I hope their first child be a masculine child
May 21, 2007 9:35 AM   Subscribe

I have just been "schooled" by my Long Island in laws about what I am expected to give, in cash and gifts, for my neice's upcoming wedding. I was apalled, and am wondering if what they keep calling, "wedding protocol" is TRUE or some white trash, goombah way to get guests to finance the wedding.

Background: Irish, Catholic, grew up in Bay Ridge with Italians. Very class and money conscious, but not very classy. They informed my SO and I that it is long time wedding protocol to: 1: Give an engagement gift from a place they are registerred at. 2: Give a CASH gift equalling the amount of the cost of our dinner (over $100) and, a WEDDING gift, also from the registry. My mother-in-law, who is 86, in ill health and living on a shoe string has been told that she should buy the bride and groom an entire place setting which comes to $800. ASIDE from the $100 cash gift and the engagement gift.

I learned that they are planning on inviting 400 guests, and that the cost of the wedding will be covered by the expected cash gift from each person.

I have been told this is customary, and all my apoplectic looks and the ire of my SO and my mother-in-law have not CLUED them in yet that this seems classless, greedy and not at ALL real wedding protocol.

Am I wrong? I have never, in any part of the US I have lived, and in my 50 plus years, heard of ANY of these wedding "etiquettes." If this is protocol for some tiny part of the US, please tell me, and even if it is, please help me craft a suitable reply that will let them know what I think of these bizarre, mafioso kind of wedding expectations.
posted by joaniemcchicken to Society & Culture (77 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
It is nice to give an engagement gift from the registry because you know they will like it. Feel free to buy something else you think they will like, especially if they have larded the list with only uber-expensive gifts. As for the wedding gift, the standard as I know it is one gift, cash is big on the East coast, and it should about equal the cost of the meal. Asking for that much in cash plus an extra gift? My my.
posted by caddis at 9:43 AM on May 21, 2007

In my experience of the Long Island Wedding, this is standard. Further, doesn't the average wedding now cost 28k? Further still, the money doesn't go to pay for the wedding, it goes to the bride and groom for fun stuff.
posted by ewkpates at 9:44 AM on May 21, 2007

Your relatives are nuts. But you knew that already. They're obviously greedily working off no known etiquette book or normal behavior known to mankind. What happens if you don't get them the ransom gift? Are you then forbidden from going to the wedding? One can only hope.

I'm not sure if you're saying you're Irish Catholic or they are, but I'm Irish Catholic, and believe me, this is one weird, rare exception.
posted by GaelFC at 9:46 AM on May 21, 2007

You are not wrong, to the best of my knowledge, based on all weddings I've ever attended.

My tactful, subtle analysis here is that these people are crazy, yo.

I'd simply try to explain to them that guests at a wedding are just that -- guests. They're being invited out of a spirit of goodwill, not financial investment.
posted by Greg Nog at 9:48 AM on May 21, 2007

Do they want you there? Or your just your checkbook? Frankly, it's in poor taste to expect anything other than the joy of your guests' company at a wedding. Maybe that's just my down-home midwest values speaking, but remind me never to go to Long Island.
posted by Green Eyed Monster at 9:49 AM on May 21, 2007

Even if it's common behaviour, that doesn't make it right, or right for you.
posted by amtho at 9:49 AM on May 21, 2007

I've never even heard of an engagement gift as a thing. I'm not the second coming of Emily Post, but still. This seems completely beyond the pale.

My first inclination would be to write them an excrutiatingly polite letter explaining how much I had been looking forward to sharing the joy at my neice's wedding, but that the requirements they have placed on taking part sadly leave me no choice but to opt out.

Before doing so, I'd catch my breath and contact the parents on my side (your sibling, I assume) and make clear my astonishment and dismay in blunter terms, and simply ask "are they serious, and what will happen when I refuse?" You are probably not the only one goggling at this, and you might encourage your relations to try to smooth the waters.
posted by adamrice at 9:52 AM on May 21, 2007

It may be expected behavior, but both Ms. Post and Ms. Manners would point out that gifts are never required, but merely gestures of goodwill and fraternity, given out of the generosity of the guest's heart and with their own budget in mind.

I would go and give a small, tasteful gift, or not attend at all. Geez, those people do not sound classy.
posted by muddgirl at 9:52 AM on May 21, 2007 [2 favorites]

Dear Abby would have made short work of this.

A gift is always voluntary, and while registries are very helpful, the choice is always the discretion of the giver.

Buy what you are comfortable with, and what you can afford. Rest assured that anyone who makes a face is totally out of line, and if they dare, DARE to say anything to you about it, you are well within your rights to let them know that you might want to put your own kids through college someday instead of paying for everyone else's to get married. And if you get less preferential treatment at future events, well that's the price you pay for having tacky, childish, cheap family members.

Or instead of making a cash gift, donate to a gay rights organization in the couple's name, and beg off claiming your political ideals.
posted by hermitosis at 9:53 AM on May 21, 2007

Its not your fault that they want to have a lavish, expensive wedding. They could easily get married for very cheap.

Give them either a gift from the registry, or cash, and maybe an engagement gift if you'd like. But don't go broke doing it. Unless you really want to.
posted by fallenposters at 9:53 AM on May 21, 2007

I don't understand the "repayment" logic- it's traditional for the parents (of the bride, usually) to pay for the wedding. Do these people expect the bride and groom to turn over their wedding gift cash?

