A newlywed British couple wrote to one of their guests after she gave them a £100 gift, asking if they would like to make an ‘adjustment’ to the amount and give them a bit more.
The story has triggered a fresh wave of etiquette-based soul searching and concern—in the land that invented them—that we have entered the post-manners age.
The shocked guest, who had recently received an inheritance, took to U.K. bulletin board mumsnet.com to voice their astonishment at the letter which said, “We were surprised that your contribution didn’t seem to match the warmth of your good wishes on our big day. In view of your own position, if you wanted to send any adjustment it would be thankfully received.”
After they posted details of the incident, they received thousands of responses and national newspaper coverage.
Most respondents urged them to cancel the original check.
The Daily Beast (politely) requested comment from some leading lights in the world of etiquette on the affair.
Nick Sullivan, the immaculately well-behaved, British-born fashion editor of America’s Esquire magazine, said, “Canceling the original check would be to descend to the bridal couple’s level and negate the completely normal and generous spirit in which it was originally given.
“Marital moneyfests have been part of the wedding ceremony in countless cultures for thousands of years and, of course, it’s justifiable in relatively impoverished places where it’s a couple’s one moment in life to set themselves up for raising a family.
“But that’s not what we’re talking about here.
“This is about people seeing the wedding list as a way to line their pockets.”
Indeed, a wedding planner who spoke to The Daily Beast on condition of anonymity said, “It’s not uncommon for the happy couple to embark on a vicious round of character assassination as they unwrap each gift and try to guess how much it is worth.
“When people are specifically asking to be given money, they are often looking to get ‘refunded’ or make a ‘profit’ on the cost of the wedding. Anyone who works in this business has seen them start slagging off people who give them less than a certain amount. The only difference here is that the couple actually went one step further and sent this email. They probably sent a dozen of them.”
Indeed, some might say that complaining about the size of a cash gift is not so much worse than the venerable tradition of a ‘wedding list’ where couples leave a list of all the things they desire at a department store (the polite excuse for the thinking behind the list is to avoid duplication).
According to some sources in the wedding world, this itself is a tradition that is increasingly being abused.
“A nice couple will always strive to make their wedding list ‘modular,’ said the expert. “So, for example, they might put their names down at Spode [the posh crockery company] and you could buy them anything from one teacup to a soup tureen. But increasingly you see wedding lists where things just start at £300. Guests feel they are being held to ransom.”
Sullivan makes the point that although manners in general “do generally seem to be stored in the fossil department of the Smithsonian these days,” hosting a wedding brings out the worst in people.
“Good manners are generally designed to focus one’s thoughts on others instead of oneself. People with poor manners are generally egomaniacs. While planning a wedding, bridal couples can sometimes briefly merge into a single Jabba The Hut-like being of self-centeredness.”
So how to reply to a letter seeking an ‘adjustment’ to a wedding gift?
Bill Prince, deputy editor of British GQ, suggests advising such people to seek annulment: “I would say if anyone put my present ahead of my presence in any consideration of the success of their nuptials I would send them the number of a divorce lawyer. Manners should be taught at the same time as the facts of life—ignorance, whether willful or not, will only lead to trouble later in life.”
Sullivan says, “I think the only answer I would send is ‘Wow.’ Nothing else. It is not an attack but makes it clear, if they care to think about it, that they have somehow stepped across a line and done something inexcusable.”
The wedding planner says, however, that we should be more generous. “This is far from the worse behavior I have ever seen. In the run-up to most weddings, either the bride or groom tells some close family member (usually an in-law) that they never want to see them again and wish they were dead. You have to chalk it up to temporary insanity and forgive them. Most of these Bride and Groom-zillas are back to normal within a few months.”
The poster of the story themselves returned to the thread to say that, in the end, she chose to reply with one sentence: “I assume this was some sort of mistake?”
Some days later, she said, the bride had still not responded.