Presentation Gone Wrong

by admin on November 13, 2012

As you may be aware, in some Asian countries it is the usual practice for wedding guests to give money to the bridal couple in a red envelope/packet, and for the bridal couple to host a dinner banquet (well “traditionally”, it’s the groom’s family that hosts but nowadays, young couples tend to foot the bill themselves). Singapore has this practice and the rule of thumb is for guests to give enough to cover the cost of their own plate. There are websites that publish guidelines for how much one should give, depending on where the dinner banquet is held and on which day of the week. I know this goes against lots of Western ideals of etiquette but that’s how things are done here, and for some this is thankfully changing.

Still, the topic of money is rather sensitive and no one openly discusses who gave how much for whose wedding (unlike some other Asian counties, they open the red envelops there and then and even announce it to the crowd; I’m serious!). Close family members may gossip, of course, but by and large open discussion of how much money is received after a wedding is considered unseemly.

Well, that’s what I thought! Until I read this:

Basically, a bride confronted a friend/relative as to why she/he did not gift a red envelope despite attending the wedding banquet. I was shocked, to say the least! To see a gimme pig in real life action! I wonder if the bride received the red envelopes of cash more eagerly she did her guests! Tsk… Please! Please help me cast this ungracious bride into the very depths of etiquette hell!!! 1110-12


{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

Lo November 13, 2012 at 8:12 am

This is really tacky.

I work in a business where the majority of employees are from Taiwan and am quite familiar with the red envelope custom and the different times they are given. Culturally one is obligated by etiquette to offer a red envelope as as a token when invited to a wedding, even if they do not attend. Of course guests are expected to bring red envelopes to banquet/reception. Because money is an assumed gift, unlike in the western tradition, it’s (apparently) not a faux pas to anticipate on a certain amount from each guest depending on the type of relationship they have with the bride and groom. A wedding is only one of the times that red envelopes are given, there are a host of other events and milestones where they will be offered, so the expectaction of money is a given. A minimum $20 USD equivalent is polite.

On the other hand I know of no one who would confront another person about not giving the “expected amount” on their wedding day. That would be a graceless and rude reaction.


whatever November 14, 2012 at 1:51 pm

My mother’s from Taiwan, and this is exactly right in my experience as well. It’s OK to grumble to yourself or your mom about people being cheap, but it’s never OK to confront the giver.


Cat November 13, 2012 at 9:26 am

It would be easier to include a bill along with the wedding invitation and to tell “guests” (ie, paying customers) that the money is due beforehand so that no one will have to be turned away at the door.


Allie November 13, 2012 at 3:44 pm

Sad, very sad. I married into a culture in which cash is expected for wedding gifts and certain other occasions. My in-laws do keep track, mainly for purposes of equal reciprocation, but would never, EVER confront a person for who did not give anything. Of course, amongst the immediate family (hubby, his parents and siblings) there may be some lively gossip about the particularly stingy guest who spent the evening imbibing as much as possible at the open bar. My hubby’s family, incidentally, are from the same part of the world where this incident occurred, although not of the same racial/cultural background as the bride. However, both cultures seem “e-hell-bent” on one-upping the Joneses, so to speak, with their lavish weddings. Truly, the meaning of the marriage ceremony has been lost to ostentation and greed.


KatiaT November 13, 2012 at 3:52 pm

It’s the same in Russian weddings both in the States and overseas. Mostly when Russians throw weddings they expect money from the Russians, and presents from the non-Russians (mainly Americans, as many other cultures will still give money). It just makes it easy. Same thing for birthday parties. When my cousin was getting married about 10 years ago, she created a wedding registry, nobody in the family knew what that was. It was bizarre to follow a wedding registry, so everyone got a small gift from it for her bridal shower, and then still gave money when attending the wedding. God forbid that someone doesn’t show up when they have RSVP’d, because they will get called out on it.