Above all else, the idea that there is protocol for gift giving for anyone other than a foreign dignitary is absurd. Go to the wedding, and give them the gift you want to give. If your in-laws ask what you did for them, simply say you got them something that you hope will bring them years of happiness.

white trash, goombah way

There's no need for that.
posted by mkultra at 9:53 AM on May 21, 2007

I never understood that the guests were paying for the wedding with their gifts, though if the couple is paying for the wedding themselves, and don't have a lot to begin with, the hat may get passed around to help defray the costs. The point of gifts is traditionally to get the couple started in housekeeping, whether it's things they need, or cash.
posted by evilcolonel at 9:54 AM on May 21, 2007

I grew up in Queens and on Long Island and this sounds sort of accurate to me (big Irish Catholic family, but most of my friends are Italian).

I would generally give something from the registry for an engagement party (or cash, if they haven't registered yet), and a gift from the registry for the shower.

As for the wedding, cash is pretty customary here, but I have to disagree on cash + registry gift. In my opinion, you give either cash or gift, not both. Unless perhaps the gift is small and sentimental.

And yes, the rule of thumb is to generally to try to estimate the cost per plate and give that. Maybe that's tacky, but that's how I was always taught to do it. I think part of that comes from the fact that weddings are so overdone and expensive here.

However, all these are guidelines, and I must say I've been to weddings where I've given less (still in college and dead broke) and to weddings where I've given more (very close relative who had helped me out in the past and I was no longer broke). Anyone who is demanding a specific gift is acting trashy, no matter how fancy their wedding is. Demanding expensive gifts from someone who is on a limited income (your mother-in-law), is especially rude and the couple should be grateful that she is able to share the day with them, not that she should bankrupt herself to cover their costs.
posted by Caz721 at 9:56 AM on May 21, 2007

This is weird and obnoxious in my opinion.

But, be cool and if you do get them a gift, get them something off the registry. I got married a few years ago, and ended up getting a bunch of weird, random stuff that I didn't want, mostly because my friends and family are somewhat crazy and mostly ignored my registry.
posted by jeff-o-matic at 9:56 AM on May 21, 2007

Though I am single (i.e. have not been privvy to the intricate goings-on of planning and running a wedding), I've been to a number of weddings on Long Island. I've never heard of such a strict "protocol" for gifts. I think your family is confusing "what we know people commonly do" with "tradition". And it seems there's a little greed thrown in there as well.

And, I think adamrice's comment is spot on.
posted by ObscureReferenceMan at 10:02 AM on May 21, 2007

I would say that this is exceedingly common, as in trashy and vulgar.

Honestly, if someone wants to give a lavish show-off wedding, it seems to defeat the purpose to have the guests sponsor it. Perhaps you should suggest they seek outside sponsorship. Hefty or Rubbermaid spring to mind.
posted by Good Brain at 10:03 AM on May 21, 2007 [1 favorite]

please help me craft a suitable reply that will let them know what I think of these bizarre, mafioso kind of wedding expectations

Seriously, drop the racist slurs, to start with. They may be being obnoxious, but there's no reason to respond with "goombah" this and "mafioso" that or quotes from The Godfather. Using that language makes you come across just as trashy as you're accusing them of being.
posted by occhiblu at 10:03 AM on May 21, 2007 [8 favorites]

Give them a fat envelope filled with a letter expressing your displeasure at their immense greed, selfishness and lack of tact and class. And hell, leave it unsigned.
posted by jckll at 10:21 AM on May 21, 2007

There's really only one way to answer the invitation and express your disapproval. Here it is:

Mr. and Mrs. Husband McChicken
regret that they are unable to accept
Mr. and Mrs. Greedy’s
kind invitation to the wedding of
Jane Greedy and John Doe

If you don't approve, you express your displeasure by declining the invitation politely.

For what it's worth, what they're describing is relatively customary for large Italian-American weddings--the key point, however, is that it's customary amongst those who are part of that particular sub-culture. They might *expect* those types of gifts, but they're entirely wrong to *ask* for them, and they shouldn't expect them from people outside their social circle who can be assumed to ascribe to more normal gift giving practices (where a single gift roughly aligned to the lavishness of the wedding is often done, but a single gift roughly aligned to the means of the giver is the more official etiquette practice).
posted by jacquilynne at 10:22 AM on May 21, 2007 [1 favorite]

This seems to be the custom in my cousin's Italian family. They all know it and abide by it... and so the giving really does seem to even out over time. Everybody who says that etiquette doesn't oblige you is right, but even Miss Manners says that etiquette in books is meant to cover the ground that has been lost as people no longer have customs and practices they know from their communities. You could be right to refuse to participate, but you'd also be placing yourself outside of their community. Is it really worth it? Especially if you think that they would happily reciprocate for you?

On the other hand, none of this applies to a broke grandmother. That just sounds ignorant or insensitive.
posted by Salamandrous at 10:25 AM on May 21, 2007

The gifting "requirements" that you describe are a bit more demanding than the Long Island-based tradition that I've been schooled on--I don't know about a check AND a registry gift for the wedding--but I feel compelled to say one thing in these people's defense:

It's likely that they don't realize how beyond the pale their expectations are compared to traditions in the rest of the country.

I remember telling a (classy, erudite) Long Islander who asked me to be in his wedding party that traditions in his part of the world were very different from the ones I grew up with. He was genuinely surprised to learn that a large chunk of cash was not the default present in most places.

It's my understanding that many people in Long Island, New Jersey, Queens and Brooklyn expect (and happily give, when it's not their wedding) cash gifts. I'm pretty certain that it does not break down strictly along ethnic lines.

Does anyone know if this tradition is the de facto rule anywhere else?
posted by owenville at 10:26 AM on May 21, 2007 [1 favorite]

I've been to large Italian-American weddings. Most people just gave cash, not cash and a gift.

In fact, the last one I went to didn't even have a gift table, let alone a registry. The bride and groom just walked around tables saying hello to everyone, and collecting envelopes.
posted by Tacos Are Pretty Great at 10:34 AM on May 21, 2007

Bullhockey. A gift is optional and you do not have to cover the cost of your plate.

