The Millennial’s Guide to Etiquette
I asked my Millennial peers what etiquette questions they had, then collected answers from friends and colleagues ages 26 through 39.
“Is it okay to go off-registry for a wedding gift?” “I just found out my friend is pregnant—should I send her something?” “Should I bring wine even though I’m doing Dry January?”
All of these questions have come up in my various group chats at some point over the past year, and while many people have strong opinions, I’ve found that there’s no clear consensus on the answers. The challenge of navigating ever-changing social norms is not a new phenomenon, nor is it specific to Millennials. And yet, I’m convinced that Millennials today face some new and specific etiquette dilemmas that our parents never dealt with.
The majority of Millennials today are less financially secure than their parents were at their age. At the same time, things like weddings and baby showers—for which Millennials are at the prime age—have gotten more lavish, over-the-top, and expensive than ever. (Do you know anyone who got married 20 years ago who had an engagement party, bachelorette party, bridal shower, and destination wedding? I doubt it.) Add a splash of inflation and a swirl of social media, and you’re left with some pretty murky etiquette waters.
To help clear things up, I asked my Millennial peers what etiquette questions they had, then collected answers from friends and colleagues ages 26 through 39. My biggest takeaway? We’re all just trying to figure it out.
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Are you supposed to send a gift when someone announces they’re pregnant?
“I never do. As sad as it sounds, I feel like it’s bad luck to give something until the baby is here and healthy.”—Anna, 26
“I don’t think so. If you’re invited to the baby shower, of course, but not for the announcement.”—Taylor, 28
“Maybe sending a gift is traditional etiquette, but I would not feel obliged.”—Emma, 29
“If they’re planning on having a baby shower, then it’s not necessary (but totally fine) to send something as a nice gesture. If they aren’t planning on having a shower, then I’d say it depends on how close you are with them—for a close friend, send something.”—Alexa, 32
“Oof, I don’t…should I?”—Shelby, 33
“Not necessarily. If I don’t send a gift when they announce, I will make sure to send something for the baby shower, or when the baby is born.”—Katie, 35
“No, I prefer to give gifts to the baby (and mama) after the baby arrives.”—Lisa, 37
“No, because a lot of parents-to-be are superstitious. And in certain religions, it’s a no-no.”—Audrey, 39
What’s the policy on going off-registry for wedding gifts?
“I think if you’re going off-registry, it needs to be either epic, additional to the registry gift, or money. You can never go wrong with moolah.”—Anna
“Only go off-registry if you really know the couple and know they will love it, or if it’s just money.”—Taylor
“If you’re very close friends, I think it’s fine (and maybe even better) to get them something more personal and special. I personally wouldn’t mind receiving something off-registry—a gift is a gift—but I wouldn’t give off-registry.”—Emma
“Registry or cash. There is no in-between. If you really want to do something off-registry, it has to be additive, not the actual gift.”—Alexa
“I thought it was okay, but my recently married sister told me it’s incredibly annoying.”—Shelby
“Only if it’s cash.”—Katie
“Do it if you know that they will appreciate something extra special that you chose for them.”—Lisa
“If someone has registered, my feeling is that you either get a gift from the registry or give cash. If you want to give something sentimental off-registry, I think it can be in addition to something the couple registered for.”—Audrey
How do you know when you’re supposed to bring a gift to a birthday party? Is it ever okay to just show up?
“It depends on the level of friendship. If we are super tight, I will get them something, but if this isn’t a close friend and you’re all just going out for drinks, I’ll probably buy them a drink. If it’s dinner, I usually touch base with the other invitees and make sure we cover the birthday person’s dinner. If I’m not sure, I’ll do something small like a cute card, lip gloss, or a face mask—always have giftables on hand!”—Anna
“If you’re not going to bring a gift, I think you should definitely still bring something, like a bottle of wine.”—Taylor
“For adults, I don’t think you need to bring a gift. I’d bring a bottle of alcohol or some sort of host gift per usual, though.”—Emma
“Is the person below the age of 18? Get them a gift. Is the person a grown-ass adult celebrating surviving another year on this planet? Not necessary.”—Alexa
“Depends on the level of friendship.”—Shelby
“Something small is always appreciated, even if it’s just a bouquet of flowers or bottle of wine.”—Katie
“Never show up with your arms swinging. A.k.a. always bring a gift, wine, food, etc.”—Lisa
“This is a tough one. I always default to a handwritten card in tricky situations. Or something relatively universal, like flowers or wine.”—Audrey
Is it rude to send a thank-you note by text?
