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Cringe-Worthy Graduation Greediness

About 20 years ago, my husband, kids and I were also invited to a high school graduation party because the graduate and one of my kids, my daughter who was also graduating from the same high school, were close friends, and we parents were long-time friends as well. Like the other submission, the graduate’s extended family was all invited and most of them came – they were a big, noisy, gift-giving, partying family – and my husband, kids and I were the only non-family members. The party was laid back, and we were having a good time.

The problem came after the food was served and the party nearly over. The honoree began to open the stacks of cards on the table; almost everyone had put cash or a check in a card instead of bringing a gift, and we had done the same. With a child about to start college, and more kids at home to pay for on our modest income, we had put $25 in the card – remember, this is two decades ago, so $25 was not a bad gift for a non-family member. This girl, old enough to know better, loudly announced the amount of cash or check in each and every card. “One hundred bucks, thanks Uncle X! Seventy-five from cousin B, woo-hoo! Wow, ONE HUNDRED AND FIFTY, thanks, granny!”

We were cringing. Our card was near the bottom, and we had to sit there and listen as amounts all much higher than what we gave were shouted out and sometimes, see the check or cash waved in the air in triumph. I looked at her parents; instead of discouraging her, they were egging her on, exclaiming, “Wow! Hey, that’s really a good gift! Thanks mom/uncle E/cousin D!” Second, third and step cousins gave a minimum of $75 each, and I knew these people; none were wealthy. Of course, that was their choice to give the amounts they did and none of my business to know how much they gave, or so I had always believed. However, did none of them realize that you don’t announce amounts? They all oohed and ahhed with each announcement, so it wasn’t bothering them, it seemed. When it came to our card, she was polite enough to say, “Twenty-five, thanks guys.”, but we were still glad when it was time to leave. We’d never seen our friends do that sort of thing before, but other parties we’d attended for their kids had been when the kids were young and it was all gifts they opened, not cash. When their other kids graduated high school, we always found a reason to leave just as the gift opening started at the end of the party. 0525-17

{ 38 comments }
{ 38 comments… add one }
  • YooHoo May 14, 2018, 7:01 am

    I see this as thoughtless, rather than rude or greedy. When receiving a gift, it is not considered rude to comment about it: “Wow, it’s a sweater!” “A necklace! Thanks!” I think it is plausible that this young girl did not, in fact, “know better” than to announce specific amounts. I can’t remember a time when my parents specifically told me: “remember, it’s rude to say how much people gave you.” It seems like the kind of advice that would slip through the cracks.

    Hopefully, this girl reflected on the mild awkwardness of announcing the $25 and realized that saying amounts out loud might make people uncomfortable.

    A bit off topic, but this reminds me of a time when I was checking out at a drug store. The older, male cashier announced each item as he rang it up: “Toothpaste….chips…” I thought that was a bad decision on his part, since many drug store items are personal or health-related. I think he realized his mistake when he got to the feminine hygiene products I was buying. At least, he didn’t announce those.

    Although this was awkward, I didn’t think he was rude, just thoughtless. Hopefully, he learned something from that experience, and so did that graduate!

    • Karen L May 14, 2018, 4:43 pm

      Maybe the graduate reflected on the announcement of the $25 with regret, but maybe the whole family was hoping that the humiliation caused by the announcements would induce more “generosity” the next time. I hope the OP didn’t cave in and increase the amounts for the other kids…

    • dragon_heart May 14, 2018, 11:37 pm

      The male cashier announcing items bought would be weird if there are a lot of customers. Anyway if I were there, I would have grabbed more “scandalous” items for the heck of it. Condoms and lube come to mind.

  • DGS May 14, 2018, 7:43 am

    It’s lovely to thank family members and friends for gifts, and that is why a handwritten thank you note was invented. Certainly, the graduate should thank everyone verbally for coming and for presents, but opening gifts and counting up the money and commenting on it, gleefully, is inappropriate. It sounds as though the graduate was trying to do the right thing and thank everyone but tallying up the cash took it in the wrong direction.