I have been told to expect cash gifts from the mister's side of the family (Italian, from NJ/Philly) for our upcoming wedding. But just cash - not that AND two other presents! That seems really excessive to me, tradition or no. I would be totally floored if someone gave us two gifts and cash. That's a lot.

And what kind of china costs $800 a place setting?! (unless it is supposed to be two settings but that's still $400 a setting!)
posted by sutel at 10:38 AM on May 21, 2007

I have not been to an Italian-Canadian wedding but my sister attended a few, and it was understood that you gave a gift and you also passed across an envelope containing a cash gift to cover your share of the reception. But then you also get to go home with a bomboneer.
posted by zadcat at 10:43 AM on May 21, 2007

Does anyone know if this tradition is the de facto rule anywhere else?

I mean, it's common in many circles for cash to be the preferred gift, and that's fine. I don't think there are any circles where it's considered polite to treat your wedding as a ticketed fundraiser.

In fact, standard etiquette rules against putting registry information in the wedding invitation precisely because it is considered impolite to imply that you're inviting guests for anything other than the pleasure of their company. What joanie's niece's family is doing is way, way beyond the pale.

Is the niece participating in this extortion? If not, I'd be mortified for her. If you must go to the wedding, buy her whatever gift you were originally going to get her - don't skimp to make a point, but don't give in to these obnoxious people. I mean, they can't be planning to enforce this policy at the door...can they?
posted by lalex at 10:46 AM on May 21, 2007

I just had this conversation with my gf, who is from Long Island. We were going to a wedding here in the DC area and she was shocked and appalled that I wasn't giving my friend a large sum of cash as a wedding present. (I picked something from their registry.) Where she comes from, she says that cash is appropriate for the wedding gift (to defray the costs) and that you buy gifts off the registry for showers, etc. She didn't mention giving a gift in addition to cash for the wedding itself. A wedding of a relative will cost you hundreds of dollars and perhaps closer to a thousand if you have the misfortune honor to be in the bridal party.

That this the custom there doesn't make it reasonable. The whole thing is completely out of hand. However, even that amount of cash might be worth it to keep the peace with your in-laws.
posted by callmejay at 10:54 AM on May 21, 2007

Most ethnic goombah white trash types in the greater New York area traditionally consider the going thing to be "paying for your plate" which means a cash gift in a denomination suitable to cover a share of the expense of the reception. Your particular goombahs seem to be suffering from pushy wedding expense hysteria and you and yours should just give what you think is right and move on.
posted by Divine_Wino at 11:12 AM on May 21, 2007

Further, doesn't the average wedding now cost 28k?

Average, yes. But prices on Long Island are not average, which is why couples squeeze everyone for cash. I've been to a couple of mega-weddings like this, and they were unbelievably expensive. Like over six figures. From couples with combined incomes probably under six figures. If that sounds ridiculous to you, then you and I have something in common.

The general etiquette out here seems to be to pay for your plate. I haven't heard of being forced to buy a gift on top of that, but given how out of control the LI wedding industry has gotten, I'm not terribly surprised.
posted by Gamblor at 11:23 AM on May 21, 2007

About the goombah and mafioso comments: I've been watching the Sopranos too much. Did not mean to offend. Please accept humblest apologies.
posted by joaniemcchicken at 11:31 AM on May 21, 2007

This is completely nuts. I don't care what the local culture is, squeezing a poor 86-year-old woman is disgusting. I completely agree with:

A gift is always voluntary, and while registries are very helpful, the choice is always the discretion of the giver.

And this seems to miss the entire concept of throwing a party:

the cost of the wedding will be covered by the expected cash gift from each person.

If you can't afford to have a lavish wedding, you have a less lavish one, you don't strongarm the "guests." Do what you feel right doing, and if they don't like it, fuck 'em. My wife and I got married at City Hall and took our friends and family out for dinner. If I'd grown up on Long Island with this sicko tradition, I'd have fled decades ago.
posted by languagehat at 11:35 AM on May 21, 2007 [2 favorites]

My immediate family and I went to a mixed Anglo-Vietnamese wedding recently. The bride and groom paid for the wedding and elaborate reception. We were told that the Vietnamese tradition (maybe only in the U.S.?) is for the guests to give large money gifts. The bride and groom count on making more at the wedding than they spent on it so that they can set up their household. Apparently if you skimp on the wedding your cash gifts won't be as good.

The money given was actual cash, no checks, no cards, etc. In fact the money was picked up by the bride and groom as they made their way around the room, stopping at each table for congratulations and the cash.
posted by rintj at 11:44 AM on May 21, 2007

So, how does the pay-for-your-plate reasoning work? We're dealing with etiquette and tradition here, and a guest's gift is "paid" to the bride and groom, who by tradition do not pay for the wedding. This means your would be paying A for expenses that B incurred, which makes no sense.
posted by NortonDC at 11:46 AM on May 21, 2007

Why not gift them with a book of etiquette? Perhaps one for each member of that charming family. Miss Manners is particularly cutting on the subject of marrying for money.
posted by roger ackroyd at 11:51 AM on May 21, 2007

...a guest's gift is "paid" to the bride and groom, who by tradition do not pay for the wedding.

Right, except the tradition you refer to is from a time when weddings cost a couple of hundred bucks. Now, we're talking about weddings that cost $100k, so everyone, including the bride and groom, pay (through the nose).
posted by Gamblor at 11:56 AM on May 21, 2007

Yo, ya want I should rough em up for ya? I'm Irish and Italian and know my way around the Island.