“I don’t think so—it’s eco-friendly! But for something traditional, like a wedding gift, it’s nice to hand-write a thank-you note. After all, going to a wedding and getting the gift is a bigger thing than just saying, ‘Here’s a bouquet from Trader Joe’s.’ You can also take to social media to share your thanks more publicly. I’ve gifted baby cowboy boots to two babies now, and an Instagram Story of the cutie in the boots is ALWAYS a great thank-you!”—Anna
“In most cases, I don’t think so—especially if you’re just thanking a friend for coming to something or giving you a gift.”—Taylor
“I think it’s best to write something physical (or a digital form of a formal thank-you note) if you’re thanking someone for attending a formal event, e.g. a wedding. For your friend who gave you something for your bday? No.”—Emma
“No! Save the trees and save yourself some time.”—Alexa
“It depends on the gift and occasion. Wedding gift/wedding shower/new baby/baby shower = handwritten.”—Shelby
“Thank-you by text is acceptable in my book.”—Katie
“It depends. Thank-you text for your kid’s fourth birthday party? Not rude at all. Thank-you text for a wedding gift? Rude.”—Lisa
“If a text is being sent as a thank-you note, it should come with a photo of whatever you are thanking the person for. For example, if I send matching jammies to your kids, and I receive a thank-you text with a photo of your kids in the jammies, that is the best!”—Audrey
How much should you spend on a wedding gift?
“At least $100 per person invited. Depending on your relationship, more! My God sister got married, and her family always went above and beyond for me, so my mom, dad, and I gave her a large gift worth around $500.”—Anna
“My mom always taught me enough to cover my plate.”—Taylor
“However much you’re comfortable with.”—Emma
“I think this really depends on the situation—how close you are to the person, how grand the wedding is, if you had to spend a lot to travel for it, etc.”—Alexa
“Depends on the level of connection, but $150–$250 is my range.”—Katie
“Cover your dinner plate cost at minimum (which, if you’re in NJ, is $150–$200 a head).”—Lisa
“This is really dependent on your relationship to the couple getting married. I would say between $200–$500.”—Audrey
Should you still get your friend a wedding gift if you were a bridesmaid (read: already spent a lot of money on their wedding)?
“I think at the end of the day, you have to look at your finances and your relationship with them. Money can get so messy, and if it’s a choice between buying them a fancy tea kettle and being able to get my nails done a couple times, I’d rather just buy the kettle so the relationship isn’t on an icky note.”—Anna
“I’d probably still want to get her a little something, but I think it really depends on how much you already had to spend on bridesmaid activities and whatnot.”—Taylor
“I think it depends on how you think the specific friend would feel/react and how much you spent…”—Emma
“No. You have already gone above and beyond to celebrate your friend and assist them. If you want to, that’s different, but it shouldn’t be expected.”—Alexa
“Yes, I think friends still need wedding gifts, even if you were a bridesmaid.”—Katie
“I think so, but it can be something small. We elders didn’t do this to each other; back in my day, bachelorette parties were a night at a bar that no one remembers…”—Lisa
“Yes! It’s a lot, and it adds up quickly, but if you were a bridesmaid, it’s probably because this person is very special in your life.”—Audrey
Should you still show up to a party with a bottle of alcohol even if you won’t be drinking at all?
“Even if you’re not drinking, a $20 bottle of wine is a nice thank-you. Hosting is hard, so this is the least you can do if someone has cleaned their home for you to then ruin it.”—Anna
“Yes. It actually really annoys me when people don’t do this. If the host says something like, ‘I’ll be taking care of food, but can everyone bring drinks?’ then it’s not just about you, it’s about the rest of the guests and how you were asked to support the party. Cooking is much more difficult, and bringing a case or bottle of something is so simple!”—Taylor
“No, but I think you should contribute something else, like a snack or non-alcoholic aperitif.”—Emma
“I’m assuming this is specific to BYOB parties. If so, then you absolutely don’t need to bring alcohol. If you want to bring something, then you can always bring food instead of booze.”—Alexa
“I think you should bring something you can also enjoy, like cheese, a delicious dessert, etc.”—Shelby
“It doesn’t have to be alcohol, but you need to bring something! Try a nice bottle of olive oil, flowers, etc.”—Katie
“Sure, or bring something else for the host.”—Lisa
“Yes! But if you would prefer to bring something else like flowers or a sweet treat, I think that is appreciated.”—Audrey
How do you navigate a situation where you were really looking forward to connecting with your pal over dinner, but they’re glued to their phone?
