Ka-Ching! 'Ask Amy' Answers Wedding Etiquette Questions It's wedding season, and some couples are asking the guests to bring their love, their support, and their CASH to pay for the ceremony. Are 'pot luck weddings' the latest craze, or just a bad phase?
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Ka-Ching! 'Ask Amy' Answers Wedding Etiquette Questions

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NEAL CONAN, host:

'Tis the season, you know the one, when your fridge is covered with wedding invitations. Jim and Jane are pleased to cordially invite you to their wedding on thus-and-such a date, and they are registered at the bank of Jim and Jane. That's right, the economy is a little screwy, and the price of everything is up. Some couples are asking guests to pay for their wedding. "Ask Amy's" Amy Dickinson has received more than a few letters on this subject. She joins us to help navigate this particular nuptial minefield, as she does every other Thursday, and Amy, welcome back.

Ms. AMY DICKINSON ("Ask Amy," Chicago Tribune): Hey, Neal. You know, this week I actually I was opening my mail and I had a trifecta, one letter from a man asking if it was OK to ask his guests to help pay for his own wedding, another from a birthday girl who wanted her guests to give her money instead of gifts, and another from a woman who was asked to help contribute to a funeral fund to pay for a funeral.

CONAN: So it's not just weddings. It's funerals and birthdays, too.

MS. DICKINSON: Yeah. And actually, they're different. I feel like there is a tradition of people certainly, in certain areas, where I live especially, of people helping to pay for a funeral if the family can't afford it, so that's sort of a different thing. But it really caught my eye.

CONAN: And we want to hear from listeners on this. If you've sent one of these invites or received one, let us know if you think it's tacky or just practical. Our number, 800 989 8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. You can also weigh in on our blog at npr.org/blogofthenation.

Amy, in terms of weddings, you know, some couples have lived together for a long time, a number of years. They don't need a blender. They don't need necessarily china. The standard wedding gifts are really not appropriate.

MS. DICKINSON: Right, and this is - this reflects the letter I opened this week from a man who said he had been with his partner, his male partner, for 23 years. They live in California. They are happy that they can now get married. And he said in the letter, gee, Amy, weddings are really expensive. I want to have a wonderful party for my family and friends. We don't need anything.

So is it OK if I ask my family and friends to help pay for the wedding? We really don't want to pay for it because we're saving up for our son's education. And so in my answer I said, well, if you don't want to pay for it, why would your family and friends want to pay for it? I mean, there is this idea that people can the idea is, well, you're going to bring a gift anyway, so why don't you let me tell you what the gift will be?

CONAN: Yeah.

MS. DICKINSON: And the gift will be the party itself that you are an alleged guest to.

CONAN: Isn't that the point? Unless it's a potluck dinner or something, if you're throwing the party, you're throwing the party.

MS. DICKINSON: Exactly. And here's what I loved. His letter said, this is a wonderful celebration for our family and friends, and then, of course, he wants them to pay for it. And the thing is I actually love the idea of a potluck wedding. You know, it's casual. It's - everybody brings something to the church hall, and let's, after the ceremony, sit down and celebrate together. I love that. This isn't like that. This is more like, I want to throw a celebration that is out of my means to host, and so, I would like to ask the guests to basically - it's almost like charging at the door.

CONAN: Hm. I don't think anybody would quite do that.

MS. DICKINSON: No.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Let's see if we can get a caller in on this conversation. Francis is calling from Charlottesville in Virginia.

FRANCIS (Caller): Hi.

CONAN: Hi.

FRANCIS: Yeah, I actually just attended a potluck wedding over the weekend, and one of the things that was requested of me - I'm actually an amateur photographer, and so I ended up taking the wedding photos for the wedding. They had tried to get a photographer earlier that had much, you know, a cheaper discount, but because I'm good friends with the bride and groom and they liked how I took pictures, they decided that they wanted me to do that. Which I was actually happy to do, but you know, it's interesting, because the whole - they also got a band to pay for free, and we did have a potluck as the - you know, an actual potluck for the reception, and the wedding took place at a friend's house.