I think they're confusing actual protocol with what seems to be local custom, in which it is assumed that the guests will finance the wedding instead of the bride and groom and their families. They didn't get their wedding etiquette out of any book, I can guarantee that. A gift should never be demanded or expected. Ugh.
posted by iconomy at 11:59 AM on May 21, 2007

How about thinking about it this way: You now know how the rest of the family is going to proceed in gift-giving. You can go your own way as long as you don't mind people talking about you in a disparaging way. They will also take your gift-spending into account when it comes time for them to give gifts to you, your SO, and any offspring you might have. And not only will they talk, but your in-laws will let it be known that they'd told you what was expected. Your 'stinginess' might even end up causing a long-term grudge.

My husband is from Long Island. Every gift-giving occasion seems to require a big expenditure, and I believe the large quantities of money just circulate among the friends and relatives. Marian gives $100 to Elaine's 1-year-old; Elaine gives Marian $100 at her 40th birthday party. Then Elaine's son makes his first communion: $100 from Marian. I think it's insane, but they all think it's normal.

I agree with you on every point. But the "rules" you were told about actually are protocol for that particular group. It doesn't matter what's tasteful or what should be -- the gift rules are a reality, and most guests will follow them. Of course, you can do what you want. If you need to be certain, ask a friendly aunt or cousin; they may be able to fill you in on the range of what's accepted.
posted by wryly at 11:59 AM on May 21, 2007 [2 favorites]

wow. I live on Long Island, and not only was my wedding not like that, but none of my friends' weddings were like that. And yes, there were Catholics among the bunch. I hope people don't think the entire area is populated by the sort of people described above; there are many of us that quite the opposite. But, I guess that's where the stereotypes come from.
posted by kellyblah at 12:00 PM on May 21, 2007

"This isn't common where I'm from so it must not be common on Long Island" is flawed logic.
posted by smackfu at 12:01 PM on May 21, 2007

As a transplant to Long Island, who has since been married here, I have another data point to offer you. In my Jewish-well-off-but-not-wealthy experience, the wedding gift-giving custom is engagement gifts off the registry, plus a cash gift at the wedding, generally in an amount estimated to cover your place settings. Non-money gifts received at the wedding are unusual; we only received one. I'm surprised you'd be told to do both, but it may be because you're considered family. Close family very often give more, but one should assume this is out of love and not out of obligation (so your mother-in-law shouldn't be held over a barrel for it if she simply doesn't have it to spare!)

While this may be customary, polite folk understand that being moved to give gifts is an optional thing. In a perfectly polite world, you would give what the spirit moved you to give, and the wedded couple would be pleased you thought to give a gift at all.

However... there is a large disconnect between what people SHOULD do and what people DO, and I can assure you that there is a certain amount of score-keeping going on behind the scenes. If you don't pony up the gift you have been told is the appropriate level of generosity, it will be noted, and for better or worse, it will influence others' behavior toward you. "You're wrong and greedy, look at what Miss Mannes says on wedding gifts," is probably not the wisest course toward fostering amicable family relations.
posted by Andrhia at 12:05 PM on May 21, 2007

nobody is forcing these ppl to have such an expensive wedding. if they want to spend that much money on a wedding in order to keep up with the russos, then they should be prepared to pay for it themselves rather than browbeat their guests into covering the exhorbitant costs. tradition or no, explicitly demanding cash and gifts is tacky (a "gift" inherently implies something voluntarily given), nevermind that it's not a "tradition" with which you have grown up. additionally, it is incredible and appalling to me that they would expect a MIL with such a limited budget to follow their demands as well (and sorry, $800 for a place setting?? what are the pieces made of?? gold??).

a wedding should be a celebration, not an opportunity for extortion. give what you normally would give in a similar situation. for them to further comment on it is just tackiness upon tackiness.
posted by violetk at 12:07 PM on May 21, 2007

The "tradition" referred to here is precisely *not* a tradition, as noted above - weddings didn't cost an average of 28k in "traditional" times. That said, my sister is getting married next week, and about once a week has asked at least one of the siblings, "I'm not being a bridezilla, am I?" just to be sure. It seems that today, weddings are just like every other large consumer good - ostentatiously extravagant and usually wayyyy out of line with anything resembling a budget. The wedding industry is a sky-darkening cloud of vultures who feed on women's egos and fears with phrases like "you only get married once". /rant

Regarding gifts, I've not given money in the last fifteen years. In the past two years, I started giving framed prints of my own photography, after a consultation with the couple, with size and quantity commensurate with how close I am to the couple. Before that, I gave a piece of art, commensurate with my budget and how close I was to the couple. If I did not feel that I was close enough to the couple to make such an offer, I decline the invitation - if I'm just one more warm body at the event that gives generic money, why bother? (please note that I'm also the guy who hates gift certificates, unless there's direction given - my g/f's mom has often given me Home Depot gift cards with a note - buy some decent drywall tools - attached.)
posted by notsnot at 12:10 PM on May 21, 2007 [1 favorite]

Expecting people to fork over large sums of cash because you decided to blow $100k on your wedding seems to me like the highbrow equivalent of asking your friends to bail you out because you blew all of your cash on Three Card Monty.
posted by mkultra at 12:12 PM on May 21, 2007 [1 favorite]

Stuff like this is why I stopped going to weddings. The whole event is less about celebration of the future and more about pomp and circumstance.

Send a nice card with a promise there will be a really cool 1st anniversary gift.
posted by lampshade at 12:18 PM on May 21, 2007

Every gift-giving occasion seems to require a big expenditure, and I believe the large quantities of money just circulate among the friends and relatives. Marian gives $100 to Elaine's 1-year-old; Elaine gives Marian $100 at her 40th birthday party. Then Elaine's son makes his first communion: $100 from Marian. I think it's insane, but they all think it's normal.

It is weird, but as a son of Long Island, I have long been a part of this. When I was engaged, married, had children, etc, I was asked my mother to record sums and and gifts I received from her friends, so she could know how to gift back to her friends' children as they reached the same milestones.

As for the protocol mentioned to you.

