Sense & Sensitivity by Harriette Cole

Readers Respond to Gift Giving Etiquette

DEAR HARRIETTE: The person writing in about wanting money for graduation instead of gifts, etc., was from Jackson, Miss. She should be aware that some stores now offer "graduation registries," which are similar to bridal registries. She can go to those stores and select her preferences, then mention where she is registered to those she thinks might want to give her a gift. -- Aware, Jackson, Miss.

DEAR HARRIETTE: You missed a good opportunity to teach the graduate that gifts are not to be solicited, expected or dictated. It was presumptuous for that college-bound teen to expect gifts and request money! "Congratulations" is all that is expected from well-wishers, and gifts they bestow are extras, according to etiquette experts. Asking for money -- or anything else -- is in bad taste.

If someone asks the grad what she'd like for a gift, the polite response should be, "I would appreciate anything you think I could use when I start my school year away from home." If pressed for an answer, it is OK to tactfully suggest a gift card.

That student and her parents should not be involved in shaking down anyone for cash! The student should wait to decorate the dorm room until after she sees it and has met her roommate anyway. She should find ways to earn some cash over the summer so money will be available to spend as desired. Some well-wishers may be able to send only a nice congratulatory card, which is all that's required in polite society. Dictating a gift is never appropriate! -- Old School, Chicago

DEAR AWARE AND OLD SCHOOL: I have included both of your letters because they illustrate the broad spectrum of thought on the sensitive topic of gifting and graduation. As an etiquette expert who pays attention to the current trends, I will address your various points.

Starting with the idea of a gift registry, it is true that some families make this choice -- much like a wedding registry -- to make it easy for loved ones to spend money wisely if they choose to buy the graduate a gift. I would venture to say that this type of setup works when you are having a big party or other gathering where you expect many people will want to provide a gift. Even so, do not list the registry on your invitation. When guests ask what the graduate wants, you can direct them to the site.

That said, I agree that no one should demand or shake one down for gifts, nor did I recommend that previously. I think it is OK to answer a direct question from someone you know and love about what you might want for graduation. When asked, a parent or the graduate can say what is desired. It would be inappropriate to ask for a lavish gift. But if asked, you can talk about your plans and say that you would appreciate support in making that plan manifest. Of course, a card is a perfect gift. But if someone asks, that suggests that the person wants to do more than a card.