My tacky registry: Why I think registry etiquette is bullshit

Guest post by DIYallthethings
Nerdiest Wedding Card Evar.
Thanks to Karen for uploading this hilarious registry gift card to our Flickr pool.

Sometimes I browse The Knot (I know, I KNOW) for etiquette tips about things I'm not sure of (traditional wording on invites, etc.) or to get an outside perspective. The last time I did this was to try and get a handle on exactly WHY it is such a breach of etiquette to do anything other than a traditional, scan gun, store registry.

You see, in my hometown, the cultural norm is to ask for money. Right on the invite. You put “Presentation Only” or “Presentation” on the bottom right of the invite, and it indicates to everyone that you are accepting cash. I didn't realize that this was not only something that doesn't happen everywhere, but apparently my entire prairie background is SUPER TACKY.

We also have socials (sometimes called Stag and Doe parties) to raise money for the wedding, usually held about 3-6 months beforehand. I knew that practice was specific to the area, and apparently in just the past couple of years people they have been on the downswing because people are starting to think it's tacky.

How it works is that you rent a hall, and then you get some cheap booze, food, a DJ, and a liquor license. You sell tickets for like $10 a pop to anyone who will buy them. Then you solicit businesses, friends, family, etc., around the city to donate prizes for your auction. You create about 10-20 prizes, and you sell off tickets during the social.

Everyone knows these events are a money-making scheme. Because it's regional tradition, everyone is fine with it. I've been to about 15 socials in my life, most of them for people I've never met. I've donated prizes. I even flew in from out of town to attend my brother's social, because the social is a big deal.

I bring this up only to point out my first big issue with “wedding etiquette:” the mistake of thinking that what's rude is universal. It isn't.

Here is why I think traditional etiquette is wrong when it comes to registries:

  • If you would prefer for people to donate to a charity on your behalf, you should be able to indicate where you would prefer that money go. It is a gift for you after all. Still, they should get some say in where that money goes because it's their gift to you.
  • Spreading news of a registry by word of mouth was fine when everyone was from small, tight-knit communities and barely left their hometowns. Now the internet exists, people are all over the place, and it's pretty likely that the person most effectively able to get the word out is you. Go forth, internet-minion, and do my bidding.

  • OF COURSE some gifts are expected. That's not to say they are required, or that the idea is to “giftgrab,” but gift-giving for weddings has been around centuries. Some people are going to bring gifts. I have never been to a wedding where I haven't given a gift. We create regular registries (which was a tradition started by department stores in the '20s, which kind of ruins the whole “BUT MY DELICATE ETIQUETTE” speech for me) to assist in the selection process and prevent duplicates, because we KNOW some people are going to give gifts.
  • Indicating a preference of charity (or house fund or honeyfund) is hardly forcing people. You are simply indicating a preference, in the same way that you registered for a particular spatula. And just like that, a guest can decide they'd rather get you a beach-glass framed photo frame. Again, people are not required to get you anything. No one is forcing anyone to do anything.
  • My politics don't shut off just because I'm getting married. I could go on for hours about my issues with materialism and weddings and describe every little reason why I prefer not to register at large chain stores. Instead we've chosen to register in line with our personal politics, for donations to organizations that we already support and a smattering of handmade items from independent artisans.

tl;dr:

Registry etiquette is bullshit. If you want experiences over a spatula, a house fund over a stand mixer, or a donation to charity over a ice cream maker, then that's what you should register for.

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Comments on My tacky registry: Why I think registry etiquette is bullshit

  1. We said “no gifts” (we don’t need anything, we don’t have anyplace to put it even if we did, plus we’re having a destination wedding and feel weird asking for stuff when we’re already asking all the guests to drop a decent chunk of cash on travel) — and some people have been telling me that THIS is rude — that we NEED to provide a list of things we want so that people who want to buy us presents ANYWAY (despite our wishes) know what to buy. Whaaaa?

    • I hang out on an etiquette forum (long story), and they object to saying “no gifts, please” because it implies that you expect people to give you gifts. As the article says, that’s a perfectly reasonable expectation, and the vast majority of people have it, but admitting to it is wrong by their standards.