First on the engagement gift. You only need to give this IMO at the time the engagement is announced. The bride and groom don't get an engagement party from you at their wedding. That's bullshit. If they wanted an engagement present from you they should have sent a card telling you they got engaged and invited you to their engagement party or dinner.

As for the other two gifts. As I said, I am from Long Island and either cash OR a gift is normal except from closest relatives. In this case both cash and gift seem to be normal.

No one is trying to squeeze you. That's how they do it, and they explained it because they knew you wouldn't know, and they were right.

If they come to an event of your children you could expect the same from them.

And for what it's worth, it doesn't sound like you like them very much. Good luck.
posted by poppo at 12:31 PM on May 21, 2007

hermitosis: A gift is always voluntary...

sutel: A gift is optional...

No, it's not.

I mean, I suppose you could attend your niece's lavish wedding wearing a T-shirt and ripped dungarees and leave abruptly after dinner without ever speaking to the newlyweds to say "Hello" or "Congratulations." You won't be arrested by the police. But for civilized folk with a modicum of class, bringing a gift to a wedding isn't any more "optional" than wearing a tie. It's what adults do.
posted by cribcage at 12:48 PM on May 21, 2007

But for civilized folk with a modicum of class, bringing a gift to a wedding isn't any more "optional" than wearing a tie.

But this is the dance of etiquette. Civilized hosts conduct themselves as if gifts are voluntary, and civilized guests wouldn't dream of arriving without one.
posted by lalex at 12:54 PM on May 21, 2007 [2 favorites]

Whether or not this is a custom in the area, the fact remains that instructing anyone on what kind of gift to give for a wedding, when the instructor will benefit from the "schooling" given, is just plain tacky.
posted by misha at 12:55 PM on May 21, 2007

Since when were gifts considered the price of admission to a wedding? The people who felt they needed to "school" you sure presume quite a bit, don't they? Their assumption that you would go along with their plan is just plain unreasonable.

IMHO, buy them something off the registry, decline the invitation, then when the newlyweds are back from honeymoon take them out for a nice dinner WITHOUT THEIR PARENTS.
Have a great time, and if they bring up your absence at the wedding, you can have a polite moment explaining that while you love them both, the "demands" the family made were just more than you could do.
posted by Carnage Asada at 1:01 PM on May 21, 2007

I'd be damned if I went. And I'd write my niece a letter explaining to her why I didn't feel comfortable being shaken down for money.

I went to a beautiful, tasteful wedding a few months ago, which must have cost (including reception) around 8k. If people want to spend ridiculous amounts on ceremony, it's their fault, not the guests' fault.

Gifts are always, always voluntary. Otherwise, they aren't gifts at all, but requirements. If I got invited to someone's birthday party, and they had a note saying that a minimum of $100 or something off the the list was the required gift, I would be heavily insulted. No difference here.

Crazy-ass northern traditions, sheesh
posted by Cycloptichorn at 1:03 PM on May 21, 2007

This is what happens when society turns a "sacred occasion" into a commercial enterprise. I'd say do what feels right for you.

Tangentially related: The Marriage Industrial Complex.
posted by SteveInMaine at 1:13 PM on May 21, 2007

In reply to a person asking about Vietnamese weddings. The groom's family pays for the wedding and cash is a very acceptable gift. The bride's family gives a gift to the wedded couple usually jewelry of some sort. Like all weddings it is very much monitored and remarked behind the scenes about how much was paid, lavishness of wedding and reception.
posted by jadepearl at 1:32 PM on May 21, 2007

I agree with the others above that cash gifts for weddings are common in the NY metro area, but not in addition to an actual gift. The cash is the gift. It probably is intended to partially (partially!) offset the incredible expense of weddings in this area.

I also agree that items from the registry are commonly given as engagement and/or shower gifts (which shocked me - where I grew up, shower gifts were usually $5-20 things). And hey - you only have to give an engagement gift if you attend an engagement party.

However, given the fact they are trying to shake you down for that extra gift, and are giving you a hard time about your differing cultural expectations (not to mention the sheer prices of the stuff on their registry, from what you indicate), I personally would not feel bad about skipping the engagement/shower gift, and giving whatever cash amount I felt to be reasonable given my income.

My personal experience is that no one expects the cash gift to be an unfair burden on the giver, and if they do - well then who cares what they think of you anyway.
posted by timepiece at 2:39 PM on May 21, 2007

Blimey - I have nothing really useful to add here - UK traditions will be inherently very different. I've been to both shoe-string and quite posh does over here and it's very unusual to ask for money at all - I'm sure some couples would be offended if you offered. A gift, off the register if you wish, is much more common. For engagement parties a bottle of champagne seems more in keeping.
posted by prentiz at 2:43 PM on May 21, 2007

Trashy? Yes. Vulgar? Yes.

Our wedding cost a total of $1200, which we financed ourselves. We did, however, ask politely that if they were planning to bring any wedding presents that be money toward paying for our honeymoon, but it was a suggestion, and we got a fair number of "standard" presents regardless. We also had a few guests who brought nothing but themselves, and we were happy to see them.

400+ guests each pitching in over $100? If a $40,000 wedding is important enough to them they can damn well pay for it themselves, as far as I'm concerned.

The MOST expensive gift I believe I ever gave someone at a wedding was about $300.

If they care about you at all, they'll be happy to see you when you show up, and IF you bring a gift, that's just icing on the cake. Expectations like the above are nothing more than extortion. It's clear that they want the money there more than you.
posted by chimaera at 2:53 PM on May 21, 2007 [1 favorite]

please help me craft a suitable reply that will let them know what I think of these bizarre, mafioso kind of wedding expectations

"Dear [bride],

Please accept our regrets that [SO] and I will be unable to attend your wedding.


