Friendship: The Joy of Stiffing the Bride Together

After all the weddings I couldn’t attend this January (and yes, dahlink newly-weds, I will collect my heap of fish-fries from you), it looked like February was going to step up and deliver the broke-via-gifting punch. Or so I thought, before I read my emails last night.

It so happens that a person I know socially has been invited to one of the same weddings as I have. We’ve not been invited as a group, but for reasons unknown, her mind sees us as one. I say “reasons unknown” because my invite is clearly made out to Mr. & Ms. N, and hers is made out to her family. This person wrote me an email last night, in which she said the following:

“Hi! So we’re going together? Pls let me know when you want to reach venue. OK, I had a request. Moving back to India has been very expensive and we’re still settling in. As you know, my father also fell ill and treatment was expensive. So I am going to request you to stay inside a gift-budget of Rs. X, because we cannot afford more“.

I stared at the email for a few seconds, then did a slow clockwise stock-taking of our little room (wall, canvas, rocking chair, books, backpack, partner, wall) and then looked back at the email, just to make sure we were all in the same reality. Did a person just email me and effectively ask me to stiff a newly-married couple – who are her friends! – just so her lack of an expensive gift wouldn’t stand out?

And here, a quick word about presents: I had a wedding not too long ago, and many people gave me many lovely things for it, so I think I’m qualified to speak on the subject. Many of my presents were quite expensive; but my favourite pieces were not necessarily the ones that cost the most. The little gold pendant and a pair of cubic zirconia ear-studs are both old pieces, from the trinket-boxes of my dear friend and my great-aunt respectively. The pendant, naturally, is expensive. Compared to that, the silver earrings cost practically nothing. But they’re small, everyday pieces that the original owners wore often, and to my mind, are equally imbued with the essence of two wonderful people who love me. A spanking new neckpiece with matching earrings has nothing on such a beautiful thing.

Plus, though gift-givers are frequently judged on the market value of their offerings in our . But good money can buy truly lousy presents, and I’d pity a person stuck with an piece of unusable junk because it who a hand-made card lasts on someone’s bedroom wall for years. To illustrate: I was give a chunky gold-plated jewellery set with pink and green stones; I was also given a beautiful hand-painted canvas by my very talented friend L, which adorns our otherwise bare walls.

But if the gift-givers’ sole concern is establishing or maintaining their social status via an expensive gift, or failing that, escaping notice and shame by increasing the number of cheap gift-givers at the event, then I must say, they have missed a crucial component of the ritual of gifting, and I hope the loss is entirely theirs.

I mean, here I am without a job and financially convalescing, and if I felt that that old Bengali trick – “My gift to you two are my heartfelt love and MOST sincere good wishes” – would have worked, I would’ve used it in a jiffy. But I wouldn’t DREAM of insisting other people change their decisions, toe MY budget-line, and shortchange newly-weds or birthday-kids or rice-ceremony babies to make my poverty look good. ’cause what am I, delusional power-tripper? (Don’t answer that.)

In short, my “friend” has terrible priorities and some damned nerve, I shall most certainly not make a joint entrance with her, and I have told her, very politely and very firmly, that my present has already been bought (a lie, of course).

Now all that remains is to write the newly-weds a cheque for Rs. X+1, and I should be all set for fish-fries 🙂

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One comment

  1. Responses from social media:

    Dipali Taneja Phew:( You know some weird specimens!!!

    Me: Maayaa Dixit Gautam Benegal Sunayana Roy Mandy Van Deven Natasha Vakil Matthew Belmonte Indranil Das Gupta Ruma Chakravarti Bevinda Collaço Anou Raut Desai Somdeb Ghose

    Indranil Das Gupta: bichitro chiria o chiriakhana

    Ruma Chakravarti: OMG!

    Zeenat Kaiser: lolz… this one is super funny!

    Me: Dipali, I do! Then again, I suppose from some angle or another we’re all weird specimens, and I just bring it out in people. Which means I’m a pretty weird specimen myself Then again, had I not been running into people like this, life would’ve been so damn dull.
    Ruma, I know, right? What would you have done in my place?