  • staceyizme May 14, 2018, 7:46 am

    The graduate was rude, in my view, but might be excused due to the way that her family was known to have raised her. Your dilemma was all about your own feelings of having your gift opened publicly. Why? If you were comfortable with the gift that you gave, no one could have made you feel less so. I cannot help but wonder if the majority of your chagrin boils down to some feeling of being “caught out”. But again, why? You gave a gift, I assume, that was in keeping with your budget, and with your feelings of appropriateness to the occasion. Had they given your graduate a larger, more lavish gift? Were you uncomfortable with the public, over-the-top nature of their celebration? Perhaps you felt a bit poor by comparison in your own manner of celebrating?

    In the same way that invitations aren’t a summons or an invoice, the hospitality of a party doesn’t afford others the prerogative of throwing shade on another family without good reason. You knew this family was a big, gift giving group. You accepted the invitation to celebrate with them. Now you’re uncomfortable with the public opening of your gift and want to complain of their graceless ways. Why? You were thanked. No one was passing a basket to dun you for more. And the party was not about you, but about the graduate.
    Your discomfort is understandable but your criticism, given your knowledge of the family and acceptance of their hospitality, seems small minded, to pit it charitably.
    Maybe don’t attend a family party if you aren’t able to roll with the family”s way of doing things?

    • Dee May 14, 2018, 11:59 am

      The reason the OP felt so embarrassed was because the gifts were being rated according to their dollar amount, and the OP’s gift was clearly the least amount, and thus it was going to fall quite short on the approval rating of the graduate as well as the parents, who were supposed to be OP’s friends. It’s then logical that OP felt increasingly uncomfortable.

      The graduate could have opened each card, looked at the cheque, said a hearty and generous “thank-you” to the giver and maybe a hug, passed the card around and put the cheque off to the side for later. That way no one would have known what the amount was, or even if there was a cheque inside. A card without a cheque could have generated the same treatment – a “thank-you” and a hug, with no one the wiser. Instead, the whole family used the event to rate the donations, and if you think it was accidental then I’ve got some lovely swamp real estate I’d like to sell to you. The not-so-well-off cousins paid to have a decent approval rating; they know this family, and they’ve been through this schtick before.

      I admire OP for going to repeat performances of this graduation ploy. At least she knows to bow out before the tally begins. But I wonder how anyone can consider people like that to be friends, good friends, when their goal, at least for the graduations, is to hit up family and friends for money. I wouldn’t have been able to stomach another “celebration” after that first one.

      • staceyizme May 14, 2018, 3:04 pm

        I understand where you are coming from and your interpretation is at least as plausible as my own. That said, graduates aren’t known for innate grace and teens/ young adults do have to be taught to be aware of the feelings of others. OP herself described these friends as a “big, gift giving family”. It’s absolutely possible that this was a case of conscious, intentional greed run amok. It’s equally plausible, in my view, that it was simply a case of poor training and the grandiosity so common to the young at those milestone events they achieve. Who can say with certainty? At best, we can speculate. And that swamp land? I’m not actually in the market, currently…

      • Karen L May 14, 2018, 4:45 pm

        Well-said.

    • jokergirl129 May 14, 2018, 12:50 pm

      OP felt embarrassed because the girl was announcing the amount of money family members had given her and since their gift was near/at the bottom of the pile OP heard that everyone else had given the girl a much higher sum of money. That can make a lot of people feel cheap or that they should have added more knowing their gift was the only one that didn’t have a high dollar amount to it. Even though most people know you don’t have to give a lot of money or that you can only give what you can spare it can still make some people feel awkward knowing their gift cost less/they gave less money than everyone else.

  • MelEtiquette May 14, 2018, 7:50 am

    I’ve been to plenty of parties where the “expected” gift was money (I placed expected in quotes because no gift should ever be expected, even though in certain social circles/cultures a gift of money would be the anticipated norm for events such as graduations, baptisms, etc.). I’ve never been to one where the dollar amounts are called out as each card is opened. It seems extremely tacky, and as OP experienced, opens one up to judgment and/or shame about the amount given. At least when non-money gifts are opened, the value of the gift is not officially known or announced, even if it can be easy to identify the more expensive gifts compared to the less expensive ones. In general, one should never feel shame about the level of generosity that one has bestowed on another person.