Joanie McChicken."
posted by ikkyu2 at 2:59 PM on May 21, 2007 [1 favorite]

According to Miss Manners, this is a complete breach of etiquette. You have been invited to a wedding but you have no say in the event plans, and are not expected to pay for it. Yes, you must get a wedding gift. Engagement gifts are a nice option for someone to whom you are very close, and are often given at an engagement party, but are absolutely not required.

Seriously, you have every right to politely decline. You don't need to explain. Even if you decline, you should send a card with very warm wishes, and maybe even an actual heartfelt gift. Your m-i-l certainly is under no obligation to give a lavish gift she can't afford.

Keep in mind that the bride and groom do not seem to be generating these demands; it is their parents.
posted by theora55 at 3:17 PM on May 21, 2007

Just more confirmation for you. This is customary for many members of my Irish in-laws (working class from Queens). They believe you essentially "pay for your plate" as mentioned before.

For what it's worth, it doesn't seem classless when they attend weddings outside the NYC metro area. Then it seems really generous.

Any upper-class New Yorkers who can take both class and ethnicity out of this discussion?
posted by redarmycomrade at 3:27 PM on May 21, 2007

A little bit removed, and certainly not upper-class New Yorkers.... I grew up Polish in Buffalo.... but there is a little bit of truth to both sides of this.

My mom always told me to try to give a gift that is worth about what your share of the wedding (food & drinks) is worth. However, in the spate of weddings that happened shortly after my own, I was rarely able to meet this "requirement", even for my own brother's wedding (we lived on the West Coast at the time and could barely afford to fly in, let alone pay for an expensive gift).

In practice, it kind of boils down to this: If you make a big stink, it will alienate you from that branch of the family. If you give a tasteful gift, even if it doesn't cover the cost of the plate, whoever looks at the gift will realize you didn't cover the plate, but assuming it is the bride and groom, they will either forgive you because they know you and your situation well enough to understand you simply couldn't afford more, or they won't know you well enough for it to make much difference to them either way and they will eventually forget about it.

If the latter is the case and you really don't know the couple very well, it might be best to send your regrets.

But if you make a direct stand or protest, they will remember it forever and may never forgive you.
posted by Doohickie at 3:58 PM on May 21, 2007

So how does one tactfully ask how much the dinner costs per plate so you know how much to spend on a gift in advance? I've never gotten a satisfactory answer to that question so that is why I've never used that logic in buying a gift.

It shouldn't be the guest's job to pay for the wedding via their cash gifts. If you're only inviting me because you think you can get $100 out of me to help pay for your wedding or honeymoon (and that on top of a physical gift!), it sure doesn't make me want to come. It makes me feel more like a donor than a guest at an event celebrating a very important event in your life.

I would never go to a wedding without bringing a gift of some sort (be it a physical gift or cash). But I don't think I should be told how much to spend and what I am to purchase. I shouldn't have to go into debt to attend someone's wedding, and the bride and groom's family should not have to go into debt to feel like they hosted a proper event. It's just not necessary.

Lalex has it right: "Civilized hosts conduct themselves as if gifts are voluntary, and civilized guests wouldn't dream of arriving without one."

I hope you figure out a way to tastefully voice your concern about this. I think it's past the point of no return now, but hopefully it will make someone think about how alienating this practice is to a wedding's guests.
posted by melissa at 4:09 PM on May 21, 2007

Get them the engagement gift and a wedding gift. Your wife will probably also need to get a bachelette party gift. As far as the cash- I have never heard of that, but if you have the money and want to maintain the relationship, just do it.
posted by thebrokenmuse at 4:37 PM on May 21, 2007

All the "I'm not from Long Island, and we don't do that here" responses not withstanding, there is a wedding protocol among many on the Island that amounts to giving a registry gift for the engagement and cash for the wedding.

Say what you want about its tactlessness, along with 10 appetizer stations and a do-it-yourself vodka shot station BEFORE dinner, it is an accepted protocol for a significant population there. Love it or hate it (I hate it), it is a common practice. On the other hand, if you invite a bunch of LIers to your wedding (even if it isn't held in NY), you'll get lots of (very generous) envelopes.

Also, attending this type of affair makes for a great anthropological experience, and you will have a whole bunch of stories to tell the folks back home.
posted by i love cheese at 5:17 PM on May 21, 2007

Look - Its crazy, but what are you going to do. Its the rules of the road out there. And while your in-laws were probably a bit out of line you need to realize that you shorting their relatives on the gift is a slap to their reputation, and they have to live with these people all the time. And like everyone else from out on the Island has said, your gift will be noted and remembered. Heck if my mom hadn't told me the rules when I went to my first wedding as an adult I wouldn't have known what to do either.
I don't think its weird that they expect you to give a gift above and beyond the cost of your plate for your neice. The specific reference to it being off the registry is a bit strange, but giving just enough to cover your plate for a close relative like that would most assuredly be seen as pretty chintzy.

And this tradition is not a new thing. Its been going on for years and is endemic across the island. My family and my friend are decidedly not from the South Shore or the outerboroughs, and yet these are decidedly the rules. I think its crazy and obscene, and when I do get married I have plans to manage the lunacy, but when its not my wedding my reputation is certainly not worth making a statement on the absurd materialism of the LI wedding.

It really is best that you realize what a big deal weddings are culturally on the Island and just roll with the punches.

On the flip side gorge yourself on the needlessly over the top seafood bar (avoid the stampeding 50+ women - they are ruthless when it comes to the half lobsters) get loaded on the open bar, wonder why they announce the wedding party like its game 7 of the NBA finals, mock the "classy" cigar and brandy room with your SO, dance to truly cheesy music, and have a good time. You paid for it after all.