Ms. DICKINSON: You know, I love that. I love that whole idea and one problem I have with this letter was it wasn't like that. He wanted to throw a lavish, what sounded like a very fancy party. And in my answer to him, I say, why don't you barter? Why don't you get creative and try to barter for some goods and services and you might get close to the wedding you want to have? But asking people to literally give you cash to offset the cost of the wedding? I don't like that at all.

FRANCIS: Well, it's interesting, because I felt very - you know, I think we all felt very good about it because these were our friends and these were things that we could do for them.

CONAN: Yeah.

FRANCIS: To send them off well. But it wasn't yeah - you're right. It was not money.

CONAN: And giving modern technology, you didn't have to lay out a lot of money for film either, I assume.

FRANCIS: That's correct. It was all digital.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: And processing, well, that's just a little bit of time.

FRANCIS: Yes, that's right.

CONAN: All right. Well, thanks for the call, Francis.

FRANCIS: All right, thank you very much.

CONAN: Bye-bye. Let's go next to Jeff, and Jeff's with us from Columbus, Ohio.

JEFF (Caller): Hi, how're you doing today?

CONAN: Very well, thank you.

JEFF: You know, I actually wanted to make a comment. You know, my partner and I were planning on getting married. And obviously, we live in Ohio where same-sex marriages, you know, are not approved by the state. It's actually in our state's constitution now. So for us, we would have to travel for our wedding, and you know, we were actually kind of curious about the etiquette ,you know?

We have a lot of friends and a lot of family, and we really wouldn't be able to afford to fly them all, you know, to California or Massachusetts for the ceremony, you know. How would we go about doing that, you know? How - what's the limit of people you should invite when you're asking them, you know, pay for airfare and possibly even hotel?

Ms. DICKINSON: Well, you know what? When - this a great question, but when you're throwing - when you're having a wedding, getting married, there are always out-of-town guests. And I mean, it's unique in this situation because you also have to travel. But I would say just keep it really simple. I - my own recommendation would be that your guests, their gift to you would be their presence at the event, and that you find a way to throw a simple event that includes as many people as can make it.

CONAN: And so...

JEFF: It's kind of our intention, too. I mean, we've been together for quite awhile, and we don't need presents, you know. We've got a blender, you know, got a microwave. You know, we just wanted it to be about, you know, the people we care about.

CONAN: But you're saying, Amy, that people should, you know - you should expect that people would pay their own way to San Francisco or Boston or wherever and...

Ms. DICKINSON: Absolutely. You know, your guests should pay their own way to the event, and it would be extra generous of you if you did say, in lieu of gifts, you know, we would just like to see you. We hope you can make it out.

JEFF: So, thank you very much for taking my call.

CONAN: Well, good luck, Jeff.

JEFF: Thank you.

Ms. DICKINSON: Congratulations.

JEFF: Thank you.

CONAN: Bye-bye. Let's see if we can get another caller on the air and let's go to Vincent. Vincent is with us from Philadelphia. Vincent, you're there?

VINCENT (Caller): Hello, yes?

CONAN: Hi, Vincent, go ahead. You're on the air.

VINCENT: This is Vincent. I'm good. How are you? Well, I was quite curious about your guest's comment, actually. I'm Chinese and I live in this country for 10 years, but I want to tell you that the Chinese have always done that. You put cash in an envelope, bring it to the wedding, everybody does it. And I want to tell you my sister, when my sister got married, she ended up actually having a net gain of 6,000 dollars, which paid for her honeymoon, too, U.S. equivalent, yeah. Now she lives in Hong Kong, and...

Ms. DICKINSON: Vincent...

VINCENT: I don't see why people can't do it?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. DICKINSON: Now, that's amazing. That's fantastic, and actually, I always say in my answers to these questions that in some cultures this is absolutely done, has always been done, and everyone does it and it's accepted. There are other cultures...

