Gift or gaffe? Wedding present spurs online debate

An online controversy that erupted over a wedding present may be the gift that keeps on giving to an industry in need of some etiquette guidance, experts suggested Thursday.

Social and mainstream media alike have been abuzz with details of an exchange between a Hamilton bride who became irate after receiving a gift basket at her wedding to a woman and the couple who prepared the now controversial present.

The bride first requested the receipt for the basket, then berated her guests for filling it with oils, biscuits and pasta alongside less upscale items such as sour patch kids and marshmallow spread.

“Weddings are to make money for your future.. Not to pay for peoples meals. Do more research. People haven’t gave gifts (sic) since like 50 years ago,” the bride wrote in one of the messages. “You ate steak, chicken, booze, and a beautiful venue. To be exact the plates were $97 a person… But thanks again for the $30 gift basket my wife can’t even eat.”

She called upon the couple to take a survey of “normal functioning people” to gauge modern gift-giving practices, claiming only cash-stuffed envelopes were appropriate in this day and age.

The couple took her up on her challenge, forwarding the testy text message and Facebook dialog to a local media outlet and inviting readers to weigh in.

The reaction was vehement. While some felt the bride’s disgust with the present was warranted, the majority accused her of breaching fundamental good manners by both criticizing the gift and making direct monetary comparisons.

Etiquette experts agreed, saying the bride’s conduct would raise eyebrows even among those who aren’t devotees of Emily Post.

Karen Cleveland, a Toronto-based etiquette writer, said the story stands as a timely reminder that the high-pressure wedding industry and those involved in it have lost sight of the importance of basic good manners.

“I was delighted to read it because now brides have a perfect example of how not to behave,” Cleveland said in a telephone interview.

Cleveland said she has fielded several questions from people agonizing over their selection of a wedding gift. While cultural considerations sometimes come into play, she said shoppers often stress about the minimum amount to spent on their friends’ nuptials.

Cleveland said couples and guests alike have made what should be a straightforward process needlessly complicated.

“Weddings and etiquette around gifts are not complicated. It’s remarkably simple,” she said. “Couple gets gift, couple writes thank you note communicating gratitude for said gift, couple and wedding guests live happily ever after. It’s that simple.”

Once local media printed the exchange — which quickly devolved into name-calling and jibes at same-sex marriage — the Internet rushed to weigh in.

Many offered support for the gift-givers, either praising the food basket itself or taking the bride to task for lack of gratitude.

“Brides chose how much to spend on their wedding, guests choose how much to spend on a gift. We all have budgets,” one Twitter user wrote.

Others focused on the etiquette of the situation, deciding common politeness would demand a different approach.

“Yes, a basket of Fluff and Sour Patch Kids definitely isn’t what most people want as wedding gift. But you don’t TELL gift-giver that,” tweeted another reader.

A few spoke up in defence of the bride and challenging the appropriateness of the controversial present.

“Haven’t read the texts, but the guy is cheap. You give a basket like that for a housewarming, not a wedding gift,” a Twitter user wrote.

Cleveland said the contents of the gift basket should not enter into the discussion at all, adding both prospective newlyweds and their guests are feeling a growing sense of pressure in an increasingly stressful industry.

Modern etiquette guidelines suggest brides and grooms are free to stipulate gift suggestions via a registry and to conduct their big day in whatever manner they choose, she said. Similarly, guests are under no obligations to follow those guidelines and are welcome to offer whatever gifts they feel are appropriate. Marriage celebrations are meant to mark a life milestone rather than turn a profit, she added.

She said she hopes the recent spat will force people to examine their own conduct a little more closely and remember that while etiquette rules may change, fundamental good manners never do.

“There’s various things that underpin how weddings are done differently, but one thing that’s consistent and that supersedes weddings is that when someone gives you a gift, you thank them graciously for it, full stop.”