Also just to share this with all of you because its the dumbest thing I've ever heard- A buddy of mine is getting married in October and his fiancee has hired a professional bow-tie tie'er to show up at the chuch to ensure the wedding party's ties are identical. Its costing them like 500 bucks for the guy.
posted by JPD at 5:26 PM on May 21, 2007

Its crazy, but what are you going to do.

I don't understand this attitude. What are you going to do? How about not going along with it, because it's crazy? Are you seriously suggesting that an 86-year-old woman in ill health and living on a shoe string should bankrupt herself because "it's the rules of the road"? That a couple trying (presumably) to save a little money, maybe have a vacation sometime, should go into debt to satisfy their insane relatives' idea of how weddings should be? (Deliberately over-the-top analogy ahead:) If the "rules of the road" on Long Island were to have a human sacrifice at the wedding and joaniemcchicken were told she was expected to personally rip out the still beating heart, would you tell her to suck it up and do it? I'm all for trying to be nice and not upset people, but this is way, way over the line.
posted by languagehat at 6:07 PM on May 21, 2007 [3 favorites]

Are you seriously suggesting that an 86-year-old woman in ill health and living on a shoe string should bankrupt herself because "it's the rules of the road"?

She should have planned ahead when she got gifts at her own wedding.
posted by smackfu at 6:14 PM on May 21, 2007


Where I'm from, it is considered tacky to ask for money. If a guest wishes to give money, there is usually a 'wishing well' or similar sort of thing set up, so that how much you give is anonymous, because yeah, it's tacky to get someone something that's just totally ... well, impersonal. Especially at an occasion as personal as a wedding.

I had an engagement party, and was quite suprised when I recieved presents. For the wedding, we did have a registry, but item cost ranged from $1 to $1000, concentrated around the lower end. My wedding came in under 10kAUD, including honeymoon, and I rewore the dress for a couple of years.
posted by ysabet at 7:01 PM on May 21, 2007

Sorry Long Islanders who are feeling slighted here, the beef isn't in paying for your plate. That is pretty common even in the Midwest. What is silly here is that instead of the traditional one wedding gift, this family is asking for two, one in cash to pay for the plate, plus a regular gift. This is not the rules of the road, even on the Island. Every wedding I have been to on the Island has been one gift, and almost everyone except the out of towners, brings cash as the gift. It's a lot of cash mind you, as the plate is too, but it's still just one gift. Asking for another one on top of that is gauche. (former Long Islander here, but I didn't grow up there and I still find the whole cash gift thing odd, yet easy).
posted by caddis at 7:03 PM on May 21, 2007

I don't think I defended the mother in law thing. I have to admit I missed that part of it the first time through, and I would agree that is over the line. My comments were directed at the more general "OMG I can't believe you people do that".

I was really responding to comments like this :

I have been told this is customary, and all my apoplectic looks and the ire of my SO and my mother-in-law have not CLUED them in yet that this seems classless, greedy and not at ALL real wedding protocol.

Well guess what - where this wedding is - THIS IS "REAL WEDDING PROTOCOL." Whatever the fuck that means.
posted by JPD at 7:26 PM on May 21, 2007

Listen, I'm going to assume it's not your niece who is being the greedy jerk here. It sucks that weddings bring out the greedy in everyone, but usually it's the parents & grandparents who get all up in arms over who gave what. I'm from NY & my wedding was on the east coast, and I recall my stepmother demanding that I give her a list of everyone in our family and how much they gave me so they could remember that for *their* kids' weddings.

So, assuming you love your niece, she's not being a jerk and demanding gifts herself, and you want to do the polite thing...

Give what you want to out of the goodness of your heart.

If you would like to give a "thing", you can't go wrong with something off the registry, because you know it's something they need and want. You are safe going with something over $50 if you go alone, or $100 if you go with your SO. If you bring children, make up for it with an even better gift.

If you would like to give money, it is nice to try & give a gift that is about equal to the cost of your plate at the wedding. Most east coast weddings are at least $100 a plate. So if you go as a couple, $200 is nice, $250 nicer.

If you don't go and send a gift, you should probably send at least $50 per person if you do cash. If you don't have that, just send something off the registry that you can afford.

I would also suggest for your mother that she just buys something she can afford off the registry and let that be that.
posted by tastybrains at 7:57 PM on May 21, 2007

For Japanese weddings, the guests give cash. Period. Nobody even bothers with gifts. Each person is expected to give from about US$300 to US$500 and up. Being Japan, it's inconceivable to not give this money. And it doesn't matter if you're dirt poor and it's your best friend's wedding and he/she understands you're dirt poor--you pay. A few years ago my gf had 3 or 4 friends marry in a short period of time and it wiped out a big chunk of her savings. This is all done to pay for the wedding itself, which are ridiculously overpriced scams in themselves, especially if you want to get married at a shinto shrine, but even at the more popular Western-style chapels.

But this is the US of A, and I don't think Long Island is an exception. Buy something from the registry that you can afford or buy something not on the registry that you can afford. If these people are offended, fuck 'em.
posted by zardoz at 8:24 PM on May 21, 2007

Thanks for asking this question. I realize now, these expensive customs in NY/LI are part of the reason why I abandoned the social life, so many years ago. (seriously). Folks around there really throw money around like it was nothing. I'm no frugalmeister, but damn, this stuff leaves me feeling faint.
posted by Goofyy at 12:21 AM on May 22, 2007

Seems like those in the "I don't agree with the in-laws crowd" feel this is a greedy practice. Let me explain some more.

Speaking for those NY cultures which have really tight-knit yet extended local families (Jews, Irish, Italians for example), this practice is the tradition of the old helping the young get started.

The in-laws did not send out invitations to every wedding guest explaining that these were the expected gifts. The bride's and groom's peers are not expected to give lavish gifts, nor would be distant family and acquaintances, but close family, like Mr and Mrs McChicken are expected to do so.

