggin' inconvenient one, I might add.
posted by shiu mai baby at 11:44 AM on September 21, 2009

Out of curiousity -- who registered you for gifts? Isn't that missing the entire point of a registry?

And btw, it is bad manners to have your registry be part of any invitation -- including a baby shower. If you think it's necessary or whatever, fine, but know that it is a violation of etiquette.
posted by brainmouse at 11:45 AM on September 21, 2009

Well, the registry information was included in the invite (both hers, mine, and another one I'm going to in a few weeks), so that part isn't shocking to me.

Huh? How are you supposed to register for gifts given at an event that you don't know about?
posted by mr_roboto at 11:46 AM on September 21, 2009

Eh, as the husband, my wife "did not know" that she had a baby shower the weekend her shower occurred. We just got her a hair appointment saturday morning, got her nails done after, and then waited by the phone for her to be "mysteriously called into work."
posted by Nanukthedog at 11:48 AM on September 21, 2009

Brainmouse, I disagree. It's absolutely bad manners to include registry information with a wedding invite, but the point of a shower is giving gifts, and (unless it's thrown by a family member or the bride/family, which is a whole 'nother discussion of etiquette) not considered in bad taste -- at least not in the snottier social circles I used to run in down South, where the list of social no-nos are indeed vast and very picky. :)
posted by shiu mai baby at 11:48 AM on September 21, 2009

All of the (okay, I've only been to two...) baby showers I've been to have NOT been surprises. So I say, if it is a surprise it should say so on the invitation...
posted by lucy.jakobs at 11:51 AM on September 21, 2009

And to answer the question about registering for gifts for a party you don't know about: before I even knew a shower was being thrown in my honor, I created a registry because both mine and my husband's families are scattered across the nation, and I knew they would want to buy us gifts. Creating a registry made that easier on them.

It's also a convenient way to keep a list of things you're going to need once the kid arrives. I'd see a product recommended on a mommy blog somewhere, and add it to the registry. Not so much because I wanted it as a gift, but more so that I would remember to pick one up when I had some extra cash lying about.
posted by shiu mai baby at 11:53 AM on September 21, 2009

I think the idea that the shower is supposed to be a "surprise" could be related to the discomfort some people feel about having showers thrown in their honor. Because a shower basically means, Come Buy Presents for This Person, but at the same time, it feels rude to ask people to buy you presents (even indirectly, as when someone else throws you the party). Having the party be a surprise expunges the celebrant of this "guilt". Of course I'm not saying that people don't deserve all the presents they get! But I know I was able to enjoy myself more at my (semi) surprise bridal shower, because I didn't feel at all like I was involved in planning this gift-grab...

Which isn't to say that showers are assumed to be surprises. The one baby shower I've been to was not a surprise.
posted by Jemstar at 12:06 PM on September 21, 2009

Generally, showers are not supposed to be surprises. If the host wants it to be a surprise they need to say so.

I'm not so sure this is a regional/non-regional thing either.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:13 PM on September 21, 2009

Yeah, in my experience of baby showers, there's no assumption it's a surprise unless explicitly stated by the organizers.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 12:21 PM on September 21, 2009

I don't think showers should be assumed to be surprises - that said, most of the wedding and baby showers I've attended have been surprises. (Including the baby shower where the mother thoughtlessly went into labor a week before the event - if only she had known we were planning her party!) These all clearly specified that they were surprises, though. I think the awkwardness comes from the fact that one is not supposed to plan their own shower, therefore discussing details of the party or whether or not you will be there seems sort of inappropriate.
posted by LolaGeek at 12:22 PM on September 21, 2009

As you have found, there are tons of people who think baby showers should be surprises, and apparently assume all showers will be a surprise, planned through other people in the mother's life. It is, of course, a little ridiculous; it's not like the mother-to-be doesn't know she's having a baby.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 12:26 PM on September 21, 2009

I think I wasn't clear about the "supprise" nature of my wife's shower. She knew. People knew she knew. But man... you did not want to be the person who forgot that the number one rule in her baby shower was to not talk about baby shower. Its nice when people want to supprise you. Its also nice when you can be ready to be supprised (as opposed to walking in on 20 of your friends who all got dressed up and are looking pretty - while you meanwhile are suffering from water retention, flatulence, and can't find anything to wear you feel comfortable in).
posted by Nanukthedog at 12:33 PM on September 21, 2009

If the invite doesn't say it, it doesn't count. (Anecdote: My friend had 3 baby showers. One with her family, one with the daddy's family, and one with all the friends coming from out of town. None were surprises, since everyone had to coordinate getting time off work and travel plans.)
posted by sperose at 12:33 PM on September 21, 2009

