In this week’s column, Wedding Maven Marta Segal Block answers a question about gift giving. Do you have a question about wedding day manners, ethics, or traditions? Write the Wedding Maven at firstname.lastname@example.org
Dear Wedding Maven,
A friend of mine is getting married soon. I saw a fantastic lamp on sale that I know she and her fiancé would love. I was going to buy it for them, but my sister said that it was rude to buy wedding gifts “off registry.” She feels that the bride has gone through the trouble to tell people what she wants, and that’s what she should get.
I love picking out personal gifts for people. Is it really rude to buy a gift not on a registry?
Any time I’m asked about wedding gifts, my very first responsibility is to remind people what a wedding gift is: It IS a token of affection and good wishes. It is NOT payment for dinner. It is NOT something the receiver can demand. It is NOT a way to measure how much someone likes you. It is NOT a way to pay for your house, wedding, or honeymoon.
The only gifts that can be considered “rude” are those with a hidden or not-so-hidden agenda. Things like nose-hair clippers and non-refundable, one-way tickets to your mother-in-law’s house spring to mind.
Presumably, everyone who gives the couple a gift wants to please them and wants them to be able to use and enjoy the gift. This is why we have registries: to find out how to please the bride and groom, and what they will use. I received a lovely, expensive, unique set of canisters for my wedding. But they were green, and the wrong shape for my limited counter space. So, there they sit, in my basement, while the less unique ones I registered for are being used on a daily basis. On the other hand, I also received a beautiful stained-glass window hanging that I never would have thought to register for, but it makes me smile when it catches the sun in the morning.
How well do you know the couple? If you are sure that this lamp is something they will love, and that the only reason they didn’t register for it is because they had no idea it existed, or that it would ever be a reasonable price, then it’s probably OK. To be extra sure, you could contact the bride and groom and ask them. “Look, I saw a Tiffany lamp that’s exactly like the one you once said you’d sell your firstborn to own. Can I buy it for you as a wedding present?”
But, if what you mean by “they’d love it” is “I love it,” then I’d stick with the registry. It’s not that it’s rude to buy “off registry,” but given how many gifts the couple is potentially getting, it may be more thoughtful to go with the boring towel set. Wedding gifts take on a life of their own, and believe it or no, a bride and groom can come to feel that some gifts are more burden than blessing.