The folks in the older two generations take care of the younger generation in this way. Likewise, when the bride and groom start going to the milestone events of the next generation and the one after that, they will be expected to do the same.

It is your husband's time now to take his turn in the older crowd.

Mrs. McChicken, I'm going to make an assumption based on your statement about your age. Since this is the first time this has come up for you, your marriage to Mr McChicken must not have taken place when you were younger, but sometime a bit more recently. Perhaps it's not the first marriage for you guys. I raise this point because you can be sure in Mr McChicken's first marriage as a young man, he received the kinds of gifts from your niece's parents that your niece will receive now. Likewise, he would have received such gifts at his confirmation, or other events. So it is your husband's responsibility as a member of that family to now do his part. Through marriage, this extends to you.

Apologies in advance if my assumptions about the timing of your marriage are incorrect.
posted by poppo at 4:47 AM on May 22, 2007

Excellent explanation, Poppo. It's all about giving back to the younger generation. You'll "pay back" the younger eventually. In my experience, it actually works well and is a very kind gesture.

One other issue related: Many New Yorkers are much more transparent about money issues than those from, say, the midwest (where the other side of my family is from). People openly discuss money issues, salaries...things that are very private to other members of my family.

In a kind NY family, though, when somebody has fallen on hard times, they're not expected to participate in this tradition. And everybody knows. It's more forgiving than you realize.
posted by redarmycomrade at 5:05 AM on May 22, 2007

Since this is the first time this has come up for you, your marriage to Mr McChicken must not have taken place when you were younger

Or rampant homophobia may have prevented a traditional huge family wedding at all...

This does just sound like a huge culture clash that's relatively common in a melting-pot culture. Your SO would have benefited from the same traditions had she done the same sort of wedding; I think people are right in talking about the same money just recirculating through the community. But it sounds like you're from outside this culture, at least a little, or at least in the "huge family wedding" aspect of it. So you're being asked to contribute to an institution from which you and your partner didn't (presumably) benefit, which is why it seems outrageous to you and probably less outrageous to those who have benefited from the same traditions.

Which doesn't mean you need to go broke here, but I think wryly's point is great -- if you decide to break protocol that's fine, just be aware that you're doing so and be aware that they may be consequences to that. Decide whether spending outrageous amounts of money or living with those consequences is a better deal, and go with that.

You can always do whatever you want, but there will always be consequences to your actions. That's how life goes -- it's rare that you get to do whatever you like without there being any repercussions at all. So realize that, and I would think that having some understanding of or empathy for your niece's family and traditions should help quell the anger you're feeling, which should help you figure out what's best for you and your partner to do.
posted by occhiblu at 11:58 AM on May 22, 2007

Ms. Manners actually addresses a similar question to this in her book "Ms Manners On Weddings" Chapter: "Terrible Idea II, The Wedding As Fund Raiser". Basically, she points out that this tradition stems from central Europe, and cash is the appropriate gift to bring. She makes no mention of an additional registry gift, excepting showers or engagement party. She states that this tradition is appropriate among those who grew up in it. What she didn't suggest is how it applies to people from outside the culture who are marrying in.

Ms Manners would be quite shocked at the suggestions in this thread to bring a gift in hand to the wedding, as the tradition is to send it to the bride's home if given between the engagement and the wedding, or to the couple's home if given after the wedding up to a year later.

Finding a subtle, tactful way of informing you of the prevailing Long Island tradition would seem to me to be perfectly acceptable, holding out the hat in hand seems quite gauche if not extortionate. However, the polite response would have been to pretend to yourself that you had learned of the prevailing tradition from someone other than your in-laws, so that you could maintain your good humor in their company.

If you don't feel like giving a cash gift, in this case it might be construed as a breach of custom, but it is certainly not a moral crime.
posted by BrotherCaine at 4:49 AM on May 23, 2007

Trés Tacky!

If it were me I'd give them an engagement gift of this book and an RSVP saying, thanks, but no thanks.
posted by deborah at 7:09 AM on May 24, 2007

Here's the Miss Manners I wanted.
posted by theora55 at 9:52 AM on May 26, 2007

It is an Italian thing. SO is first generation Australian with Italian parents and this has come up in conversation previously. So while what you described rang true something didn't sound quite right.

Yes, it is the custom to pay per head for your family. It's all tied up with a culture I'm unfamiliar with so at the risk of making light of it basically - the term family encompasses various things and then binds them tight. It offers much protection and guarantees your children get every enrichment possible and theirs also and on it goes. But there are things that must be given in return.

So when having a wedding there are many to be invited, there must be good food and drink ect. The idea is to give the young pair a head start, not have them several grand in the hole so - everyone pays for what they will eat.

The couple can't demand cash and gifts though, you get one or the other and you don't get to demand which either. On average this would be around $1000. More if you can afford it, less if you can't. But you pay for what you eat! That part was clear :) Also Nannys counterpart Noona as is the custom has been saving for this day since the lass was born and to be handed the joyous task of providing the very plates that her family will eat off (and if it's 'only' $800, effectively she has an extra $200*+ to give them as well!). Well everything is just coming up Noona today. Wait a second, while she is on a roll... Are there little ones on the way??

But this my friends is a Noona and if like me you have a Nanny then forget it 'cause a Nanny means you're getting jack.

But the good news is that if you've never heard of any of this before then it doesn't actually apply to you. In regards to either the possible benefits or consequences. But from what I could gather if attending is out of the question a gift and well wishes is just as gratefully accepted *by those who are not jerks*

(Btw not Italian just really like pasta ...mmm and that SO. Anyway, I haven't seen The Godfather but making reference to it in that manner just seems a bit stupid however you might want to look at it)
posted by mu~ha~ha~ha~har at 1:59 AM on July 28, 2007

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