Wedding gift etiquette turns my brain to mush.
May 13, 2012 8:11 AM   Subscribe

One of my best friends is having a destination wedding this summer. Yay! So is one of her friends that I don't know. Confusion.

So my friend (we'll call Mary) is tying the knot with Ron this summer. I'm super happy for her and thrilled that she chose to have a destination wedding in Costa Rica, as this gives me a good excuse to put some stamps on my passport.

One of her close friends, Sue (who I don't know well, just hung out with a couple times in group settings) is getting married that same week, as part of the same trip. I will be with everyone for the duration of the week, attending the wedding of the couple I don't know, and they are having a joint reception at the end of the week. I've hung out with this group several times, and this is not going to be a super-fancy affair, but it is going to be a lot of fun.

Pretty much all of the people attending are a pretty tight-knit group. I'm friendly with them, but due to distance, I don't know them very well. I have traveled with a few of them (Mary loves to travel and I've gone on group trips with her a couple times). I guess you could say I'm the outlier to this group, connected only by my friendship with Mary.

The invitation that I received was a joint invitation, with a basic outline of the week's itinerary, and looked like this:

Saturday: arrival, travel to first town
Sunday: free day/group dinner
Monday: Sue and Joe's wedding
Tuesday: travel day to second town
Wednesday: Mary and Ron's wedding
Thursday: free day
Friday: joint reception
Saturday: travel home

What kind of gift (if any) should I get for the couple I don't know? Would it be tacky to give them less than what I would give Mary? Neither couple is registered anywhere. I'm not bringing a SO.

I suppose I could have traveled Tuesday - Saturday and just attended my friend's wedding, but the flights were several hundred dollars more expensive, I would have been traveling (and driving) internationally alone, and it's Costa Rica! Who wouldn't want to maximize their time there? From what Mary has told me, it seems like the weddings themselves are going to be quick and on the beach, followed by hanging out and drinks back at the houses we're renting.

tl;dr: Close friend (Mary) is having a joint destination wedding week with someone I don't know. Due to financial/travel circumstances, I'm attending the wedding of the people I don't know. Am I required to give the people I don't know a gift? If yes, should it be equal in value to Mary's? There's no registry.
posted by socialdrinker to Human Relations (17 answers total)
Yes, bring a gift. If only to "defray" the cost of having you at the Sue-Joe wedding part of things, such as it is. It does not at all need to be anywhere near the gift you give to your actual friends.
posted by Etrigan at 8:19 AM on May 13, 2012

Yes, you should give both couples a gift. However, they can both be very nominal since you're taking on such a cost burden by being there. If one gift is more expensive than the other, it should be the one for Mary.

Gift cards would be really easy here, logistically. $50 for Mary + Ron, $25 for Sue + Joe, with a nice handwritten card for Mary and a generic one for Sue, since you don't know her? The other good thing about this is that if you get there and Sue is all "gifts are a patriarchal tradition" or "I hate REI!" or "your gift to us is picking up part of the tab!" you can just keep the gift card.
posted by charmcityblues at 8:22 AM on May 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

Is the reason that they are not registered anywhere because they do not want gifts? Sometimes couples who have destination weddings specifically say "no gifts" because of the cost of travel. I would look into this.

But, if they do expect gifts, I think it's fine to give a smaller gift to the couple you don't know. I'm sure they won't compare!
posted by insectosaurus at 8:26 AM on May 13, 2012

If you were invited to Sue's house for a dinner party, you wouldn't arrive empty handed - you'd have a bottle of wine, or a baked good, or something. The same rule applies here - you don't need to go all out, but don't attend a party empty handed.

So yes, give the 'other couple' a gift, and yes, feel free to spend less than you would on your friend, a 'token gift'. If you're going to spend $100 on Mary's gift, spend $50 on Sue's. They shouldn't expect much from you, but it's still polite to give something.
posted by Kololo at 8:28 AM on May 13, 2012 [3 favorites]

If I were having a destination wedding, I wouldn't expect people to give me gifts & definitely wouldn't want to have to figure out how to haul stuff home with me.