VINCENT: We - yeah. Also, to me, I would very much prefer getting cash than any gift, to me. And I would rather receive 50 dollars rather than a 100-dollar gift. I'm sure most people would feel that way, too.

Ms. DICKINSON: But you know, the idea behind a gift is that you - see, I think part of the thinking here. It's like being able to register for cash. You know, we have this idea that we can register. We can sign up for a gift registry, and basically dictate what people will give to us. And I think this is just one step further, because we're basically saying, I want to dictate the gift that you give to me and the gift that I want is cash. I've heard of couples, this doesn't surprise me, actually, who register for gifts, they get those gifts and then they basically exchange them for cash. It's very silly.

CONAN: Yeah. Well, Vincent, thanks very much, and we hope...

VINCENT: Thank you.

CONAN: You do as well as your predecessor in that, in your - when you get married.

VINCENT: OK. Thank you.

CONAN: Bye-bye. Let's see Gary's on the line. And Gary is calling us from Marin County in California.

GARY (Caller): Hey, Neal and Amy. Thanks for having me on.

CONAN: Sure. Go ahead, please.

GARY: My wife and I were married five years this September, it will be, and in our invitation, we asked people to - and I don't remember the exact wording, but we asked them to pitch in to the cost of the honeymoon. And we threw a really nice, catered wedding in our backyard, so it was a beautiful event, about a 100 people. And folks were very generous, and we never heard a word of compliant. And we were in our late 40s when we were married, so I think it was clear to everybody that we don't need more stuff. We have just combined two households, so it just seemed to work across the board.

CONAN: And where did you go on the honeymoon?

GARY: We went to Montreal and Vermont.

CONAN: Montreal and to Vermont, well...

GARY: And we went to my hometown of Detroit and her hometown of Chicago, where our friends and family each threw, you know, brunches and stuff for us that saved them the cost of having to come out to California, and us having to have a wedding of, you know, 300 people.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: So that...

Ms. DICKINSON: You know, there are websites now where you can actually - you can register for a honeymoon, and you could ask your guests to go to the website, and they can purchase for you cappuccino for two in Paris, or you know, you basically assign different dollar amounts to these experiences, and your guests can purchase these experiences for you.

I did this. I participated in this vacation registry for a couple and was happy to do so. Look, if you want that, that's OK for you, but then I heard that they hadn't actually gone on that trip, and then thinking, what about what about my cappuccino for two in Paris? What happened to that? You know, they've done something else instead, so...

CONAN: They probably took the money and bought a toaster oven.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. DICKINSON: Yeah.

CONAN: Gary, thanks very much for the call.

GARY: Thanks, Neal.

CONAN: So long. We're talking with Amy Dickinson of the syndicated "Ask Amy" column distributed by the Chicago Tribune. It also appears in that newspaper and hundreds of others across the country. You're listening to Talk of the Nation from NPR News. Nancy is on the line. Nancy is calling us from Louisville in Kentucky.

NANCY (Caller): Hi. Just a couple of comments. One is I think it's really tacky to ask for gifts or even spell out what you want unless you're asked. If I am shopping for someone and I don't really know them, I really appreciate some sort of indication what they'd like. And I would probably ask a couple that I knew had been together for awhile because I would understand that they probably have all the stuff they needed. But you know, this whole idea of throwing a wedding and asking people to pay for it, I'm like, gosh, you just save up your money.

I got married at home in a borrowed dress, and you know, we had 30 people. It wasn't a big deal, and you know, it's about the - what you're doing, not stuff, and you know, just this whole attitude of, I'm entitled to something because I'm getting married, is just really appalling to me. I don't - you know, it's not just people getting married. Now, I - having said that, I'm originally from Colorado where one group - and I don't even know, it was called a Dutch Hop. I think they were German, actually.

Part of the tradition there in that subset was that there would be a polka dance in the evening, and a dance with the bride. You either pin money on the bride or you put money in some sort of little sack she carried. And that was a way to pay up usually, I think, for the reception. That wasn't my tradition. You know, we were the mints and cookies and cake in the basement of the church crowd, and this is a beer-drinking, polka crowd.

