Miss Manners: Bridal shower gift charade is something more than farce

January 11, 2012

DEAR MISS MANNERS: In the last few years, I have become aware of a new custom in bridal showers that seems troubling: The bride lives across the country, and is coming to town for a bridal shower (or baby shower) hosted by a good friend of her mother’s.

So far, so good, right?

After all the lovely gifts are opened, she announces that she will of course be returning each and every one of them, so she doesn’t have to cart them home with her, which would be impossible. She intends to repurchase them when she returns home. There are, of course, some gifts that will have to be kept, but by and large, they all go back.

Somehow, this seems very offensive, and I’m not sure why. She sends a note and is grateful, but it all seems like such a farce.

Does Miss Manners have a solution? I admit I’m not sure how to solve this one, and I’m not even sure who is incorrect, the guest for feeling like her gift was returned, or the bride for creating the pretext of accepting the gift in the first place.

GENTLE READER: It may be a fraud as well as a farce. Salespeople in stores with bridal registries — which by now must be every commercial enterprise with the possible exception of funerary monuments — have told Miss Manners how it works.

The couple registers for all sorts of items, usually expensive ones, and returns everything for refunds. Apparently they believe that this launders their money-grab.

But even if you believe that the bride will purchase just those items she was given, it is still insulting to have sent her guests out buying. Miss Manners’s solution would be to take back the rejected item and say, “Oh, dear, no, let me save you the trouble of returning it.” You need not trouble her again.

DEAR MISS MANNERS: Is it rude to ask someone how they know another person? I have a good friend who continually asks me how I know a given person, as if surprised that my path would have crossed with this person’s.

We live in the same town, thus having similar experiences, and I don’t understand why she is so interested in knowing my connection to everyone mentioned.

For instance, if I am at the same party she is, she will ask me how I know the host. Her inflection implies that she simply doesn’t understand why I would have been invited.

It wouldn’t be a big deal except that I am starting to feel that she is becoming competitive, and I don’t understand why. It has become very annoying. Do you have a good answer to this question that would be respectfully appropriate? I truly like her and don’t want to compete.

GENTLE READER: Then don’t. This is only a common conversational ploy, much used by those who have heard that asking people what they “do” (or, in the case of people they know, what they have been doing lately), is considered offensive because it is used to determine whether they are important enough to talk to.

Miss Manners asks you to assume that your friends, and even the strangers whom you meet through friends, do not intend to insult you unless they can come up with something more blatant.

Visit Miss Manners at her Web site, www.missmanners.com, where you can send her your questions.

2012, by Judith Martin

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