Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Is Your Presence Present Enough?: The Death of Social Graces

I went to cotillion and I was raised by a mother who believes in bringing a hostess gift and writing thank you notes for every item or special display of care a person receives. So, let me say, I may be a bit sensitive on this issue, but I can't help but notice a recent trend and I want your opinion.

 I overheard a girl in line at a coffee shop the other day talking to a friend. The first girl asked, "So are you going to so-and-so's wedding?" "No, I can't really afford a present right now and we're not really that close," she replied. "Oh, really? I'm going, but I'm not bringing a present. I figure my presence is their present." There was an awkward pause, "Oh, well, if you're not bringing a present, I guess I can enjoy the free dinner and booze and not feel bad about it." They laughed. I rolled my eyes. Etiquette teachers from days passed rolled in their graves.

I would say that I'm shocked, but I'm not. Personally, I would rather not go and send a card, or go an just make something small instead of eating out one night, than take from a host/hostess without expressing my appreciation as a guest, apparently some people don't think that is not a big deal.
 Over the years I've been to many parties, and weddings, even very formal weddings, where people show up empty handed, take what is given to them, and leave.

I understand we're all busy and sometimes this kind of thing can be overwhelming (I by no means claim perfection myself), but does that make it okay to preplan not give a gift when it has been a common social practice to bring some sort of gift or offer of help to a host/hostess when they went to a lot of trouble to host you?
Perhaps the formality of the event depends on whether or not you should bring a gift, but what do you think?
Where is the line?

Would you always bring a gift to a wedding/bar mitzvah/bat mitzvah/birthday? Or at least a card?
Would you offer to bring something to a friend's dinner party?

What situations constitute the need for a thank you note?
I'm not asking to judge, but I'm asking because I'm genuinely curious.
Am I old fashioned or is this acceptable behavior for an adult?


Lori said...

I think it depends. For birthdays I try to bring a gift, but sometimes I do believe presence is enough. It actually works out the people I'm more acquainted with or know distantly I tend to bring a present. The people I am super close to I don't feel like I need to get a gift because we end up doing things all the time for each other and the idea of a birthday is to celebrate the person in front of you, not to complete social norms. Bigger things like weddings, bar/bat mitzvahs, etc are different, always bring a gift! Dinner parties I always offer to bring something and ALWAYS BYOB...I don't think hostess should be responsible for drinks. Thanks you cards are something I have gotten better with over the years. I used to be really bad and actually tell people "I know I am supposed to write a thank you card, but I feel like we're so close I don't need that kind of formality, I'd rather save my time to actually be hanging out with you". Now that I am farther away and my friends/family is spread out thank you notes are something I rather enjoy to get and receive. Something I'll always be bad at is wrapping a gift. People who know me (closely or just acquainted) know wrapping is not something I do.

I find this little post actually very interesting. thanks!

Chloe Moon said...

This subject matter always puzzles me because everyone seems to have a different rule of thumb. I always offer to bring a dessert if someone is having a dinner party and for bdays I always send a thank you card. But weddings...I've heard you are supposed to give as much as your plate cost or something off the registry. I've had kind friends who's registries haven't been over the top, so I've always purchased something. I would not go to a wedding or a bridal shower without a gift. I know the real reason your there is not to give a gift but I think it's only right. You don't have to give the taj mahal but even a handmade photo album or something is good enough!

Ergo - Blog

Nicole Jeannette said...

Thanks for the comment, Lori! Good point about BYOB! I typically don't bring anything to drink if I'm unsure what other people are doing (plus, I'm always happy with water), but a bottle of wine can always be a cheap hostess gift whether it is used at dinner or saved for later! Good thinking :)

Anna Coxwell said...

Really interesting article Nicole! I have lots of thoughts...

I always like to give a wedding gift before the day of. I know that weddings are stressful times, so anytime I can get a gift to the person ahead of time I think it helps them settle into married life. Either way, I would never attend a wedding without giving a gift.

BYOB is the weirdest/most difficult situation for me. Mark and I have a large group of friends that regularly get together for an evening of finger foods and drinks. They always love for us to prepare something homemade since Mark and I both love to cook, so we don't usually bring a bottle of wine as well. What is your thought on this? I hate showing up to something and drink without pitching in, but at the same time, our homemade goodies certainly take more time/money/effort than a bottle of Two Buck Chuck.

Nicole Jeannette said...

Hey Anna,

Good point all around! I think sometimes the BYOB depends on your group of friends maybe? I would NEVER be offended if someone brought homemade goodies though! In my mind that's a thank you enough! I have some friends who refuse to accept help or a gift, but I try to make it up to them anyway in some form or another. Thanks for posting!!