“I hate this—it’s a telltale sign of rudeness. Depending on our friendship, I’d probably start distancing myself from them in general, because why waste my time and money on this person? Or just keep the relationship to texting and memes, because they love their phone! If I’m speaking to someone, and they start to look at their phone, I just stop talking. I don’t mean to be petty, but I can’t multitask, so I figure they aren’t able to listen to me. They often realize that they’re being rude, stop, and apologize.”—Anna
“I would call them out on it. It may be weird for a second, but if they are a good friend, you can move past it quickly, and I think everyone ends up having a better time. Sometimes, people don’t even notice or know that’s an expectation, so you just need to address it.”—Taylor
“I’d be disappointed but am not confrontational enough to say anything…unless it became a major pattern.”—Emma
“Be direct (but nice) about it! I’d start by asking ‘Hey, you keep checking your phone, is everything okay?’ and they’ll probably realize they were being rude, or they’ll explain why they have to keep checking (you never know what someone’s going through!). If they have no reason and are still checking it, you can absolutely say, ‘I know you’re busy, but I’m really looking forward to catching up. Can you put down the phone?’ Kindness + directness is always the way to go.”—Alexa
“No phones at the table feels respectful and genuine. If a close friend is on their phone, I’ll say something like, ‘Hello?!’”—Shelby
“I would say something along the lines of, ‘Ummm, hello, what’s so entertaining?’ and give a sly smile.”—Katie
“If they are scrolling Instagram while at the dinner table, just ask them what’s so important.”—Lisa
“Start the dinner with a no-phones-at-the-table rule, except if the person needs to be reached (think babysitter or partner). And then suggest that phones can be on the table in case of an urgent matter, but off to the side.”—Audrey
If I’m hosting a get-together for friends, what can I ask them to split? Is it even okay to do that?
“I’m conflicted on this one. I don’t mind when someone asks me to contribute, but I personally wouldn’t do it. If I’m going to host a get-together, I’ll have everything there, and if I’m low on something, like a certain type of alcohol, I’ll tell everyone, ‘I have X and Y to drink, but if you’d like something else, either let me know, or bring it, please!’ Bottom line, if you want to host, you should be able to HOST.”—Anna
“It’s okay to ask to split. If you were going out to eat at a restaurant, everyone would split the bill, so this is the same thing—you just volunteered to have it at your house and make it a more intimate moment so everyone can be cozy and really connect.”—Taylor
“This one is super tough. I wouldn’t ask people to split anything for one evening where I decided to have them over, but I would expect that they bring some snacks or drinks. If I were hosting someone for a weekend getaway (if I had a house) and we were cooking a lot, I might ask them to split the cost of groceries.”—Emma
“It is absolutely okay to split things. I think the most important thing is that you’re upfront about what you’d like people to contribute to and have some more affordable options available in case people are on a budget. For example, if I’m hosting my friends for a weekend, I’ll throw out a bunch of different activity options with their relative costs so friends can decide what works best for them interest- and cost-wise.”—Alexa
“If it’s a party where I’ve invited everyone over to host them, I will allow people to bring things if they ask. But if it’s a big get-together, I’ll preface by saying, ‘Hey, I thought we could all do dinner at my apartment, and we can each bring X, Y, and Z!’”—Shelby
“No. If you’re the host, then you’re the host.”—Katie
“Hosting at your home? No split. Hosting a party at a restaurant? No split. Hosting a joint shower, Friendsgiving, etc.? Okay to split if agreed upon in advance.”—Lisa
“If you frame the get-together as a pot-luck, you can ask them to share in the hosting of the event. Otherwise, if you are the host, it’s best to really host and change the type of gathering to suit your budget.”—Audrey