I find money giving practical, and when attending weddings, it’s the gift that I bring, whether to an American or Russian wedding. That way, the couple can re-coup the cost of the wedding somewhat, or buy something they truly need/want. Not everyone wants things from one or two stores, and other stores that a couple may like may not have a registry.


Library Diva November 14, 2012 at 11:39 am

I think this is becoming a trend in America as well. I attended a wedding recently that had a gift table with a box for cards/cash. The table was virtually empty except for this box. Only one person had brought along a physical gift.

I suspect it was because the couple didn’t go out of their way to include registry information. Although what you’re “supposed to do” in that case is call and ask, a lot of people don’t want to, or keep meaning to, never get around to it, all of a sudden the wedding’s that weekend.


koolchicken November 14, 2012 at 4:54 am

My husbands family is from Singapore, and it’s customs like this that contributed to us eloping. Guests do give âng bau, but you can’t leave anyone off the guest list. Imagine being told you have three hundred relatives and all must be issued an invite! My MIL actually told me to just send a single invite to her sister and she’d pass it around. Needless to say that didn’t go over well. I wanted a small wedding (booked a venue that seats 60 max) and didn’t think that relatives who live in another country, that my husband had never met, and his parents couldn’t even remember their names should be issued an invite. Besides the venue I booked needed an accurate head count, a list of names, and what each person wanted for dinner. It was not something you could just show up for. My husband was totally in agreement, this led to his mother telling us she wouldn’t come to the wedding and refusing to speak to us.

So as much as I’m loath to do it, I can’t cast this bride into E- Hell myself. For all we know her parents put her up to this. I could totally see my oldest BIL pulling such a stunt with his mother putting him up to it. I actually ended up with bald patches and needed a root canal because I was grinding my teeth so badly the stress was so bad. I can long hope this bride wasn’t going through what I did.


whatever November 14, 2012 at 2:04 pm

If they didn’t want a big wedding, they should have done what you did, and eloped. Even if they didn’t elope, the bride should have been gracious. It’s never OK to take out your stress and anger on other people.

Also, it sounds like you didn’t get married in Singapore. Wedding venues in the US are smaller for the smaller weddings people have here, and the venues expect an accurate headcount because most weddings will be able to come up with one. Wedding venues in these countries with larger weddings are much larger and don’t necessarily expect an accurate count (nor will a difference of 10 people matter as much if your wedding has 300 other guest).

I do feel that when you are marrying into a family- and everyone who isn’t marrying an orphan marries a family as well as an individual- you need to take the values of that family into account. I’m very glad my husband, who had very fixed ideas about his wedding, was able to accommodate the traditions and expectations of my Taiwanese mother, and I in turn was able to incorporate the things that my parents-in-law, who are American Protestant, cared about, like having an officiant who mentioned God. (It helped, though, that my mom has lived in the US for many years and has a more realistic idea of what, for example, American wedding venues are like.)


dorothy November 14, 2012 at 11:10 am

I am a Chinese woman in my 20′s living in the US and I think it’s very rude for you to say “for some this is thankfully changing” in regards to oriental customs that have existed for several millenia. It’s presumptuous and ethnocentric of you to presume that the expected etiquette of people should be changing into the customs of your culture. I’ve read a lot of your posts and I agree with you about most of the breaches of etiquette you’ve posted but in this instance I feel that you are saying that customs of Asian culture should change to fit what you believe to be correct for America. I have to say, what should and should not be correct etiquette in Asian culture is none of your business, as your site concerns etiquette in America.

