You Pull And I Won’t Push

by admin on March 31, 2014

This isn’t really an etiquette hell story, but I’m not sure that I replied correctly.

Dear Son (turning 6) is having a birthday party. We sent an evite to all the kids in his class — it’s only 8 kids. One mom asked on the evite (so all can see it), “Please — need gift ideas!”

I would LOVE to put “no gifts please” on invitations, but I know we’re not supposed to do that, so I don’t. I replied (on the evite, so all can see it), “We never open gifts during the party, so it’s certainly not at all necessary! :) He loves art and Lego, though. But please don’t feel obligated!”

What should I have said? 0321-14

You did fine with what you responded.   The guest “pulled” that information from you with a question as opposed to you taking the initiative to push it on them and there is nothing wrong with a little pulling.

{ 29 comments… read them below or add one }

Tracy W March 31, 2014 at 4:20 am

New here. Just to say, I put “no gifts please” on invites. It may be rude to give the impression that I’m thinking about gifts, but hey, I’m greedy about my time, I like spending time with my friends and family and don’t like spending it dealing with a bunch of presents I never wanted in the first place, I already have enough problems with clutter. My guests never seem that put out, I suspect that the ones outraged by the idea that I might have actually thought about getting presents ahead of time are offset by the ones who are relieved to skip getting a present.

Obviously if anyone gives a gift anyway, I graciously receive it and state my thanks. Irritating as it is.

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JO March 31, 2014 at 7:21 pm

Well, I certainly hope nobody insults you with their time, money and thoughtfulness in the future. But FYI, the polite way to express your wishes is to say “no gifts please” when your guests RSVP; not in the invitation.

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Tracy W April 1, 2014 at 3:30 am

Hmm, I regard an insult as taking rather more active effort than merely bringing a present when your host requested not to. To be plain, I find it better to go through life not looking for insults at every opportunity; I know people who do that, and they tend to be very miserable.

As for time and thoughtfulness, I rather think that someone showing up at my party and behaving as a good guest is giving me ample time and thoughtfulness, don’t you?
If someone really wants to spend money on me, they can always invite me for something.

Out of curiousity, what is your logic behind the polite way being when your guests RSVP? My mother always taught me that it was polite to put all the information in the same invitation, rather than requiring your guests to keep track of things in multiple places.

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JO April 1, 2014 at 4:32 pm

“Dealing with a bunch of presents I never wanted in the first place” and “state my thanks, irritating as it is.” Clearly the people in your life are not as greedy about their time as you claim to be, since they spent it (and their money, and their thoughtfulness) on you, and you see it as an annoyance rather than a blessing. Which, forgive me, seems as though you are looking at it as an insult.
And my mother taught me that it is never, ever good etiquette to put anything in invitations regarding gifts, period.

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Tracy W April 2, 2014 at 3:21 am

Well, I’ve already stated that I think it would make me miserable to go through life seeing insults whenever someone does something that inconveniences or irritates me. If you still, despite this, think that it seems to you that I look on every inconvenience as an insult, well, that’s your choice.

I entirely agree that most of the people in my life, and all of the ones I invite to parties, are lovely generous people. I also note that quite a few of them put “no gifts please” on their own invites.

I note that you didn’t answer my question as to why it would be okay to say “no gifts” when guests are RSVPing, but not on the invite. Lera99 below says that it’s rude because it makes the assumption that without that direction a gift would be expected, and if someone agrees with that logic then it strikes me that it would be just as rude to let on that the “Forbidden Thought” crossed your mind (even though it received a counter-thought of “oh no!”) when guests RSVP.

Miss-E April 2, 2014 at 5:43 am

Out of pure curiosity: how does one go about telling someone no gifts post-RSVP? Are you supposed to send another letter or is calling or emailing acceptable and if they don’t ask about gifts can you tell them at all? I always thought it was as Admin states above, you wait for someone to inquire…which can be difficult if you don’t want gifts and a guest decides to get you something but doesn’t ask you about a registry, etc?

I understand the logic behind not expressly stating “no gifts” but it does at least seem to be the opposite of a gimme-pig-scenario.