A bottle of local wine would probably be a nice gift for the second couple. Or pick up some small local handicraft as you're travelling, if you see them admiring something. That might be a nice reminder for them.
posted by belladonna at 8:30 AM on May 13, 2012 [4 favorites]

I would not attend the small, intimate wedding of the people I didn't know well. Holy awkward! You already were thinking of doing this (only showing up for Tue-Sat), so do it while in Costa Rica. No attendance, no gift. A nice card might be in order after the wedding, if you get to know them a bit better.
posted by the young rope-rider at 8:40 AM on May 13, 2012

Many people hosting destination weddings don't expect gifts and they certainly don't want to schlep the gifts all over Costa Rica. If it feels appropriate to give gifts--you'll get a sense of what people are doing during the trip--send each couple something after you all return home. Another option might be to give the couples something special during the trip, e.g., a couples massage, champagne in their room, etc. You could potentially buddy up with some of the other guests and make it a group gift.
posted by carmicha at 8:46 AM on May 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'd recommend beautiful cards with gift cards inside. Easy to carry and it allows the couples to decide for themselves what they want to get with them.

Certainly you can give your friend a more lavish gift than the other couple. It shouldn't be any kind of issue at all

Have fun!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 8:48 AM on May 13, 2012

Gifts ought not be expected at a destination wedding, as the hundreds/thousands you are spending to be there should be sufficient.

But just ask Mary and make this easy on yourself.
posted by Lyn Never at 8:50 AM on May 13, 2012

Yeah, I would just ask Mary what you should get Sue/if Sue is registered somewhere/what sort of place she might like a gift card from. That way Mary can tell you if Sue even expects a gift from you (which if I were in her place, I would not, since you are really Mary's guest).
posted by echo0720 at 10:02 AM on May 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

I agree with everyone about gift cards and more for Mary (and getting a gift at all for Sue/Joe -- you are attending their wedding after all), and/but I also submit that you may get to know Sue & Joe more over this week of traveling together. You may feel closer to them then. Also, you may get an idea of what kind of non-giftcard gift Sue & Joe might enjoy after hanging out with them during this week. It's perfectly acceptable to send the gift after the wedding (if you feel weird about that, bring beautiful cards with genuine well wishes in them and a note saying the gift will be coming later after you're all back home).

Have a great time! This sounds awesome.
posted by pupstocks at 10:05 AM on May 13, 2012

Also, a charitable donation is a nice idea for someone you don't know well. Maybe something related to environmental preservation in Costa Rica?
posted by pupstocks at 10:06 AM on May 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

A token gift is all that is necessary. A gift card between $20 and $50 would be nice. I think, though, if I were you, I would take beautiful pictures of the entire event and present the pictures in a way that makes it a nice gift. Maybe one of those digital picture frames? Instead of being the odd man out, you can be the one who documents the candid moments of all the life long friends relaxing and playing together.
And don't worry about being the odd man out. People who travel a lot are generally friendly and very welcoming.
Have fun!
posted by myselfasme at 10:33 AM on May 13, 2012

For your good friend Mary + Ron: get a nice gift, but leave it at home, at the wedding just give her a nice handwritten card expressing your congrats and telling her about the gift.

For barely-known Sue + Joe: pick up a bottle of wine when you get there (rather than having to cart it through Customs, TSA, etc.) and add a nice generic card.
posted by easily confused at 11:50 AM on May 13, 2012

Don't give either couple a gift at the weddings. (Maybe, as above, pick up a bottle of local wine.) Figure the rest out when you get home -- you have a year to send the actual wedding gifts.
posted by trip and a half at 12:18 PM on May 13, 2012

I had a destination wedding and did not expect -- or want -- gifts. (Hauling a dress, and all the other wedding essentials, halfway across the globe is hard enough... But bring back anything larger than maybe a few cards? Eeek.)

The fact that neither couple is registered might a clue that gifts are not wanted/expected. If you ask Sue/Joe for gift suggestions (and whether you should mail the said item or bring it with you to Costa Rica), I bet my firstborn cat they'll tell you gifts are unnecessary. Brides who choose destinations weddings (generally) understand that travel costs are often a huge consideration for friends/family deciding to attend the celebration -- and, as cliche as it sounds, the "presence" of my 38 guests was truly "present" enough.
posted by Cat Face at 1:38 PM on May 13, 2012

Thanks everyone. I'm not worried about being the "odd man out" or whatever on this trip. As I said, I've hung with everyone a couple times and traveled with a few of them and all is cool. Just wanted to verify that I wasn't making some huge social faux-pas here :)

I'm excited and looking forward to this! It's gonna be a blast.
posted by socialdrinker at 7:03 PM on May 13, 2012

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