    I’ve noticed more recently the trend that gifts are not even opened during an event, but instead opened later in private (and sometimes without a thank you ever being offered, which means you never know whether they opened your gift/knew it was from you!). I’m generally against this trend, because when I buy a gift I like to see the reaction of the person as they open it. For events like the one described in the OP’s letter, however, I think it is wise to open the gifts privately and then send thank you cards in a timely manner. If tradition in that family dictates that gifts must be opened during the event, however, the appropriate phrasing is “thank you for this generous gift” rather than “thank you for X dollar amount”. Just “Thank you!” is also a complete sentence.

    • shel May 14, 2018, 9:28 am

      I do think that opening actual gifts is appropriate- as you said, it’s nice to know they opened it and you can see if they liked it if it’s something you put a lot of thought into picking out.

      I think cards are completely different that gifts and should not be opened in front of a big group. It’s a card, what’ so exciting about a card? It’s not like you are going to pass around the check for everyone to look at the way you might a cool gift.

    • Calli Arcale May 14, 2018, 11:22 am

      “I’ve noticed more recently the trend that gifts are not even opened during an event, but instead opened later in private (and sometimes without a thank you ever being offered, which means you never know whether they opened your gift/knew it was from you!). I’m generally against this trend, because when I buy a gift I like to see the reaction of the person as they open it.”

      I of course ABSOLUTELY agree that a gift must always be recognized and thanks given, regardless of where the gift is opened.

      That said, it’s worth mentioning that in some cultures (East Asian in particular), it is considered extremely rude to open a gift in front of the gift-giver. It is seen as greedy. The gift is to be opened discreetly at a later date. I am not sure what their custom is for thanks, but I suspect a thank you card would still be acceptable.

      • MelEtiquette May 14, 2018, 2:27 pm

        I never knew that about East Asian gift-giving cultures, so thank you for sharing that insight!

    • Goldie May 14, 2018, 2:23 pm

      Same here! My extended family is big on asking for cash and wanting cash. Sometimes they’d discuss it amongst themselves after a party who gave what, who didn’t give enough, etc and then my parents would hear it through the grapevine. One of the reasons why I started sending my regrets and eventually stopped getting invites from that part of my family altogether. But they would’ve never dreamed of announcing everyone’s dollar amounts! This is not something I’ve ever heard before!

      At one of the last extended-family parties I went to (a child’s first birthday), the hosts did do the “not opening the gifts” thing. My then-husband and I gave a stuffed toy, with the gift receipt attached, and a check in an envelope. Instead of the thank-you notes, what I received was the rumor that my parents had heard and passed on to me, that the toddler’s mother “was upset that so many people had given toys and the child now had too many toys that she didn’t know what to do with”. It was December. I said, “it’s holiday season. Every children’s hospital, every homeless shelter would now welcome new toys as donations… It’s pretty clear what to do with the extra toys! It’s not that “she doesn’t know what to do with them”, it’s “she doesn’t know how to return them for cash”, or “it’s too much hassle and she would’ve preferred the gifts to just be all cash”. Kind of makes me glad though, that she didn’t open the gifts and give people that feedback right there at the party. I’d rather have it said behind my back.

    • Ange May 16, 2018, 12:13 am

      I would much prefer to not be subjected to a monotonous gift opening and the appropriate cooing over said gift. How boring! However I do agree thank yous should be sent out accordingly if they’re opened in private.

  • shoegal May 14, 2018, 8:10 am

    I always believed that although gifts at graduation is a usual thing, it is done quietly and all the cards are put away immediately to be opened at a later time. The young graduate should have been discouraged to open any of the cards at the party. It isn’t anyone’s business who gave what!!!!

  • NostalgicGal May 14, 2018, 8:54 am

    It was tacky. Glad it was long ago. Glad you could do the fade, thus forwarned, about the rest of the parties involving the other kids of that family.