I’m not trying to excuse the behavior of the bride you mentioned, however, because if she had a problem with the guest she should have just spoken to him/her privately. If they know each other well, it would not be a breach of etiquette to speak to him/her about this issue, but instead she posted it online on twitter, which is very embarrassing for both parties. On the other hand, it was very rude for the guest not to bring a red envelope to the banquet without an explanation of his/her extenuating circumstances before, during or afterwards. To me, it seems about as rude as attending someone else’s wedding, wearing a white ballgown with no explanation. In my opinion, both parties acted disgracefully here.


overhere November 15, 2012 at 4:07 am

I should chip in to say that Singapore is a city-state, and apartments are rather small. For that reason, gifts are simply not very welcome, because the bridal couple wouldn’t have the space to store them, especially if they’re not useable. The stores here have a limited exchange policy, so giving them back is not an option. For that reason, cash is considered the best gift, and etiquette is to peg it to the cost of the meal (which is actually quite easy to estimate). Wedding receptions will usually have a box at the registration table along with the guest book, so guests can drop a small envelope in if they wish.

It is however, considered tacky as hell for a wedding couple to do anything that might be construed as “asking for money”, e.g. adding “$$$ no gifts please” in the wedding invite (other than the box mentioned). Or discussing it in public. That couple in the original post is currently being skewered in Singapore forums right now.

One last point – weddings here can be large (200 is a small wedding), and the older generation believes in something called the “courtesy invite”, to be extended to people who would probably be able to come, but are senior enough in the family hierarchy to be extended a formal invitation card.


overhere November 15, 2012 at 5:32 am

Ack – typo in my earlier comment. I meant “to be extended to people who *wouldn’t* probably be able to come.”


Enna November 15, 2012 at 11:56 am

It was rude of the bride to demarnd. She should have thought about there being a reason.


Adira November 17, 2012 at 10:35 am

Their country, their etiquette rules. They’re not wrong for following their own rules.


anonymous December 11, 2012 at 2:58 am

It *is* rude in Asia to confront a wedding guest over their red envelope being too small or not given at all. It’s also kind of rude to call out the amounts, although generally people know (gossip travels fast, hey) and it is recorded, because then when the guests get married themselves, those who received their red envelopes are expected to give the same amount + a little extra back. It’s more like a floating community loan than a gift in the Western sense.

But some things.

1.) It’s not fair to say “this is *thankfully* dying out. This is the culture in most of Asia, you have no right to impose Western etiquette on a non-Western culture. If giving money in red envelopes is the right thing in that culture (and giving a physical gift was considered rude/weird/just not done), then who is anyone outside that culture to imply that it’s wrong or gauche? In fact, if you’re ever lucky enough to be invited to an Asian wedding, I do hope you’d follow the expected etiquette and also give a red envelope.

2.) Yes, if you attend a wedding, you MUST bring a red envelope – to not do so is rude. Truly. Western cultural mores do not apply – the person in the wrong is the guest, not the bride (although the bride was in the wrong to make a scene about it, but not to be upset in the first place). That’s because the gift isn’t really a gift, it’s a giant floating community loan, and when that person gets married, you give it right back with some more (or if they’re already married, you’d have given them money already, most likely. It’s pretty rare that one person gives another a red envelope and never receives one in return but it does happen).

3.) It’s also expected that if you are invited, even if you can’t attend you should give a red envelope. That’s why wedding invitations are called “red bombs” in Taiwan. It is considered rude to pass around invitations just to get red envelopes, but if you get one, you’ve gotta pay or you’re the rude one (a gracious couple, however, would not point this out, but neither would they invite you just to get your money).

4.) That said, there are a lot of requirements as to who you MUST invite – relatives, all of your parents’ friends, coworkers, bosses, your parents’ bosses, local politicians, possibly parents’ coworkers (this is changing), Grandma’s friends from her village in Pingdong, basically about a thousand people, many of whom you’ve never even met. If you *don’t* invite them, they get offended, and by etiquette standards, you are in the wrong (although people will empathize). It’s as though they want to be invited to some wedding for someone they’ve never met, and to give a red envelope, and get upset if they aren’t (at their own wedding they would have received many such envelopes from many such unfamiliar guests, it’s sort of like community payback).