    Ruma Chakravarti: I usually try to be as polite as I can when faced with these morons. But this is not just moronic, it is also selfish and scheming….I think my face would give my disgust away. I think they need to be reminded the invitations are separate

    Sunayana Roy: You did what I’d have done. Explained that our gift was already purchased and that we’d be going separately.

    Anou Raut Desai: Hey: you write she mentioned amount X and later that you will present cheque of X+1, so are you in fact going to stiff the bride anyway?

    Gautam Benegal: Expose her dramatically on the stage during the reception. After a short succinct denouncement, spit on her gabardine, so to speak.

    Ahona Panda: cheque toh kene na keu!

    Mandy Van Deven: First, I despise socially policed (and, therefore, mandatory) gifting. It is a despicable practice and should be banished. Wedding gifts leave a particular bad taste given their misogynist history.

    To address the issue at hand, speaking as someone who has often been on the poverty end of things, I can’t say that your friend’s request was an altogether fair one, but I certainly see why she felt compelled to make it. As you well know, Rimi-di, not everyone is as anti-consumerist as you are and so we cannot hold even our loved ones to our own standards and ways of viewing traditions. It can be embarrassing to be unable to give something as valuable as others are giving, and some might even find a less valuable gift insulting. I can’t speak to the particular parties involved since they’re a mystery to me, but I can imagine a scenario in which I may make a similar request as your friend. The harm is not in the asking, which may have been a painful/shameful thing for your friend to do. The harm would be in holding a grudge given that you didn’t comply with the request.

    Sunayana Roy: What’s this misogynist history of wedding gifts, Mandy? At my own wedding I was told that the gifts were to help us set up our own household, help defray the costs of the wedding and finally, a celebration of the bride. After we had given away (on both sides) the linens, sets of jewellery, expensive toiletries, glassware and so on that that we do to everybody who had pitched in to help, and each mother was given the gold and silver I decided I could live without (for them to use or re-gift) Vicky and I were left with the beginnings of a very handsome household and enough money in the bank to see us through our first, very financially difficult year. As you can see, I was very grateful for all that we were given.

    Something similar came up during my father-in-law’s death ceremonies as many families gave us small amounts of cash to help with the expenses. I was surprised but told it’s the custom. On hindsight, and having seen death in many other households, I realise the wisdom of this. The main thing that I appreciate about all this giving is that there really have been no limits set to the kind of gifts we must give or receive. It is understood that everybody gives what they can and if that is nothing, that is just fine.

    Me: I would love to read up on the history of wedding gifts. Help please, Mandy? Also, since one gets a lot of household items, I suppose one might say it encourages female domestic labour, but I’m glad to grasp every bit of help I can, and divide their use in a way my partner and I see fit. About her request: well, I supposd I do see the merit in what you say, and if a friend like you asked my reception would be very different, but a peremptory email from a social acquaintance is a bit much. Especially since she went on to ask what I would be wearing, and said she’d bought a 4K saree as she had nothing appropriate to wear. This last might well be very important to her, but it doesn’t inspire my sympathy.

    Mandy Van Deven: Wedding gifts are an evolution of dowry and women being deemed a burdening type of property that a family need rid itself of through the exchange of money and valuable gifts, y’all. Still are in some folks’ eyes. But I don’t need to tell you that.

    Sunayana’s example of wedding gifts as a way to help a young couple establish an autonomous household makes sense in particular contexts, and certainly on an individual level it can be executed as an act of caring and love. (This is the gist that Rimi N is pointing out, too.) But in other contexts, and talking on a societal level, it can be seen as exploitative. See: http://www.slate.com/…/wedding_present_etiquette_let_s…

    So, I think it’s important to ask ourselves hard questions about whether we NEED the gifts or whether we WANT the gifts, and parse out the particulars while being honest with ourselves about our motivations — individually and socially. At this point in my life, I don’t need people to give me gifts. But I still want people to give me gifts. I just don’t want them to give me gifts out of some misguided sense of obligation.

