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Thursday, March 30, 2017 12:13 am

Loot conquers all

PHOTO COURTESY AMY ALKON
Amy Alkon
Nobody expects a free meal from a restaurant. So what’s with wedding guests who think it’s acceptable to give no gift or just $100 from two people? My understanding is that you are supposed to “cover your plate” – the cost of your meal (at least $100 per person). If you can’t, you shouldn’t attend. I’m planning my wedding and considering not inviting four couples who gave no gift at my two siblings’ weddings. Upsettingly, most are family members (and aren’t poor). I’d hate to cut out family, but if they won’t contribute, what else can I do? – Angry Bride

If gift price is tied to meal price, it seems there should be a sliding scale. Uncle Bob, who’ll single-handedly suck down 16 trays of canapes and drain the open bar, should pony up for that Hermès toaster oven. But then there’s Leslie, that raw vegan who only drinks by licking dew off leaves. Whaddya think … can she get by with a garlic press and a handmade hemp card?

The truth is, this “cover your plate” thing is not a rule. It’s just an ugly idea that’s gained traction in parts of the country – those where bridezillas have transformed getting married into a fierce social death match known as the wedding spendathalon. What gets lost in this struggle to out-lavish the competition is the point of the wedding – publicly joining two people in marriage, not separating their friends and relatives from as much cash as possible. And though it’s customary for guests to give gifts, The Oxford English Dictionary defines “gift” as “a thing given willingly” – as opposed to “a mandatory cover charge to help fund the rented chocolate waterfall, complete with white mocha rapids and four-story slide manned by Mick Jagger and Jon Bon Jovi.”

But because you – incorrectly – believe that guests owe you (more than their company), you’ve awakened your ancient inner accountant, the human cheater-detection system. Evolutionary psychologists Leda Cosmides and John Tooby describe this as a specialized module the human brain evolved for detecting cheaters – “people who have intentionally taken the benefit specified in a social exchange rule without satisfying the requirement.”

Identifying and punishing freeloading slackers was especially vital in an ancestral environment, where there weren’t always enough grubs to go around. These days, however, maybe you have the luxury to do as I advise in Good Manners for Nice People Who Sometimes Say F*ck: refuse to let a few (apparent) Stingy McMingies shape “who you are – which is created through … how you behave.” Instead of grinding down into tit for tat, you can decide to be generous. It’s a thematically nice way to start a marriage – in which 50/50 can sometimes be 95/“Hey, don’t I at least get your 5 percent?” It also makes for a far less cluttered invitation than “RSVP … with the price of the gift you’re getting us – so we know whether to serve you the Cornish game hen at the table or the bowl of water on the floor. Thanks!”

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