      • It’s also rather rude because it is restricting how you ‘like’ to be gifted, thus implying that you are not caring about the thought of the gift itself from friend/family/relatives or the joy they might get in blessing you.

        Pretty much, a ‘no gifts’ notice (unless the bride is literally living in a one-room cave or a missionary who has no space for anything) is a kill-joy for anyone who expresses love or happiness with gift-giving, and goes even farther to tell them that their contributions are completely unwanted.

          • I have spend about 99% of my wedding planning time making choices that won’t hurt feelings/step on toes/ make sure person X isn’t excluded etc…
            what I’ve lost in the process is remembering this is about celebrating the love my fiancé and I have for one another. It’s a shame that those stuck in age old traditions take away much of the excitement of planning a wedding. Just my two cents.

    • When it comes to registries apparently there is NO tacky-free option. So whatever, I say we all let our tacky-flags fly. lol

    • Oh god. I’m just about to send out invites to our destination wedding where we have also requested no gifts, I feel like hell is going to rain down upon me. The truth is that I’m actually fairly into gifts and would love some, but I agree with you about feeling weird when people have already spent the considerable sum to travel to our wedding.

      • Since there is no requirement that people bring gifts, then a ‘no gift’ notice is unneeded. Many people will already consider money spent on travel to be a gift, or just get a small gift or card in token of the day. Also, since gifts do not have to be given at the wedding and can be mailed months in advance or even after to the bride’s mothers house (or the new couples house,) those who really want to give gifts can work it into the budget and not have to worry about traveling with a present.

        However, telling the guests ‘no gifts’ shuts down the joy of anyone wanting to get a gift, and makes anyone planning on getting you a gift feel uncomfortable since now they feel that their contribution is ‘unwanted.’

        • Alternately they could, I dunno, take joy in the WEDDING and the COUPLE’S happiness? Nobody’s spitting in anyone’s face here, they’re just making THEIR event, that they’re PAYING FOR something that meets their vision of the day. I have a hard time considering that more selfish than rigid demands that they not hurt the feelings of people NOT GETTING MARRIED AT THIS EVENT who have a different vision of the day.

    • My cousin did a destination wedding. They also had an engagement party to celebrate with people who could not make the trip sine they knew it was going to be expensive for people. They flat out told everyone that if you were going to make the trip to the wedding then they wanted NO GIFTS. They said the gift was our attendance to the wedding.

      They did wind up making a registry for people to bring stuff to the engagement party but they did tell almost everyone not to worry about gifts. I believe most people just wound up giving them money in cards which was nice but not expected.

    • Ugh… you might want to register as a ‘just in case’ especially if your family happens to be older or traditional. Because I have a couple friends who did not register. They got lots of presents anyways, things they did not want or need, because people EXPECT to buy you a present.

      • When an middle aged couple from church got married, they didn’t register for gifts. People wanted to give and did so… and they received a large number of crystal picture frames / knick-knacks.

        They should have registered for gifts.

        • We ARE a middle aged couple who don’t need “stuff”. We haven’t made wedding plans yet. I thought eloping or having a tiny ceremony would shut down the gift problem, but now it seems improbable. Eck.

          • We made a registry for that reason!! Older people (grandparents!) like giving gift gifts and I decided I would rather have things I liked than random things – I didn’t want china but did want the cool glass goblets I registered for.

      • We didn’t want a registry but understood some people wanted guidance so we told people who asked that we liked ‘experience gifts’ – maybe we could all go to dinner or a movie together. This worked really well for us – we had some really fun gifts, including a gift certificate to the Kennedy Center and visit to a pro ice hockey game with friends! I think the key is to provide guidance but still leave room for some imagination.

  2. Registries aren’t even a thing over here in the UK.
    And boy have a had some not so nice remarks from Americans because we are asking for cash using a cash poem. Which btw are used all the time over here! In simple terms it says thank you for coming, if you would like to bring a gift we would like cash to decorate the house or towards a honeymoon, but no worries if you don’t we’re happy if you just bring yourselves. (But in a sweet rhyming poem, which people here like, so it doesn’t come across as ‘give us cash’)

    • Here’s what I wrote on our registry:

      “More than just kisses so far we’ve shared,
      our home has been made with Love and Care.
      Most things we need we’ve already got,
      and in our home we can’t fit a lot.
      Your presence at our wedding is all that we need,
      that will bring us great joy indeed!

