washingtonpost.com  > Columns > Miss Manners

Taken Aback by Gift Requests

By Judith Martin
Sunday, April 10, 2005; Page D02

While Miss Manners bemoans the epidemic of greed that is spreading throughout society, others are trying to do something about it. As appalled as she at the demands of those who consider every occasion of their lives to be a fundraising opportunity and their well-wishers as a source of income, they are thinking of ways to opt out.

The cheapest way would be to skip parties where they are told to fork over cash or certain items. What are the disappointed so-called hosts going to do about it -- turn over their gift registries to collection agencies?

But the anti-greed brigade is composed of nicer people. They honestly want to celebrate their friends' birthdays, graduations, engagements, weddings, housewarmings, babies and such, and would have thought of giving them presents had the celebrants not preempted this privilege.

So they go along with the constant instructions to give and donate, only balking when encountering a particularly outrageous example. And there is no dearth of those. From the number of people who festoon their invitations with requests for specific goods and cash, you would think that panhandling had become one of the social graces.

Not to dignified people, of course. Miss Manners is grateful to find so many who refuse to forfeit their self-respect, and are alarmed at the pressure to do so. Their acquaintances insist on interpreting their celebrations as demands for presents and demand, in return, that they finish the job by registering the particulars. To escape being greedy while not insulting their greedy friends, they adopt one of the following ploys:

1) Asking for donations to charity instead of presents.

Examples: "My fiance's being a Type-1 diabetic has greatly affected our lives, so we are asking for donations to a juvenile diabetes foundation." . . . "My 10-year-old has decided she doesn't want gifts from her friends at her birthday party, she wants them to bring something (food, toys) that can be donated to the local animal shelter." . . . "When our son became a bar mitzvah, we included an information sheet describing two charities our son chose."

2) Asking for something inexpensive or homemade.

Examples: "We are telling people to write a short poem about love." . . . "We thought it would be wonderful to receive wine and champagne glasses -- symbols of celebration we could use again and again over the years, selections available to suit any budget, leaving all color and style choices up to the giver."

3) Asking not to be given presents. The standard example is putting "No gifts" on the invitation, but the whimsical favor "Your presence is our present."

All of these ideas are unselfishly meant, and Miss Manners hates to throw a damper on them. But the first makes trouble when the guest disagrees with the worth of the designated cause, and the second when the guest considers the task to be a nuisance. The third is unfortunately often now interpreted to mean that cash is expected rather than goods.

More importantly, all of them say, "You owe me, but I'm going to let you off easy." And they have transformed a gracious custom into a flat-out debt.

Here are a few things the un-greedy can do:

1) Come to agreements with relatives and with the parents of other children about limits on exchanges.

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