    I graduated well before two decades ago, I had no graduation party because the class left for the week after graduation (we graduated one week before end of school for the year) on a class trip to Canada. The most I got from anyone was my godmother, $10, grandparents gave me $5. Most of my cards contained $1.00 … I still wrote a thank you card for every card and two inexpensive non-card gifts I received. Some had fantastically huge parties after we got back… as for among class we exchanged small gifts with a price cap of $3 each, most handed out gifts of something maybe worth $1… one person bought everyone a thesaurus, another a pocket dictionary… etc. ONE person we knew was seriously poor and we gave her an exemption on giving but still gave her stuff. I definitely would not have sat there if I’d had a party, to announce off gift amounts, anyways. Nope.

  • Val May 14, 2018, 9:04 am

    In my early twenties I spent a few years in an area of the country where big graduation parties were the norm, and it was expected that guests would give cash to the graduate. I attended one for the cousin of my (then) boyfriend. I don’t remember anything so overt as the honoree opening envelopes in front of everyone, but something else stuck in my mind; I was standing in a group of guys who had all graduated in the last 5 years or so, and they were discussing how much money they had gotten from their parties and what they had spent it on, such as dirt bikes, ATV’s, boats etc. It felt like what had probably been started as a tradition helping a new graduate pay for their continuing education, or at the very least maybe moving out of their parents’ house, was instead being used to buy shiny new toys for little boys who still went home to Momma’s Cooking every night.

    • NostalgicGal May 15, 2018, 9:26 am

      That was strange. Every penny I got I hoarded for college. My graduation money bought two of my first quarter’s textbooks. Out of seven, and none of the drafting equipment or the calculator (TI-55) needed. Now they used to give the aid checks made out just to the student and a lot of guys went and spent it on a stereo right away and had to do crazy things to pay dorm and tuition because they spent it elsewhere. By my second year they made them out to the SCHOOL and the student so they could only cash them at the school, which would take their fees owed out of it FIRST.

  • Twik May 14, 2018, 9:32 am

    I actually don’t see any greediness in this story. I see someone trying to show appreciation for the gifts given, without realizing that with money, each gift can be very specifically measured against each other. (That’s one reason why etiquette has traditionally preferred things, rather than hard cash, as a gift. It’s easier to avoid a competition for who loves you most when it’s, say, a book against a set of towels.)

    Now, if when they hit your card, she’d not thanked you, or said “Who’s the cheapskate who only gave $25?” you could call that greedy. But it sounds like she started off trying to show her gratitude to those who gave her presents, and it just turned out awkward. I can see why it embarrassed you, and it definitely wasn’t the way it should have been handled. But perhaps they’ve learned from it – you mention up to now, the gifts haven’t been cash.

    • admin May 14, 2018, 12:38 pm

      WOuldn’t variations in exclamations upon opning each card be indicate of gratitude level? If you squeal with glee and profusely thank the big money giver but give a subdued thank you to the person who gave less is that not a type of greed that prioritizes gratitude based solely on the dollar amount received?

      • Twik May 14, 2018, 3:48 pm

        On the other hand, it might be hard for a young person less skilled in social niceties not to make a larger fuss over Grandma who’s given several hundred dollars (and maybe blew through her pension to do so) compared to a $25 dollar gift from a relative not as close. And honestly, if I were the $25 gift-giver, I wouldn’t expect *quite* such effusive thanks.

        But the problem here was the reading of the amounts. I understand a young person not realizing that once you start (“Oh Grandma! $250 is too much! Really, that’s so kind!”) it can offend people who gave less. But if there was no implication that people less close or less well off should have given more, I wouldn’t call it boorish.

        • Chris May 14, 2018, 6:14 pm

          I would find it between somewhere between offensive to ignorantly tacky to have any reference or effusiveness related to an amount of a cash gift made, no matter how little or much I had given.

      • Celestia May 14, 2018, 8:07 pm

        That’s just as true for traditional gifts, though. I’m going to squeal harder over (say) a pair of tickets to my favorite play than a nice new set of towels. There IS an honest difference in gratitude, and that’s OK. If you’re ever opening gifts in public, you’re probably going to give away some of your real thoughts. Which is why I sort of like doing gifts after the party in private and making the thank-yous as even as necessary.