I would never assume a baby shower was a surprise party, unless explicitly told that it was. I've also hosted baby showers and they were not surprises and no one I invited thought that it might be.
posted by otherwordlyglow at 12:42 PM on September 21, 2009 [1 favorite]

Just another data point: I have never, ever heard of a surprise baby shower! I am from Seattle and now live in Las Vegas.
posted by Jacqueline at 12:45 PM on September 21, 2009

I'm going against the grain here, but I always thought that both bridal and baby showers were supposed to be surprises (cause it would be selfish to allow a party to be thrown for you with the expressed purpose of giving you gifts - that stops after your 10th birthday party). It is helpful to state that the party is a surprise on the invitation, but unless told that the guest of honor is totally in on it, I do not mention the party to them.

Oddly I am from the Phila, PA area.....
posted by WeekendJen at 12:47 PM on September 21, 2009

In my experience (in New York and Washington, D.C.), short daytime baby showers in the office were usually surprises, but showers thrown by friends or family were not. There was no perceived shame (as far as I could tell) for the mother-to-be in knowing that a shower was going to be thrown for her, and in fact this knowledge made the mother-to-be able to add to the guestlist (our friends tend to be spread out geographically and we don't all know each other) and plan her day.
posted by sueinnyc at 12:58 PM on September 21, 2009

I've never known one to be a surprise; I even helped organize mine, tsk tsk. In general, one avoids surprising the pregnant.
posted by The corpse in the library at 1:11 PM on September 21, 2009 [1 favorite]

I've never heard of one being a surprise, which sounds like a mean thing to do to a prego chick. There are lots of photos taken, and I'm sure most women would like to have the opportunity to look appropriate for the occasion.
posted by sadiehawkinstein at 1:33 PM on September 21, 2009 [1 favorite]

I've only been a part of one surprise baby shower, which was for a friend who had refused to have a shower for her first child so we surprised her with a small shower before her second was born. Sometimes a shower is not just about the person it's being thrown for. She was definitely surprised and delighted.

Other than that, based on my Oklahoma/Manitoba experience--a surprise baby shower?!? Never heard of such a thing!
posted by wallaby at 1:41 PM on September 21, 2009

I've certainly heard of surprise baby showers, and perhaps even attended one or two, but they are far from being the norm, at least here in Toronto. It may be regional, it may be just your group of friends. On the whole, though, if people are planning a surprise anything, all of the guests need to be told explicitly that it's a surprise. You can't expect people to keep secrets they don't know are secrets.
posted by jacquilynne at 2:59 PM on September 21, 2009

Surprise baby showers seem to be tempting fate. I've heard of one or two work ones, but generally speaking, they're not the norm (for all the reasons stated above: it's totally inconvenient, if nothing else).
posted by timoni at 3:44 PM on September 21, 2009

'm going against the grain here, but I always thought that both bridal and baby showers were supposed to be surprises (cause it would be selfish to allow a party to be thrown for you with the expressed purpose of giving you gifts - that stops after your 10th birthday party).

Me too. I always assume showers are surprises and I'm pretty sure that every one I've ever attended has been. (Or at least pretended to be.) I would have felt weird and gift-grabby if I had known anything about either my wedding or baby shower.

But, like WeekendJen, I'm from the Philly area. Wonder if it's a regional thing?
posted by jrossi4r at 4:18 PM on September 21, 2009

Why in the world would a baby shower be a surprise? (Michigan originally, then Vermont, then California). Makes 0 sense to me.
posted by k8t at 5:04 PM on September 21, 2009

I've been to surprise and non-surprise showers. Surprise showers said so on the invitation and I would never assume the non-surprise ones were not known to the guest of honour. I don't see how showers are supposed to be a surprise so they don't feel gift grabby. Do birthday parties have to be surprised too so the guest of honour doesn't feel greedy?
posted by saucysault at 5:15 PM on September 21, 2009

Beverly Cleary's Sister of the Bride had a surprise shower, but in general I think the guest of honor should know beforehand.
posted by brujita at 10:13 PM on September 21, 2009

Ok, based on this entirely non-scientific AskMe, I'm going to go ahead and declare that baby showers are always surprises in the Philadelphia area; or at the very least, if you're invited to a shower in this region, assume it's a surprise unless you're specifically told otherwise. Everywhere else, though: not a surprise unless the organizers say so.

I get that it's a cultural difference, and I've definitely learned my lesson for next time, but man, I really wish that people throwing surprise parties would always make that explicit on the invites, rather than assuming that everyone will intuit the nature of the party.

Thanks so very much for the input, everyone. If nothing else, it was cool to uncover yet another quirk of the region.
posted by shiu mai baby at 5:32 AM on September 22, 2009

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