    Mandy Van Deven: Also, I hear you about your lack of sympathy for this particular friend’s request. Sounds like she might need to get a few priorities in order before asking others to reprioritize.

    Sunayana Roy: Mandy: I don’t like the idea of registries at all. I understand the logic but it ended up in a place where an NRI cousin got married and everything in his registry was miles out of my reach thanks to the exchange rate (and their ideas of gifting). I ended up gifting them flowers, which is not my idea of a wedding gift to close family.

    For me the biggest revelation though was not how much the gifts helped us (and when asked beforehand I had said I didn’t need all that, but as things turned out, we needed them badly) but that they had a purpose elsewhere — being re-gifted to those who had helped in the wedding arrangements. I learnt that many people deliberately give generic gifts like linens and saris knowing that they will come in useful re-gifting. I know people in my generation who would rather not give a gift than an impersonal one BUT 1. giving me a gift to give somebody when I’m otherwise broke is a gift to me as far as I’m concerned 2. such a gift is given out of custom and comes in very handy. Indeed, over the years I have on occasion given such gifts to not very close friends or family and I’m fine with them going elsewhere.

    Me: “So, I think it’s important to ask ourselves hard questions about whether we NEED the gifts or whether we WANT the gifts” – Christ, I didn’t even want a wedding! I hit my dad up for smokes the night before, so I could unwind, put myself to sleep, and keep up the veneer of bright cheerfulness the next day. The stupid thing drained all my savings from the last five years, a matter which merits (and shall have) a separate post to itself. About that Slate article – our weddings tend to fall neatly into the kind described in the third paragraph: young people earlier living with their parents setting up a new household. Of course, my partner and I were not living separately, but we *were* living in his parents old home, which meant there were a lot of household things we needed to replace or update, but hadn’t got around to. The wedding solved a lot of those problems (indeed, I fully expected to add Sunayana’s old but excellent kitchen utensils to my gift-list, but we moved towns). If I had everything I needed, like these people, and then people cluttered my household with superfluous stuff, I would have been very cross indeed. So yes, going by that norm, I’d say Matthew has the problem exactly right.

    Sunayana Roy: Just what I was thinking, the situation here usually feels more like the 60s thing described in the article.

    I hesitate to divide between want and need because as I said, I didn’t know what I needed, and more interestingly, I didn’t realise there were so many things that our gifts needed to do.

    Sireesha Vangala: I’m late at congratulating,but many many congratulations on the wedding

    Sireesha Vangala: Also had I not had this handicap of sending virtual gifts, (pardon me I’m a technological handicap) I’d surely have sent some precious little earrings of mine to you, di.

    Me: Sireesha, that is the sweetest thing you could have said. Let this be a warm acknowledgement of the earrings you meant me to have

    Sireesha Vangala: It only feels like a short while back that I was at bengal , but gee that’s an awful year ago that I visited, and frankly I’d have liked to have a wedding like that!!!!!

    Dipali Taneja: The saddest part is that expectations do build up, and the rich relatives you thought would give you a decent amount of cash end up giving you an ugly monstrosity that is of no use to man or beast. There are also all kinds of weird gifts that seem to have been in wedding gift circulation for generations! Let me not begin!!!!

    Sunayana Roy: LOL This reminds me of a gift that kept coming back to the author every Christmas. I wonder who wrote the piece. Leacock? Wodehouse?

    Me: Not Wodehouse. Not sure if Leacock. Must look up.

    Dipali Taneja: Some stuff has to be seen to be believed! There was also a gift that had an inner wrapping of a newspaper from the eighties. Ugliness in extremis, stuff that is too ugly and useless to regift:(

    Aparajita Gupta: Sunayana Roy i think Leacock. In fact I think I read the essay in a collection which belonged to your family

    Sunayana Roy: Thanks, Aparajita Gupta. I tried looking it up online but couldn’t find it. Need to dig out my Leacocks, I suppose.

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