Q. Since my finance and I are both in our late 20s and have been working professionals for some time, we really are not lacking in any of the material comforts. What we would prefer to do is let those of our friends and relatives who might offer us wedding gifts know that we would prefer that they make a donation to charity we've selected which has great meaning for us. Can we do so tactfully? And if so, how?
A. Yours is the most altruistic of the many letters Miss Manners receives from people who want to have some control over the selection of presents they expect. Others ask "How can I let them know I want money instead of some crummy toaster?" or "Instead of each giving us silver we won't use, why can't our friends get together and pay our mortage?" Then there are the people who either sympathize with their friends' problems of buying presents or profoundly distrust their taste, and want to say "No gifts, please" on their invitations.
What Miss Manners must tell all of you, regardless of your motives, is that there is no tasteful way -- not even any moderately decent way -- of directing present-giving, when you are on the recieving end.
Contrary to general belief, present-giving is never required. It is traditionally associated with birthdays, Christmas and weddings, but cannot be used as an entrance fee to related festivities. You must pretend that you invite prople because you want to celebrate important occasions with them and you must seem pleasantly surprised when they give you something. To act as if it is such standard payment that you can acknowledge your expectations is rude-rude-rude.
Perhaps what has confused you, is the business gimmick of the bridal registry, by which engaged couples inform stores of their tastes in the hope that their friends will come in, get this information and act on it.
There is just enough distance between the giver and the receiver to make this a passable practice. The bride and bridegroom do not actually instruct their friends -- they only tell their preference to a neutral business establishment. And the present-givers only receive the information if they ask for it.
Another practice that has confused you is that of bereaved families who ask that "contributions" be made to a charity instead of flowers being sent to them or to the funeral. This is also a borderline case, most practical when there are huge numbers of mourners and it is known that there will be more than enough flowers. (Notice to florists: Miss Manners adores flowers, and believes that they are an important, symbolic part of a funeral, but too many of them, sent to the bereaved family's house, can be oppressive.)
However, we were talking about weddings, not funerals, and the chartiable donation idea is appropriate to the latter. Your wedding guests should not have to "memorialize" you with a charitable contribution in your name. If they want to remember you charitably, they can invite you for dinner.
So the answer is no. Miss Manners knows you mean well, but you must take what people decide to give you, looking grateful that they went to the trouble to get you anything at all. And then you exchange it.
Q. I am afriad that I must take exception to your response to the reader who asked if it were proper to eat asparagus with your fingers. I have it on good authority that one's fingers should never be eaten with any other food. I suspect that you misunderstood the question.
A. How right you are. But after the fingers convey the asparagus to the mouth, the fingers may then be eaten with whatever remains of the Hollandaise sauce.