        I do see that the monetary announcements are different but I don’t think the difference is that huge.

    • shoegal May 15, 2018, 8:40 am

      I agree with this – I can discern no greediness. The graduate opened each gift and thanked everyone. How was that greedy? Nobody commenting on this story can have known if the graduate squealed with delight or not. If anybody sounds a little off base it was her parents egging her on. Saying, ” hey that’s a really good gift.”

      I just think it should not have been done at all. This should be done in private.

  • ladyv21454 May 14, 2018, 9:40 am

    I’m not sure “tacky” is a strong enough word in this situation – “boorish” might be better. The only result of announcing all the amounts is that some people will feel guilty because they didn’t give more. (I’m hoping the OP didn’t fall victim to this.) Apparently this kind of behavior is normal with this family, but that doesn’t make it right. I would LOVE to be a fly on the wall when the kids get married!

  • Devin May 14, 2018, 12:22 pm

    I’d love to hear admins thoughts on this because I’m kind of split on how rude this is. If opening gifts is expected at events, shouldn’t cards and monetary gifts also be opened and publicly acknowledged? If some of the family brought gifts and were publicly thanked, would you feel less appreciated if you cash gift wasn’t opened? Even if just gifts are opened, it can be very apparent how generous different people are based on what is given. If I bring crystal serving ware as a gift and you brought towels, the guest are fairly aware that one is a much more expense gift than the other, so I guess I’m that case I don’t see the amount being stated that much different.
    For my own graduation party, few gifts were given as most family had given cards at the actual event and out of town family had mailed them in. My parents required that thank you cards were sent before I could make any summer vacation plans.

    • jokergirl129 May 14, 2018, 1:09 pm

      The main issue was that the girl was announcing the amount of money she received and making it very clear who gave what amount. With gifts it’s different because you can’t always be sure what someone paid for even if one gift looks more expensive than the other. After all even a gift that looks expensive could have been gotten for cheaper than normal depending on where it was brought, if it was used and all that. If the girl had simply opened up the cards and thanked everyone without mentioning how much cash was inside or what amount was written on the check then that wouldn’t have been the problem. The problem was saying how much was given by who.

      That’s why OP felt embarrassed because as the girl was announcing who gave what OP realized that she and her family had given less money compared to everyone else.

    • Karen L May 14, 2018, 5:01 pm

      With actual gifts, their value is not based so much on the monetary value. Someone might look at the crystalware and think how lucky they are to have such luxury, and someone might look at it and think “what the heck am I going to do with this stuff?”, whereas the towels might be used immediately to replace thread-bare hand-me-downs. “It’s the thought that counts”.

      And the receiver could be just as rude with actual gifts too. Suppose the receiver said “Oh. Crystal stuff. Thank you, Aunt Marjorie.” and then “OOOOOHHH! Towels!!! OMG OMG OMG!! So beautiful! Oh thank you thank you thank you, Uncle Jim, you are soooo generous and wonderful! They are just want we wanted! Oh this is so great!” I’m guessing Aunt Marjorie might be a little put off.

  • Ginny May 14, 2018, 3:24 pm

    My niece was recently the subject of a baby shower, where the couple had requested books for the child – old or new – which I thought was nice – they are trying to build her up a little “library” and the request was very modest… at any rate, I did not attend the shower, but my mother did and she felt a little awkward because the mom-to-be opened and read out the titles of each book — and for whatever reason, my mother had gotten a book entitled “I’m Sad” — I suppose something to explain the emotion to very young children, but I had to laugh when my mom described her opening the gift and just looking up and saying “I’m Sad.” 🙂 The only other complaint was that there were SO MANY books, it took over an hour to read all the titles —

  • Kat May 14, 2018, 7:18 pm

    Oh geez, this happened to me a few years ago. I was one of the only people to give an actual gift instead of cash (the gift was worth about $50) and, while the young lady was very gracious and did appreciate my gift, I had to sit there and listen to her announce the cash amounts she’d been given.