Brit April 1, 2014 at 5:22 am

Yes, it IS rude to show you’re thinking about gifts, but not half as incredibly ungracious as this. Not wanting gifts doesn’t make you gracious or unselfish, as your post shows.

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Tracy W April 2, 2014 at 3:03 am

Thank you, I did indeed intend to write in such a way as to make it clear that my motives for wishing to avoid gifts are entirely selfish.

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remi March 31, 2014 at 6:15 am

Sorry if I sound obtuse, but what’s wrong with saying “no gifts please” on invitations? Is that rude somehow?

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Lera99 March 31, 2014 at 10:58 am

Remi, it is considered rude because it makes the assumption that without that direction a gift would be expected. When, of course, gifts should never be expected.

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remi March 31, 2014 at 5:23 pm

That sounds a little silly to me. Is it also rude to have a picture of a present on your child’s birthday invitation? Of course you shouldn’t feel entitled to gifts and if someone doesn’t want to bring one they obviously don’t have to, but presents are usually considered part of a birthday celebration, and pretending they aren’t just maintain a pointless facade seems like an odd endeavor.

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Tracy W April 1, 2014 at 3:52 am

I really don’t get why letting on that the thought has crossed the host’s mind that someone might feel obliged to get a gift, and the host has decided that she doesn’t want the guests to feel any such obligation, is rude, but apparently it’s perfectly okay for the guest to feel obliged to go to the effort and cost of shopping for something that the host has every intention of going to the hassle of donating or otherwise giving away the next day. That’s the situation strikes me as rude, even though it’s not either party’s fault.

If the objective is to promote charities, I’m pretty confident that every charity would prefer that the guest just gave them the money directly.

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ohboy March 31, 2014 at 10:59 am

Yes, I second this. I do it all the time? Also, didn’t we already discuss here that to say “we don’t open presents during the party” is also rude because guests come to see what the gifts are? (I am almost certain ADmin mentioned this in a post that it is rude to put the gifts away so that the giver can’t see the joy of his/her present being opened)???

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Miss-E March 31, 2014 at 4:06 pm

I do remember that, although I disagree. I feel like the opening of and crowing over gifts is supremely tacky and makes the focal point of the party the presents. What is wrong with opening them privately and sending nice, thoughtful thank you notes?

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The Elf April 1, 2014 at 12:21 pm

I always viewed it as a very minor rudeness. Yes, technically, you’re not supposed to say anything because it implies that a gift would otherwise be expected. But since it isn’t directing the kind of gift or anything, I feel it’s a pretty minor infraction. It would be much worse to include registry information, say “cash gifts only”, or something along those lines. I like “no gifts, please”; it’s good for birthday parties for adults.

And of course if someone brings a gift anyway, you say “Oh, you shouldn’t have! Thank you!” and open it. There’s a balance point there, because you want to be simultaneously gracious to the gift giver and to the other guests, who presumably obeyed the instruction.

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Melissa March 31, 2014 at 10:46 am

My son just turned 8. We had a party b/c it came free with our karate membership. He donated all his gifts to a local Children’s hospital. I put on the invite that he was doing this, and if anyone would like to participate they can. His younger brother (turning 7) will be doing the same for his birthday in a few months. There is nothing wrong with putting “no gifts please.” Some people feel obligated b/c they are being invited to a party and feel they “have” to bring a gift, but usually, if you put “no gifts” if a gift is brought, it is usually much more personal.

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Enna March 31, 2014 at 11:50 am

I agree with the admin on this one. Your fine OP.

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LonelyHound March 31, 2014 at 3:59 pm

I agree with the Admin. You were asked so providing the information is acceptable. When I got married I had been living with my husband for over 4 years. We had everything. However, people kept asking us to make a registry. We made a registry with small items- a napkin holder, nice plastic cups (this is not odd if you know us and it this time we had broken all but four of our glass cups, so plastic cups did make sense), etc. We put enough useful small items that everyone could have gotten us something. We then let people know, through my parents, my in-laws, etc., that we had a registry; but that everyone was flying into our wedding so all we asked was for them to come and have a good time. Some brought us gifts, some brought cards, some did not get us anything; but everyone brought memories we cherish.

