Dear Umbra,

My wife and I have made great progress in simplifying our lives. We don’t own a car (we take the bus, walk, bike, and occasionally rent a car), we have cut back on our use of water and power, and we are working on avoiding “more stuff.” We’re just wondering what we might give as wedding gifts to children of our friends in order to be in line with our goal yet not seem “weird.” Any ideas on this subject?

Peter Poulsen
Murray, Utah

Dear Peter,

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I am mulling over this dilemma as well. By the time 2003 comes to an end, I will have been buried under an avalanche of nuptial invites. I’m happy to share my ideas, but be warned that they were only developed during my recent mulling sessions and have never been tested by scientists. In other words, there is nothing in our research library on how eco-geeks can best avoid wedding weirdness.

In the ideal situation, a wedding gift would be useful, reflect your values as well as your fond feelings toward the happy couple, and bring great pleasure to all parties concerned. Finding that ideal gift is a true skill and requires research. What are the interests and passions of the couple? What are their needs? Do they have causes? Do they have money? Will they think you are weird if you donate to Greenpeace in their name? You can try finding out the answers to these questions from their parents, from them, or from their gift registry. Then, proceed with your gift-acquiring on the basis of your emotions and social values. I have five suggestions for types of gifts, which I offer in conjunction with a brief lesson in counting in Hungarian.

Egy (1): Buy something needed. A young couple setting up a first household with limited financial resources can truly use some help. In this case, give useful objects, or even moderately frivolous objects that might be frowned upon by folks who have chosen to Live Simply but will surely be received with delight by newlyweds who have stretched their meager resources to have an important celebration.

Ketto (2): Donate something in the couples’ name(s). The couple may have a group they work with, a cause they believe in, a pet project, a program they are starting. Donations are great; they make it clear that you’ve thought about the couple and that you know and support their passions, but they incur no unnecessary consumption. Etiquette tip: Give to an organization that’s important to the couple rather than one that’s important to you.

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Harom (3): Give them an experience. By giving a gift certificate to a bed and breakfast, or tickets to a show, or dance lessons, you can support local businesses, provide the happy couple with a special treat, and dexterously avoid the consumption of extraneous stuff.

Negy (4): DIY. Give a service, a good, or an experience that you yourself (or -selves) will provide: art if you are an artist, drywall installation if you are a carpenter, babysitting if you are a saint, a weekend at your vacation home, free Spanish lessons at the Foreign Language School you run, etc. Be careful with this one, though: DIY gifts can be fabulous and thoughtful and personal and perfect, or a very quick way to look weird. Or cheap — even worse. Exercise your judgment.

Ot (5): If the happy couple are of the same sex, I heartily endorse throwing all environmental concerns out the window and marching right into a department store. Hail the clerk by declaring, “I shall be attending a gay marriage, and I’ve heard that our compassionate president recommends spending two months’ salary on a handsome wedding gift for this brave and loving couple. What luxurious object can I purchase in your delightful fortress of consumer capitalism?”

I hope one of the Hungarian Five will suit the weddings that come your way. Have fun and don’t forget to bring a hanky!