Let’s say you know two awesome people who are getting married. These people are cross-cultural, from different worlds, oceans apart. The three centers of their lives are Shanghai, Minneapolis, and Kuala Lumpur, and their loved ones are in many other corners of the world. Since it’s unlikely that everyone who matters most to them can gather in one place, they’re going to forgo a traditional wedding, and marry in a private civil ceremony in Las Vegas, just the two of them. At some point, they will have small wedding dinners in each of the three centers of their lives, for whoever can make it.
Although these two people currently live in Shanghai, they are geographically liminal. They have no permanent home right now, not even a semi-permanent one. They are likely moving to the U.S. by the end of the year, though when exactly and to which city, they are not quite sure. What they do know is that they want to make the journey together, and that they need to reduce the amount of stuff they take with them. Shipping fees are ridiculous, y’know.
So what do you give these two people as a wedding present, if you wish to gift them something to congratulate them on their union?
Being Chinese, I thought the answer was pretty simple: Cash. That’s what we gift at Chinese weddings; in fact, it’s the expected gift, a red packet of lucky money to help the newlyweds cover the expenses they incurred to begin a new life together.
But I’m marrying an American, so I’m being exposed to a different wedding gift culture — that of wedding registries for stuff.
If we had a permanent home, material presents would be wonderful. But we’re peripatetic, which turns the simple privilege of gift-receiving into a head-scratcher:
Fiance: My family wants to know whether we have a wedding registry.
Me: A what? Just give us cash.
Fiance: They’re not Chinese. Giving cash is unacceptable.
Me: Tell them you’re following your bride’s weird customs.
Me: But we don’t have space for stuff! We’re not settled yet!
Fiance: I know.
Me: How about gift certificates?
Fiance: Yeah. Although that’s like asking for cash too.
Me: What’s wrong with cash, actually? Material presents are bought with cash!
Fiance: Cash is impersonal.
Me: Not to the Chinese!
(Definitely not impersonal — we record who gave how much.)
Although it may be gauche to some people, gift certificates seem like the best compromise for a cross-cultural, peripatetic wedding registry. Thoughts?
Update: Just for fun, I asked a few friends who are getting married what they prefer in terms of gifts. Asian friends all wanted hard cash, Western friends said to refer to their carefully-selected wedding registries, which may or may not include subtle requests for non-material gifts.
Now I’m impressed that East-West couples successfully get married at all, considering these clashes between wedding customs, including the issue of wedding expenses that I blogged about before!
Countdown to wedding: 19 days!