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Social Grace 

The Gentle-Reminder Machine

Wednesday, Nov 22 2000
Dear Social Grace,
Please help me. A pregnant friend has been in the hospital for the past month due to a high-risk pregnancy. Her baby shower was put on hold, and preparations were made for the imminent delivery of a premature baby. I visited her frequently in the hospital and brought food and gifts every time I visited. I also gave her as a gift an expensive breast pump.

My friend is doing better now and has been discharged from the hospital. Her baby is due in six weeks, and her baby shower has been rescheduled. But I have already shot my budget for a shower gift! (I was intending to give her the breast pump.) What should I do? I can afford to give her something inexpensive, but I'm afraid I'll look cheap at the shower. Should I explain to my friend that I cannot afford another more costly gift? The shower is in four days; please help as soon as possible!

Thank you,

Dear Madam,
How exciting -- an etiquette emergency! I'm finally justified in buying that siren for the Gracemobile. Let's hook you up to our gentle-reminder machine, stat: The reason we give baby shower gifts is not to impress other guests with their expense. We give baby shower gifts (it is hoped) out of love for the mother and as a way to express our shared joy in her expected child.

So there you were, regularly visiting a friend in the hospital, bringing her food and numerous thoughtful gifts -- and now you're worried about what other people think? For heaven's sake, why? They probably think you're a saint.

We know what our friends do for us. I'm sure your friend doesn't hold you responsible for another gift now that the baby shower is back on the calendar (it sounds as though she's got weightier things to think about, for one), and if she did, she wouldn't be much of a friend, would she? I'm sure Mom-to-be is fully aware of your generosity, and the price of your gift should be no concern of the other shower guests.

Dear Social Grace,
My partner and I are getting married in a few months, and the question of the day seems to be, "Where are you two registered?" And ... we're not. We live very simply, and we're fortunate to have everything we need, which isn't much. We really don't want a bunch of crystal vases and pie plates taking up space in our tiny apartment. The only thing that we really do want is a little extra money so we can go traveling, which we do often. So, how do we answer "Where are you registered?" without asking for money? I'd imagine we aren't the only couple running into this dilemma these days. What to do?

Via the Internet

Dear Madam or Sir,
Though etiquette still insists that we may not ask directly for money from gift-givers, there are some ways around this common-sense rule. For one, a close relative or friend often (and quite correctly) passes around a newlywed's desire for wedding cash. Maybe you could enlist a sympathetic parent or another family member to act as your representative; when the topic of your wedding presents comes up, he could say, "Of course they'd never ask for it, but I think what they really want is money toward their extended trip to Egypt."

Answering a "What sort of gift would you like?" type of question is tricky. The answer should be vague (because we don't want to appear greedy) but informative enough to help the giver (because most people really do want to give you a gift that you'll enjoy and use). My answer in your situation might go something like this: "Oh, we aren't registered. You know Hilary and I don't have much use for household stuff; our place is so small ... and we really don't expect to be there very often in the next couple of years, what with all the traveling we hope to do."

You might receive cash to put toward your travels; you might get a couple of those airplane neck pillows in a leopard print. Either way, it is the thought that counts. Sometimes it helps to concentrate on that phrase while opening gifts -- maybe even repeat it quietly to yourself as you do so.

Dear Social Grace,
I listened to you on KFOG yesterday, and I wanted to ask a question to which I can't find the answer in my etiquette book. If I walk over to my neighbor's house with a small wrapped gift, should my neighbor open it at the moment I give it to him? Or when my boss returns from a trip, she always brings me a wrapped gift -- do I open it at work upon her giving it to me? What about her Christmas gift to me? Is it OK to put that under my tree and open on Christmas Day with the others? Please advise; she is an etiquette buff, and I'm afraid I'm breaking all the "rules"!

Thank you,
Stacy Keller

Dear Ms. Keller,
I always hate to hear that the desire to be polite has caused good people to worry about something that should be a pleasant experience -- the receipt of a gift, in this case. However, I can explain some practical gift-opening guidelines. Like many etiquette rules, they have their basis in common sense, and thoughtful people shouldn't hesitate to turn to common sense when their etiquette books fail them.

Presents should be opened within sight of the giver if possible, because part of the pleasure in giving gifts is watching the recipient open and appreciate them. However, there are other obvious variables to consider. If you're at a large party, say, and other guests might feel uncomfortable (albeit unnecessarily) because they didn't bring a gift, the exchange and opening should happen privately. Likewise, personal gift exchanges at work should not be done in the presence of co-workers who might feel left out. If you can't privately exchange gifts in these situations, the unwrapping might be better put off. Finally, it's something of a tradition, is it not, to open Christmas gifts on Christmas Day? Therefore, outside of an all-office gift exchange, I might wait to open a holiday present from my boss. Keep in mind that it's also traditional for your thank you notes to be written by Dec. 27 (or as soon as possible).

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