  • Celestia May 14, 2018, 8:15 pm

    One thought I have comes from the Youtube and Twitch community. Many livestreamers accept donations from their viewers as a way to make a living on their entertainment, and usually shout out the name of the donator and how much they gave when the donation is received. I recently watched a marathon fundraiser for charity that displayed “(Name) donated $X!” as the money came in. And while the people involved certainly made a bigger deal about larger donations, they were also vocally thankful for even the minimum and acknowledged all donators with the same amount of time.

    I do feel a difference between that situation and this party situation. I’m just having trouble determining why and what exactly it is. It’s different in the charity case, but when money is being given to an individual streamer it doesn’t seem that far off.

    • Dee May 15, 2018, 11:34 am

      The main problem in this situation is that money was given. Miss Manners abhors the giving of money as a gift, and in most cases I agree with her. It is certainly useful for young people but it creates a whole load of problems that actual gifts do not. As in the example of graduations, if monetary gifts are the norm, then they become financial transactions, not actual gifts. The receiver of that money and/or his/her family then feels obligated to match that amount for a similar celebration of the givers’. And on it goes.

      Whereas a set of towels, a new tote bag, or whatever more personal gift, is more difficult to put a financial value on, and does not require anyone to match. And that’s one of the big reasons why Miss Manners, and other etiquette gurus, feel money is not a good gift to give. Gift giving is supposed to be from the heart. Money can never be said to be so, as so clearly evidenced from the OP’s situation. It encourages the receiver to equate the amount given with the sentiment given, whether true or not, and it results in hurt feelings all around. If Great Aunt Mabel takes the effort to shop for a cheap set of coffee mugs, and wraps them with care, presenting them with love, that gift means something. If she hands over a $5 bill instead, it would be difficult for there to be no embarrassment or insult.

      In the OP’s case, if all the gifts had been actual gifts and not monetary donations then there would have been little drama. Just a lot of varied gifts with mostly undeterminable values. No pressure and no humiliation, and, most of all, no expectation to return the investment at the next occasion.

  • Nikko-chan May 14, 2018, 11:06 pm

    My family has always done this by announcing the gift and simply saying what it was. For instance at a baby shower as the Mom to be opens gifts she might say “A set of onesies, a baby bath, etc.” followed by thanking the giver.

    For money it was merely announced as: “And from Aunt Miriam, a gift of money. Thank you Aunt Miriam.”

    For graduations gifts are open in private. Weddings are the same, and wedding showers are treated the same as baby showers ie opening the gifts at the venue and saying what the gift is, as well as if it was money stating “a gift of money”.

    And though you were thanked in person multiple times at the shower/wedding/whathaveyou you would of course, recieve a thank you note, thanking you once again for your gift.

  • Redblues May 15, 2018, 10:49 am

    Absolutely boorish. Cards are opened privately, unless it’s a kid’s birthday and they are taped to a gift. Cards without a gift (which may or may not contain cash) are opened in private. Cash amounts should *never* be announced, to anyone, much less to the entire group of assembled guests. A teenager might not know any better, but her parents certainly do. They just didn’t care. They *should* have immediately put a stop to it. I frankly doubt I would ever give that person another gift or attend another one of those family parties.

  • helen-louise May 15, 2018, 3:13 pm

    I wonder how the OP would have felt if the recipient had said (genuinely, not sarcastically) “Oh my gosh, $25. That’s so generous considering you have to get [Daughter] ready for college too!”.

    I feel that the rude part lies more in the assumption that a lesser amount of money spent is a lesser gift. £5 from a friend who is too disabled to work and lives on state benefits means more to me than £50 from the couple of friends with a joint household income of £120k.

  • Ashley M May 15, 2018, 8:55 pm

    In my family, you open the card, read whatever sentiments out loud, but descretly flip whatever money/check is in there out of the way and pretend you didn’t even see it.

    Then you write a thank you card for whatever you were given.

    The idea of announcing it makes me cringe.

  • Aprobe July 14, 2018, 10:50 pm

    I did not know graduates recieved money. I was very very surprised at my graduation party that my mom gave me. I remember just feeling overwhelmed by it

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