      If you insist to give us a gift,
      some cash for our honeymoon would really give us a lift,
      However, if you prefer to shop all day,
      feel free to surprise us in your own way,
      please try to keep it light,
      as we have a really long flight.”

      I can’t take credit for the whole poem, I adapted it from something I found online. I did do a small ‘sokind’ registry as I thought of a few things that we really would like, some people may not like this and if they have a problem with it they can give us nothing and/or skip the wedding entirely. Honestly so fed up with people’s B.S. because they don’t like the decisions we’ve made, people are showing thier colours and we are finding out who will be real supporters to us in our marriage.

    • My step sister did this, and it was a bit surprising here in the sunny southeastern U.S. (the land of ancient obnoxious levels of etiquette). Her honey isn’t from the States, and they are both comfortably settled people already possessing the majority of their needs and desires. I thought it was utterly adorable, and they had guests hang envelopes from a tree like ornaments! It seems so much more practical and considerate.

    • It’s not just the UK, as an Australian I’ve been to a lot of weddings and have never seen a registry, never ever. The whole idea of it just seems so odd to me. I have been to many that have the give us cash poem or just state that there will be a wishing well. Personally I find the idea of requesting any sort of particular gift to be a bit off, things or cash but that’s just me.

      I don’t think it matters what you do there is always going to be someone who is not happy with it so you may as well just deal with it. It’s your wedding and your traditions and if someone does not like it they don’t have to come. I would say gift requests are just one of those things you cannot make without it bothering someone in some way.

      • And yet I’m Australian and haven’t been to a wedding in the past ten years where there wasn’t a gift registry!

    • When you said “cash to decorate the house” I imagined dollar bills all over your walls.

    • US guests objected to the adorable cash poem when so many weddings here have a dollar dance during the reception? I frequently do not understand my country.

  3. WORD! And very-well said.

    I just can’t wrap my head around the idea that a store registry where you PICK OUT THINGS YOU WANT YOUR GUESTS TO BUY FOR YOU is “okay” but anything else that involves picking out things you want your guests to buy for you isn’t. Are the big box stores spreading these rumors to try to make more money? lol.

    But I’ve seen people even here on OBB saying that they don’t like the idea of a honeymoon registry.

    I think it’s kind of like the stigma against online dating, which I thought had vanished but is apparently still alive and well in some circles. The end result is you go on a date with someone – or the end result is that you get a wedding gift. Does it really matter HOW you got to that end point?

    I’m marrying a guy I met online and we’re doing a honeyfund registry, and anyone who doesn’t like that or thinks it’s tacky can skip our wedding 🙂

    • That’s the hard time I’ve been having with registries, because we would feel tacky having a regular registry! I would never judge anyone else for doing it and I love buying stuff off of other people’s registries, but it’s not something that’s in line with our sensibilities and it seems crazy to me that it’s the only non-tacky option. Because etiquette?

      • Traditional registries are my favorite scavenger hunt, I use them to find the wackiest thing on the list. One year it was duckie shower curtain rings, another a bocce ball set.

    • I’m also marrying a guy I met online, and we’re doing a honeymoon fund. We’re just all sorta levels of tacky! 🙂

    • It is absolutely the big box stores perpetuating this! I did the “traditional” registry at Bed, Bath & Beyond and then they called me to say I didn’t have enough on the registry! They said for 100 guests I should register for 300 things because guests like a variety (it’s all about my guests). But if I am being forced to pick out things I want people to buy me, I don’t want to water it down with 200 other things that I maybe don’t need and are just for padding.
      Also, we only did the registry to give the registry die-hards something to work from. We also put in a note about loving home made and second hand gifts, the few we actually got of that variety are absolutely our favorites!

      • Oh Lord! I would love to know what Bed, Bath and Beyond would say about our 25 item registry for 177 guests! We just don’t NEED much. We literally put everything we don’t currently have as far as living items on the registry and it came to 25 items, that’s it! That’s why we also asked for cash or gift cards because with just the registry it was like, well, 25 people can buy us something and the rest are SOL.

