Two Ways About it

Abby and Carolyn give conflicting advice about what to do with unmarked wedding gifts.

Dear Abby 4/17/2010

DEAR ABBY: My daughter was married last weekend and received several unmarked gifts. When sending out thank-you notes, how do you know what to say and to whom? There were several guests that would never have come empty-handed, yet there is no way to match the mystery gifts to the right guests. Not sending a thank-you note to someone I’m sure brought a gift seems awkward and embarrassing. — AT A LOSS IN NORTHERN CALIFORNIA

DEAR AT A LOSS: For the people whose cards were not included — or were lost — your daughter and/or son-in-law should send generic thank-you letters rather than ones that are specific. They should say something like this: “Dear (—-), ‘John’ (or ‘Carol’) and I want to thank you for sharing our special day with us. Your presence at such a sacred and meaningful time meant more to us than words can convey. Fondly, (—-).”

Mmmmmmm.  I dunno.  This is tough. Don’t want to slight anyone.  Of course.  But for someone who gave you a gift, a generic card seems almost as insulting as no card at all.  Then again, I’m kind of a thank-you-nazi.

Here’s Carolyn’s take, from her Live Chat, 4/9/10

Bethesda, Md.: I recently got married, and several cards fell off several wedding gifts in the process of transporting them from the reception. By process of elimination, I can narrow down the possibilities of who may have been the givers. My first thought was to send a vague “Thanks for your generous gift which will be used often in our home…” note to all the possibilities, thus making sure everyone is thanked even if we aren’t 100 percent clear as to who gave the picture frame and who gave the appetizer plates.

However, there were also several guests who didn’t give us a gift, and the last thing I want to do is embarass them by sending such a note. I thought of discreetly asking around to see if anyone knows who got us what, but the pool of non-gift/unidentified-gift people don’t all know each other.

So what to do: send a note to everyone and possibly make those who chose not to give a gift feel awful, or send no notes and not acknowledge the gifts we did receive? Any other suggestions?

Carolyn Hax: I’m going to use your problem for a second to encourage two … conventions, for lack of a better word, that tend to get lost in the wedding shuffle: 1. Not bringing gifts to a reception, but instead shipping them to the couple’s home (or some other designated recipient’s home); and 2. the “Did you receive my gift?” inquiry by guests who have not had their gifts acknowledged by, say, a month or two after the wedding.

The latter in particular has gotten a bad rap as a punitive gesture by the resentfully unthanked, but it’s really a practical and necessary element of etiquette (wedding etiquette in particular, but not limited to that). Packages get lost in the mail, and cards fall off gifts, and the imperfect universe otherwise has its say sometimes. The simplest, most effective way to fix these problems is for the gift-givers to inquire after gifts–“Just calling/writing to make sure, did you receive our crystal candlesticks from Registries R Us?” Then, you know–you either need to fire off a note ASAP to say thanks, or you need to let the gift-giver know the gift never arrived, or whatever.

Since you, Bethesda, are the beneficiary of neither of these good practices by your guests (not to malign them–many just don’t know this stuff), you’re stuck having to improvise. I would suggest sending a note to every one who wrote an orphaned card (you do have them?), or just everyone in your narrowed pool: “Several cards fell off gifts, and so I’m writing to say that if you gave us a gift for which you haven’t been thanked, then the oversight wasn’t deliberate; we just don’t know whom to thank for what.” Then thank them for sharing your wedding celebration, etc. People who receive this but didn’t buy you a gift won’t be shamed; it’ll likely just be taken for what it is–an honest attempt to do right by the people who gave gifts.

Congratulations, btw.

I see how Carolyn’s solution could feel awkward, but done in the right attitude, I think it’s the best approach.  In this situation, I’m coming down on the side of clarity…especially in cases where neither the recipients nor the givers have done anything wrong.  So, why skirt the issue?

And I’m soooooo in favor of shipping gifts ahead–as grateful as we were, it wasn’t the most fun to haul a table full of boxes out of of the reception, in my wedding dress.  But someone’s got to do it.  And in our case, it was….ourselves, and our awesome neighbors, who actually drove them back to the house.  I’m not sure when this shifted–sending gifts ahead used to be the only way things were done.  But–especially with how easy it is to buy and ship online–it’s a convention I’d LOVE to see universally reinstated.

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One response to “Two Ways About it

  1. Pingback: Recommended Reading 4-28-2010 | Small Strokes

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