(Soundbite of laughter)

NANCY: But that kind of - I mean, I just - in fact, a couple of times when people sort of indicated what they wanted on their wedding invitation, I've been inclined to say, I'm not even going to go. I mean, it's just so tacky I think I don't want to be near this. But...

Ms. DICKINSON: Right, and just to clarify, you know, the etiquette is that people should never even mention gifts on an invitation.

NANCY: Yeah.

Ms. DICKINSON: You're inviting people to share an experience with you, and it shouldn't even be mentioned on the invitation.

NANCY: Yeah, absolutely. I was getting, you know, even showers. We were - nobody in the family ever thought to throw a shower. You know, friends, neighbors could do it, but for somebody in the family asking for gifts for the bride or groom was also considered tacky when I was growing up. So I don't know, perhaps I'm old...

CONAN: All right.

Ms. DICKINSON: It still is.

NANCY: Thank you.

CONAN: Nancy, thank you. And let's go now to Marty, and Marty's with us from Fort Huachuca in Arizona.

MARTY (Caller): Hey, good day. Thank you for taking my call. My concept is this. It's a little abstract, but it goes to the, if it takes a village to raise a child, maybe it takes a village to, you know, join a husband and wife together. Could you - I mean, is this over-tacky? I'm kind of thinking it would be, but if - what if you put shares of your wedding up on a public auction website and you give a kind of date, say, 30 days before wedding we cut it off and how many shares our guests bought, well, that's our budget for the wedding?

And then the second I'd like to suggest to the gentleman from Ohio who's going to get married. Maybe he could video teleconference that back to, like, you know, a hall of some kind and then their guests, while they're not actually there with them, I think they can sort of participate with it. You know, we have to VTC a lot of things, you know, when we got a lot of people down range in Iraq and stuff. So VTC is a real popular concept. Maybe that's just a suggestion for him. And I'll take my comments off air, thank you.

CONAN: OK, Marty, thanks very much.

Ms. DICKINSON: OK. Marty, the idea of shareholders, what I'm wondering is, what do the shareholders get? Are they there on the wedding night? Do they get to witness you fighting? Like, what's the story? The idea is that when you purchase shares in something, you have an investment in that thing. And I love the idea of a community making en emotional investment, and that's what they do when they witness you taking your vows. They are basically swearing to be a witness to your union. But the idea of kicking money in and then owning a share of your marriage, it's fascinating - it's interesting.

CONAN: I do like the idea, though, of video conferencing, particularly if you've got friends in places like Iraq.

Ms. DICKINSON: Absolutely. Technology is amazing and it's perfect for things like this. But you know, the idea that people should dictate what others gift to them, it's starting - even very young children now are registering for their birthday parties, and I got a letter from a mom who said she was very embarrassed that the child's mother, she gave a five year old a gift and the mother said, he's only accepting gift cards.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: What?

Ms. DICKINSON: Yeah. And you know, the idea about marriage is like weddings, extravagant weddings, this - the original letter, you know, this guy wanted a fancy wedding and one of the things I said in my response was, you need to recalibrate your expectations. That's part of what marriage is about, sort of changing and altering your expectations. And that goes along with having a scaled-down wedding, if that's all you can do.

CONAN: I'm afraid we're out of time. We got some more interesting callers with interesting questions about this practice, but "Ask Amy" will be back with us in a couple of weeks. Amy Dickinson, good to talk with you again. I hope your voice feels better.

Ms. DICKINSON: Thank you, Neal.

CONAN: Amy Dickinson writes a syndicated column, "Ask Amy," for the Chicago Tribune, with us today from the studios at Cornell University in Ithaca New York. If you're struggling with a piece of human behavior, you can bet Amy's got an answer for you. You can hear this and all of our "Ask Amy" segments in our podcast, which is at npr.org/podcasts. Tomorrow, it's Science Friday. Guest host Joe Palca will be here. We'll see you again on Monday. It's the Talk of the Nation from NPR News. I am Neal Conan in Washington.

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