Lake WeddingbegonPosted: April 11, 2011
As the income gap in this country continues to widen, something like the top one percent of earners control around 35 percent of the nation’s wealth. This estimate may seem rather conservative to anyone who has ever created a wedding registry. I am now convinced that the earnings of Martha Stewart and whoever invented OXO Good Grips account for a good third of our GDP.
Back in the old days, I am told, you didn’t tell your wedding guests what you wanted them to buy you. It would have been considered rude. Instead, friends and relatives picked out platters that you never would have bought for yourself or gave you cash envelopes. Gift receipts? Please! If you didn’t like Aunt Esther’s vase, you just put it on the neighborhood yard sale table or donated it to the Salvation Army. Ideally, though, you kept all your gifts for sentimental reasons and even if they lacked functionality, they still found a home in a china cabinet.
Wedding gift-giving has really changed since my parents got married thirty years ago. Not to sound like the Garrison Keillor of wedding nostalgia, but it seems to me that economic “growth” in America has actually led to less choice. Betrothed couples tend to register at the same stores — Macy’s, Crate and Barrel, Target, Bed Bath & Beyond, and a few others — for the same few utilitarian brands — Cuisinart, All-Clad, Kitchen-Aid, and of course, Martha Stewart and OXO Good Grips. We register at these stores for convenience (anyone with an internet connection anywhere in the world can send you a present from PotteryBarn.com) and for these same brands because they are generally high-functioning and good values. But if you visit the homes of other newlyweds, you will not notice much variety from one kitchen to the next.
Despite our expressed preference for useful (and not so useful, see Exhibit A: OXO Mango Pitter) kitchen gadgetry, one somewhat antiquated thing most of us do is register for china. (Here, china is a broad term meant to include “sets of plates, cups, bowls, and saucers” but does not necessarily imply these items are official china.) But how many times are you really going to use your china? Maybe the plates will make an appearance a couple times a year. But are you going to set every formal table with a cup and saucer? Even if we were to some day host Thanksgiving or Christmas, I think we could do without teacups for the entire family. Of course, all families are different and some are more formal than others, but in general entertaining has become a much more casual endeavor over the years. The wedding gift business acknowledges this casualness on the one hand (Exhibit B: we registered for measuring cups; I want them, but can you imagine a more boring, utilitarian gift?), but also cleverly ignores it by making prospective married couples feel they haven’t hit adulthood until they own 16 sets of the same china pattern.
We have free will and can choose to forgo this whole registry nonsense. But upon further reflection, gifts are great! Who am I to be griping about getting things I actually want? For example, the Kitchen Aid pasta maker attachment: at around $100, it is something I would never buy for myself. But if someone else buys it for us, not only will I be grateful, I might actually use it and invite them over for homemade pappardelle. I just hope they don’t expect to eat it off a gold-rimmed Kate Spade dinner plate.