Online War Erupts as Bridal Couple Rejects Food Basket Gift

Emily Post Institute says wedding gifts are never a "quid pro quo."

June 21, 2013— -- As a young bride, Janet, a 54-year-old medical practice manager from Maryland, sent back a wedding gift -- a small oval framed picture in a gilded frame -- under pressure from her mother, who thought it was "cheap."

"It embarrasses 35 years later," said Janet, who was 19 at the time. "My mom hated it ... and I took her advice and sent it back. I learned a life lesson and would never do it again.

"At my mom's suggestion I wrote a thank you note and let the giver know that it did not go with any of the decor at our home," she said. "I felt bad about it for years and never saw the woman again."

Her mother was under the false impression that "people should always give a gift that pays for the wedding," said Janet.

Volunteers use wedding registries to help hurricane victims.

Just this week, a similar story about a bridal couple who insulted their Canadian wedding guests went viral. They received a hamper filled with tasty delights: Sour Patch Kids, Marshmallow Fluff, croutons, cookies, olive oil and pasta. The note attached to the gift read: "Life is delicious. ... Enjoy."

But the same-sex couple, who were European, didn't like the gift and sent a text the next day asking for a receipt so they could get reimbursed. A subsequent series of nasty text and Facebook messages were published June 11 in the Hamilton Spectator, a Canadian newspaper:

Bride: "Heyyy I just wanna say thanks for the gift but unfortunately I can't eat any of it lol I'm gluten intolerant. Do u maybe have a receipt"

Guest: "Ahh sh*t! Really!? ... We had a great time. Thank you again for allowing us to be a part of the celebration."

But the conversation quickly disintegrated.

The bride's wife wrote, "I'm not sure if it's the first wedding you have been to, but for your next wedding ... People give envelopes. I lost out on $200 covering you and your dates plate ... And I got fluffy whip and sour patch kids in return."

In a note sent out a day later, the ungrateful bride wrote, "Thanks again for the $30 gift basket ... you should be embarrassed for being so cheap," the bride sniped.

The Emily Post Institute, based in Burlington, Vt., has been inundated with calls about when it is appropriate to return an unwanted gift.

"I read the whole exchange and there were many things wrong on both sides," said Anna Post, the great-great-granddaughter of the doyenne of American etiquette.

"We don't have a winner here. Some people are a little closer to the right idea than the other. But both people really failed in how they expressed themselves."

Re-gifts, bagel guillotines and over-sized metal encrusted vases were just some of the gifts that readers told they had received at their weddings and wanted to return.

Jerry Berger, a public relations director for a Boston hospital, said that he, too, received an unwanted gift when he was married in 1977 -- a bounced check in foreign currency.

"It technically did not bounce, but we could not cash it, and I believe we paid for the privilege of finding out," said Berger, 61. "No bank wanted to deal with it."

Post said that the choice of wedding gift is "always up to the giver. Period. How much you spend on that gift -- any gift, for a birthday or christening or graduation. It's only based on the giver's budget and their relationship to the recipient and what they think the recipient might like in good faith."

Post conceded that the aggrieved guests in the Canadian story, "might guess wrong," but their gift should have been welcome.

"Do I think a food basket is unusual?" she asked. "Yes, but it's not wrong."

Bridal couples can, in some cases, particularly when they know the guests well, ask for a receipt, according to Post. "And when you are asked for a receipt in good faith [as opposed to lying about being on a gluten diet] at least trust the good faith of the request. Give the receipt and be done with it."

"File it under 'good to know' and don't too enthusiastically hang out with these people again," she said. "I wouldn't make a stink. Just give it to them. Calling a guest out and complaining about it is not OK."

Post said that hosting a party, especially a wedding, is never a "quid pro quo."

"There is no remuneration involved," she said. "The idea that the gift should cost what the dinner costs is wrong. And it's really a mistake to think about it that way. How on Earth do you know what a dinner costs -- you don't."

Post said gifts are still as popular as cash and, in either case, "it's not about payback."

As for Janet, she said her mother should have kept in mind that, "I was only 19."

"I am horrified to this day when I recall the incident," said Janet. "The woman was a widow. I imagine now that it could have been all that she could afford. ... Now, I don't think that there should be any expectations for any gift.

"One lesson learned was that I should have just been grateful, thanked her for coming to the wedding and for the beautiful picture that I know I would find a great place for in our home," said Janet.

"I think the rejection of the gift said more about me than about the giver. Another lesson learned was that although mom is smart about a lot of things, I need to think for myself."

Today, attending weddings that cost upwards of $500 a plate, Janet said, "I sometimes find myself choosing a gift and worrying about whether it will be perceived as good enough, but I can only give what I can afford, too. I think I am generous, but there's a nagging worry that others may not think so."