        • Yes, it was an awkward conversation with me trying to explain to her why I don’t need 300 bed or bath things.
          On another note, we also registered at REI which could be considered “less traditional” and we got all the gifts from that registry and only about half from the BB&B registry. So guests DO like to buy the fun things! We were able to register for a National Parks yearly pass and have used that waaaaay more than some of the housewares we “needed”

  4. Truth. Some cultures you’re just going to get wedding gifts, and often physical items. It is NOT gauche to indicate a preference; people can take it or leave it. It’s one of those “damned if you do, damned if you don’t things.” Here’s how we handled it (taken from our wedding website FAQs):

    Q. Awesome! Psyched for you guys! Where can I get you a gift to celebrate your new life together?

    A. We know that for some people, this is an important aspect of celebrating a marriage, so we have a very small registry of physical objects we could use; funds for our life goals; and charities we love and support. If you would like to congratulate us in any of these ways, feel free. Registry information is available on this website.

    However. HOWEVER.

    This “new life together” isn’t all that new. In fact, after living together so long we’ve really cultivated a home together that feels very “us.” Also, we live in Chicago, so space in the apartment is at a premium–and we’re already trying to cut down on the amount of stuff we have. Finally, we know a lot of you will be traveling to celebrate at some of these events, and travel is expensive! We are so grateful for your friendship, love, and support, and your presence in our lives and at any of these celebrations is gift enough. Seriously.

  5. My wedding registry is at a big-box store that is famous for its, shall we say, bullseye logo. My fiancé wanted an upgrade to his cooking supplies, so he’s in charge of that. I joke that we chose this retailer only because Barnes and Noble doesn’t do wedding registries . . . yet.

    “Tacky” and etiquette are such fast-moving targets (haha), not only because of culture and regions but also because of time. My parents and I have butted heads because they’ve done wedding things that are considered “tacky” today but weren’t considered “tacky” 30 years ago when they got married, and vice versa with me doing things in line with etiquette today that would have been the epitome of “tacky” 30 years ago. (For example, my grandma, for some reason, believes it’s tacky when a bride DOESN’T wear a hat, so she forced my mom to wear one in her wedding and tried to convince me to wear one. Now, if a hat is part of your wedding ensemble, rock on with your bad self, but yeah, no hat for me.)

    And some “etiquette” advice from 50 or 60 years ago would make your feminist jaw drop today, like one bit I recall from a 1950’s bridal magazine that said it was “against etiquette” for a bride getting remarried to wear a veil, as “she is no longer pure.” WHAAAAAAAAT. Try to pull that shit today and you’d get at the very least a strongly-worded lecture. Makes you wonder what wedding etiquette we’re telling people today that will make people go “seriously?” in the future.

    • B&N will do them. I used to work there, when I worked in the kids Dept I did Baby registries. Some employees at some stores may tell you they don’t because it is mostly done by hand, written out. I never had an issue with it. Sometimes the customers would just wrote down the titles of what they liked & sometimes I walked around & did it. (Depended on how busy it was)
      We also don’t need a lot of things for our wedding, We registered at the Bull’s eye Logo place also. I think there’s about 20 items on it. We decided to because they sent us an offer for a $20 if we did so & some people have asked. I am trying to stress that NO GIFTS are required tho.

  6. First off the Social idea sounds brilliant. My guess is it works better in Smaller communities (not a city) and it’s a shame that something so unique is being killed off because the mainstream find it ‘tacky’. It seems like the original crowd funding 🙂

    I have a partial Chinese background and gift giving is not a thing, in fact it is about as uncouth to them as money gifting seems to be in the West. Its traditional to at least give the couple enough to cover the cosy of your meal. You gain social standing if you can afford, and do, give more. (Sweeping generality alert) The Chinese love to gossip and it soon gets out who had given the most and can be a bit of a competition between guests to be that one.

  7. I’d love it if Socials were a thing in my area. $10 and a possibly entry or two at an auction for a night of dancing and drinking? Sounds more interesting than the normal dinner/bar, or asking each other what we want to do with no real answer routine. As long as you’re providing entertainment and fun at least worth the price of admission, it sounds like a good time all around!

