In last week's column I asked for your help in choosing a wedding present for my cousin and her fiance, who are getting married tomorrow (May 22) in Texas. I listed four choices from their registry but said I'd consider off-registry ideas as well. I thought I'd get 20 or 30 emails in response and would simply report the totals at the end of this week's column, which would mainly be about something else. However, I was surprised to get 58 responses, and more than enough feedback to take up a whole column. Apparently, this is something many of you have strong opinions about! I had no idea it would be such a hot-button topic.
First, to the numerical results:
Coming in first place, with 10 votes, was the Martha Stewart Cutlery Set. (There were also 3 votes that specifically went against this item, or more accurately, against Martha Stewart herself, but I did not deduct any points for negative votes.)
Second, only one vote behind, at 9 votes, was the set of Pilsner beer glasses.
Third, with 8 votes, was money -- that is, cash, a check, or a gift card.
Fourth, with 5 votes, was the toaster oven.
In a tie for fifth place, at 3 votes apiece: the cordless hand vac, versus something else from the couple's registry other than the 4 options I listed. For example, someone said, "Buy them extra dishes from their china pattern. Dishes break. Also, if you want to invite more than 10 dinner guests, it's good to have more than the typical number of plates shown on the registry." Someone else suggested buying more pots and pans than requested, and a third vote went to a collection of practical kitchen things from the registry, such as potholders, dish towels, and small hand utensils.
The total number of votes for sticking to the registry was 38 out of 58, or 65 percent. People like using a registries because you know the couple won't have to return duplicates of anything. "Just give them what they want!" the pro-registry side writes. If it's something they will use everyday, they will think of you every time they use it. They won't re-gift it to someone else or let it sit in a closet until it finally goes off to Goodwill.
Now let me get to the 35 percent of you who hate registries. In a nutshell, registry gifts are: unimaginative, unmemorable, impersonal, and just plain boring. Many of the votes for cash or a check contained some version of this comment: "Why buy them something that they've picked from a registry? Just give them the cash and let them spend it themselves." The argument for gift cards instead of cash is that the couple must actually go out and buy themselves something with the card, but with a check, they might just spend it on their utility bills. You do want them to get themselves something nice, something they'll take pleasure from owning and using in their life together.
Seventeen of you, however, argued that a wedding present should be some special item that the guest chooses for the couple, thoughtfully, lovingly, as a token of your feeling for them, perhaps to become an heirloom to be passed down from generation to generation. Since people took the time to send in their creative ideas, I thought I would list all 17 of them:
- a work of art by a local Cleveland Park artist
- homemade cookbook with old family recipes
- 2 votes for a silver picture frame from Tiffany's
- a ceramic pitcher
- a unique serving dish
- an antique or unique piece of tableware from the Opportunity Shop in Georgetown
- a beautiful wooden cheese board
- a wooden box or bowl
- silver serving pieces
- a set of Wusthof knives (better quality than the Martha Stewart knives, according to Consumer Reports)
- a portable grill
- a picnic basket with nice, reusable plastic ware and a ground cloth
- a weekend stay at a romantic B&B or a dinner for 2 at a fine restaurant
- beer of the month club membership (since we know they drink beer, evidenced by the request for the Pilsner glasses)
- a unique or artistically designed vase or bowl
- a donation to a charity in their name
Some of the messages told charming or instructive stories about wedding presents given or received. Here are three of them:
"We were given a set of ceviche serving bowls, with handles in the shape of porcelain fish. The only trouble is my husband is severely allergic to fish. The bowls really aren't practical for anything else. I think they may have come from a shop that imports handmade goods from Latin America, no chance of returning them. So they sit, never used, on a back shelf in my pantry."
"I remember one gift, an unusual vase. I know my wife's friend took care in picking it out, but it just wasn't our style. But we knew of another couple getting married, and we thought they might like it. Just as my wife was carefully packing it up in bubble wrap to send to them as a wedding present, I noticed that on the underside of the vase, engraved in teeny-tiny lettering, were our names and our wedding date. Yikes! What a mistake that would have been! It's the registry for us from now on."
And here's one that explains why a set of knives might not always be a good choice for a wedding present:
"When my daughter married a man of Chinese descent, a friend gave them a gorgeous antique knife. I thought it was stunning, but my daughter's new in-laws were HORRIFIED. In the Chinese culture, a man and a woman are tied together -- symbolically -- by a red thread. A knife would imply a severing of that thread. The friend is a great person, but the in-laws will never get over this gift!"
Thanks to all who took the time to send me your thoughts, arguments, pet peeves, and deep-seated beliefs on this topic. And now...drumroll, please! The result: I decided to go with the second-choice winner, the Pilsner beer glasses. They look pretty in the registry picture. And when it's hot in Texas (when isn't it?) a cold brew is refreshing, served in chilled glasses. So this morning I went back to the registry, prepared to click and send. What I found was this: "Item Fulfilled." Rats! On to the toaster oven: Fulfilled. The Martha Stewart knives: Fulfilled. Even the hand-vac! And everything else, fulfilled, fulfilled, fulfilled. Lucky couple. But now what? Suddenly I see the virtue in the number three vote getter, the gift certificate. To my mind the most practical one is from Amazon.com. It can be used for anything at all: books (always useful for grad students), electronics, housewares, you name it. Problem solved, and I don't even need to worry about shipping, as the gift simply shows up instantaneously in my cousin's inbox. Just to make sure she doesn't miss it, I'll tuck a copy of the printed order form inside the lovely, handmade wedding card I'm bringing with me to the event.
I'm sure she'll love it.
Published on the Cleveland Park Listserv on May 21, 2010.