If they come you have to feed them a nice dinner, but if you’ve never even met them, you kind of hope they don’t come (not that you’d say so). So I can imagine in this situation that wanting the red envelope more than the guest’s attendance would be pretty normal, expected even. But it’s not that you invited them just to get the envelope – you HAD to invite them, didn’t really want to, and the envelope is really the only perk for you. It’s just not like in the West where you only invite people you want there. It’s a community event and isn’t about you at all.

To add to that, a lot of toasts are given by people the couple has never met – some good friends and close family, but then toasts are given in order of rank, roughly: so you’d probably get a toast from the county legislator that Grandma invited, and Dad’s boss, and your new husband’s boss’s boss – even though you have no idea who those people are…but they’re high ranking so they get to give a toast.

It’s just…not the same at all. What this bride did was rude by Asian etiquette standards but that doesn’t mean you can judge the whole system as wrong because it doesn’t conform to Western etiquette. If you came to Asia and followed Western etiquette vis-a-vis weddings and parties, you’d be seen as horribly rude, and be thrown into Asian Etiquette Hell!

(I would know, I narrowly avoided it myself once – I was upset that a friend cancelled on me at the last minute to have dinner with her aunt. Well, here in Taiwan family comes first and an aunt who comes to town takes precedence over plans already set up with a friend. I was upset, but I was also “in the wrong” by local standards).


Heather December 20, 2012 at 9:58 pm

I’m marrying into a Chinese family (as a Caucasian) and have to agree with pretty much everything anonymous said.

The red envelope is the tradition in that culture. It is rude not to bring one, even if it only has a dollar in it. The bride was wrong to create a stink, but the guest was the rude one.

We’re lucky enough that my Fiance’s mother has two daughters, both married, who had the big 500+ chinese wedding – we’re opting for a lower guest count and a more western tradition.

Then again, our guest list keeps creeping up…


Fung September 28, 2013 at 11:00 am

Unfortunately the link doesn’t refer to the story anymore, and this comment is a bit very late…

For the Chinese (Hong Kong that is) the red envelope is and can be only given by married people to young kids, the unmarried (are considered to be still kids untill they get married), and wedding couples. Red envelopes are giving at weddings, birthdays, new years and family you haven’t seen since years (i.e in another country).
The red envelope is more than just about giving money, red is the lucky color and as a giver you’re actually wishing the receiver good luck, health and prosperity, and by giving you’re inviting Karma to return the wishes back to you. Also giving money was in the past (think for centuries long)the easiest way to carry when sometimes you had to walk thousands of miles/kilometres and weeks before you’re at your destination, money was back then (and still today I guess) the most valuable thing you could give.
At chinese weddings the kids and the unmarried don’t give gifts, however as an unmarried adult person you can opt to give a pink card in a pink envelope with money if you wish, nowadays as modern times you can also give a present.
Chinese only sent invitation cards to people outside the family, as it’s considered rude if you receive an invitation card whilst you’re family it can be taken as if you’re not family, the wedding couple personally visit and invite the nearest kin to their wedding, think of grandparents, uncles and aunts, the uncles and aunts in turn notify their own children of the wedding and date.
Most Chinese now chose to have 2 receptions if they’re marrying a foreigner, 1st is the western traditional wedding with white dress and reception and the 2nd is the Chinese reception where the B&G wears tradional wedding garments and Chinese traditions are incorporated (such as the tea ceremony).
At the Chinese reception the red envelopes are handed over to the happy couple and they in turn hand it over to an appointed assistent (female familymember) whom will put the red envelopes in a special red bag.
In no way the happy couple will or can open the red envelopes at the reception in front of all their guests, that is not only considered disrespectful to the givers but also a breach of Chinese traditions. It’s simply not done!

I hope I’ve been able to gave you a glimpse of insight of what’s the meaning of red envelopes and Chinese wedding tradions are to the (Hong Kong) Chinese culture.


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