  8. Love love love this article. My fiance and I will be moving to go teach in China literally two days after the wedding. We are only allowed to take two suitcases each, weighing 50 pounds per suitcase. What on earth are we supposed to do with presents? Put them in storage for potentially years to gather dust?

    I had such a hard time trying to figure out the nicest possible way to say “no gifts” and get the message out there to the people we invited. Everywhere I looked it said “tacky, tacky, tacky” “It makes your wedding like a gift grab, register anyway.” I didn’t want to insult anyone, it was a difficult task. In the end my mother put a nice little insert into each invitation that said “As we will be moving to China after the wedding the bride and groom request well wishes or a donation to their new home in China fund.” or something to that effect. It was quite well worded.

    • Wait…not registering and saying No Gifts somehow looks like a gift grab??? People are out of their minds.

  9. What really burns my biscuits about the traditional registry is that you’re so limited as to what you can register for: bedding, dishes, kitchenware, bathroom supplies. That’s it. When Husband and I got married, we had all of that stuff, but we needed a new bed that wasn’t haunted by the ghosts of girlfriends past. Totally appropriate wedding gift, but it wasn’t something I could register for. Other people might really need a new car or repairs done to their house, but where does Macy’s stock those for a quick scan? I got the impression that people expected us to register for expensive gifts that we could return to pay for a bed (or repairs, or a generator, or whatever). So how is registering for expensive presents for the purpose of returning them less tacky than asking people to contribute to a larger wedding gift?

    • Also! Some stores won’t allow you to return gifts for cash– they will only give you store credit. So that doesn’t help you at ALL if you need to pay for car repairs or any number of other things. Plus it’s absurd to expect a couple to go through the trouble of returning gifts they don’t want/can’t use, when you KNOW that they don’t want them/can’t use them, in order to get enough cash together to do important repair work or make a large purchase that will really improve living situation/quality of life/etc. If you ask me, THAT is rude!

    • I was just going to write that all my future husband and I need is a new mattress! Both of ours are too old to comfortably mention (even though they are both still comfortable to each of us – mine for me and his for him). But I cannot ask guests to contribute towards a new mattress – he has even said he’s against it because he doesn’t want to put “ideas” into people’s heads about what we’ll get up to on the mattress. It’s kinda funny, if you think about it. “Thanks for the new mattress, we enjoy it so much!” 😉
      (Future husband has also asked if we can put a new motorcycle on the registry – ha!)

  10. The only thing I think is rude is expecting a gift. I don’t think it’s rude to ask that if people would like to get you one, they give fancy china from a registry, money towards your home or honeymoon, a donation for charity, or a gift they choose themselves supporting a local business or artist. Whatever works for you.

    But it’s fairly likely that on your guest list, you either have people who are not well off, or people who need to travel a long way and hence spend a lot of money to attend your wedding, and I think that making it clear gifts are totally optional and you are just happy to see whoever you’ve invited will take any sting out of whatever-it-is you’ve requested.

    • It is pretty rude to indicate what ‘type’ of gift you find acceptable, as it implies that you do not trust the giver to get you anything you want or like. Furthermore, it sort of defeats the purpose of wedding presents to begin with – which are about friends and family giving what they think would be good for the couple to start out on their new life together.

      It’s OK to indicate some preferences by making registries if you want (though not required) – so long as those are not treated as mandatory, the only gifts allowed, put on the invite, etc. It is rather rude to post anything like ‘no gifts’ or ‘charity in lieu of gifts only’ or ‘honeymoon cash only’ – since again those defeat the purpose of friends and family participating in the new life of the couple, and also snubs the thoughtfulness of anyone planning on giving or making a gift.

      • Rude or not, I’d rather give guidance on gift-giving. First, because every Holiday season I PANIC trying to figure out what to buy people. And Second, because I’ve MET the people in a position to give me gifts, and I know we have divergent tastes. They don’t always know it. Unwanted guidance is better than the face I’d involuntarily make otherwise. The guests who I haven’t met, I Also don’t trust to know what I like. Why should I?

      • It’s rude to ask people to donate to your choice of charity instead of buying a blender you don’t want or need???? That is so backwards to me.

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