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Anonymous March 31, 2014 at 5:47 pm

I think the rules about opening gifts at parties (or not) are different in the case of venue parties that might be time-limited, or logistically difficult–I mean, it’s easier to take unopened, intact gifts home with the leftover accoutrements of a party, and the kids (plus any special equipment that they brought along for the party activity–swimsuits, towels, and possibly flippers/goggles/water toys for a YMCA pool party, for example), than to open the gifts, throw out the wrapping paper, make sure the cards don’t get mixed up, so that you can later thank the correct givers for the correct items, etc., in the paltry 90-120 minutes that the venue allows for each party. In that case, I’d even hazard to say that it’s more polite to wait until you’re home, because again, it’s bad form to accidentally thank Susie for bringing Jimmy a new baseball glove, when she actually got him an art set. It also prevents the inevitable meltdowns that happen when the kids want to break open the toys at the party, and either get upset when they’re told not to, or things get broken or lost before they even make it home with the birthday kid. As for mentioning “no gifts please,” again, I think the rules are different for events where gifts *would* reasonably be expected, and I think that kids’ birthday parties, as well as wedding or baby showers, fall into that category. Now, the OP didn’t mention whether her son’s birthday party is going to be at home, or somewhere else, but again, I think there are times when the rules of etiquette can be relaxed a bit for the sake of practicality, as long as the expectations are outlined, and as long as everyone feels welcome at the party, and everyone gets properly thanked for attending and/or bringing gifts. I suspect that, at the time the etiquette books were written, stating that gifts should be opened at the party, venue parties for kids weren’t really a “thing” yet. If they were, I’m sure there would have been a separate set of rules in place, in order to fulfill the etiquette requirements in a way that would suit the situation at hand.

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Tracy W April 1, 2014 at 3:39 am

I’ve noticed that in my circle of friends, where most birthday parties are at venues, this has been happening. It will probably be different once the kids are older and more interested in the presents.

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Dee April 1, 2014 at 11:37 am

Mentioning gifts at all in an invitation implies that a guest’s presence is hinged on their paying for it with a gift of some sort. This is, obviously, rude (and, no, time does not make this “antiquated” etiquette). Guests may regularly purchase gifts for such occasions but there is absolutely no obligation for them to do so; including a mention of gifts on the invitation implies a change in that obligation. The “no gifts” addition is the same, but I do grant that it is difficult to convey that message otherwise. In the end, it is much better to be done word-of-mouth and accept that there may be unwanted presents anyway. But considering unwanted presents to be a burden is the height of rudeness. Really. The problem (if it can be considered a problem) is one of throwing a party for people one is not very close to; intimate friends will usually know what their host/guest of honour will want/need and act accordingly, including giving nothing if that is the host’s desire. It all seems like a lot of ado over nothing. Being gracious is never out of style.

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Tracy W April 2, 2014 at 3:36 am

I only partly agree with you. I entirely agree with you that if someone gives you a gift it should be received politely and graciously. However, I disagree with you on the idea that it’s rude to even consider that unwanted gifts might be a burden. Even Miss Manners admits the concept and says that gifts may be given away or otherwise disposed of as long as the giver doesn’t find out. Sometimes politeness permits inconsistency between our actions and our thoughts, or our behaviour at one point in time and at another.

By the way, the comment you are replying to is about kids parties, where when the party is held at a venue, the gifts aren’t opened until later, at home. I just said I’ve noticed that happening at kids’ parties in my circle of friends.

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Dee April 2, 2014 at 12:58 pm

Actually, if you read Anonymous’ post, I was replying to both issues of parties being held at venues AND the “no-gifts” dilemma. Don’t know why you have a problem with that …
There is no leeway in etiquette for a host/hostess to express the feeling that unwanted gifts are a burden. It’s rude, no matter how you slice it. How you deal with unwanted presents is your own business, including disposing or giving them away later, both of which are completely acceptable. And, yes, you are right, sometimes there is inconsistency between our actions and our thoughts but, as adults, we learn to keep those thoughts to ourselves, no? (And that’s also why it is a great lesson for children to learn while they are opening their presents in front of their guests, to choose their words and reactions wisely, in order to convey only gratitude and graciousness no matter what the gift may be. If children never open gifts in front of others anymore, how else will they practise and learn?) Hence it being outside of good etiquette to mention gifts – even “no-gifts” – in an invitation. It is only when ASKED for feedback about gifts that a person can express their wishes. The whole point being that the host/hostess/ recognizes that an invitation (to anything) is GIVEN (as a gift of sorts) to a guest, and that the guests are thus not expected to provide anything for the event. At all. Even a present for a wedding. That is why Miss Manners makes it clear that one can never “invite” anyone to a potluck, that these events can only be arranged and never hosted. Either you are hosting your guests and expect nothing in return but politeness and manners and thus you do not mention gifts, or you put forward, without prompting, your expectations of your guests (even if it is the expectation of not expecting anything) and are now implying that you were expecting at least some guests to give gifts but you hope they don’t. There is no way to do that and still be polite.

Tracy W April 3, 2014 at 3:11 am

I’m glad that you now agree with me that a host/hostess may at least permit herself the thought that a gift is a burden, even if only in the privacy of her own head. I’ll add that I think it’s not rude to even say this, in a general way, particularly naming no names nor providing no identifying details, on a forum like this. Again to refer to Miss Manners, Miss Manners herself has posted letters stating very similar things about not wanting gifts, with her answers.

I agree with you entirely that a host/hostess should not expect any gift when giving an event. However, sadly, I know that in my social circle, many guests do feel that they are obliged to give gifts, though of course it may be different in your social circle. I am puzzled, however, why, given your logic below that it’s not polite to even put forward in the most general way your expectations of guests, given that above you said that it was “much better to be done word-of-mouth”. Surely, if it’s rude, it’s rude regardless of whether it’s on the invite or done word-of-mouth? On thinking about it, I’d say that putting it on the invite is politer than using word-of-mouth, on the invite it’s obvious that it’s a request made of all guests, while word-of-mouth has the risk of appearing like it’s singling someone out. And of course invitations are the place for putting forward your expectations of guests, such as start times, standard of dress, planned activities (eg “singing round the piano”), RSVP date, etc.

This may be something on which we have to agree to disagree.

As for my problem with your reply, I thought you might have misplaced your original reply. I am glad to hear that my concern was needless.

Miss-E April 2, 2014 at 5:47 am

But isn’t stating that you DON’T want gifts essentially saying “you are NOT expected to come with a gift”? What if its something where people typically bring gifts, like a shower or a kids party? If you wait for people to expressly ask about a registry or gift ideas than you the run the risk that some people won’t ask and show up with gifts anyway…thereby making the guests who did ask and didn’t bring presents feel awkward and uncomfortable. It really seems to me that telling people you’d prefer the pleasure of their company over a gift is not the rudest thing a person can do.

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Brit April 3, 2014 at 6:39 am

It’s not about controlling everything and everyone. It’s about not telling people what you do and don’t want, when they don’t owe you anything to start with.

JO April 2, 2014 at 10:36 am

I’m curious to hear again how admin feels about putting “no gifts” on an invitation, and/or the correct etiquette on making those wishes known? Perhaps it has changed? Also about opening gifts at parties? I’ll admit that one is an issue I’ve never really thought about

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Snowy April 6, 2014 at 2:26 pm

Suggestion: if you don’t need more Stuff for your kid, but you know people will feel odd coming to your party and not bringing gifts, collect items for a local animal shelter. (Or homeless shelter, but kids respond more to animals.) Just call them and see what the shelter needs–food, toys, flea collars, blankets, etc.

When I worked in rescue, we had a girl who did this with her birthday every year. *Her* gift was seeing how excited we got when she showed up with bags and boxes of paper towels, baby food, kid formula, etc. Because of state law, we weren’t allowed to let her in to see the animals, but we’d always make sure either our lobby cat or lobby bird were around to “say thank you.”

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Chana April 18, 2014 at 1:21 pm

Quite frankly I appreciate a family that puts something like “The only gift required is your presence” or “no gifts please” on an invitation. Some families of school age children are really strapped for cash and it hurts to tell a child they can’t go to a party because you don’t want them to be singled out as the only child unable to bring a gift with them. I know one family that would not only do gifts at the party, but save all the family gifts to open at the same time. It became about showing off. Even the birthday child was disinterested, wanting more to go play with the invited friends then put on a dog and pony show.

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