Whenever you think you understand how the world works, when you think your perception of the world is correct, it is important to realize the role of the observer. The observer by the act of observing changes things.
When I hear newly weds (or those soon to be married) discuss red packets at weddings, I get the distinct impression that to them, red packets and by extension the guests, are a means to cover cost. Now, is that how these couples feel, or is it just merely how I think they feel.
I know how I got the impression although I can’t remember whose wedding led to the impression. Many many years ago, I was invited to a wedding. Last minute. Like a few days before the wedding. When I attended the wedding, I was stuck at a table with strangers. The wedding was just one whole going through the motions charade.
Stand up to welcome couple. Sit down. Wait for first course. Watch video montage of photos. Eat a few more courses. Stand up for the couple’s second entrance. Toast the couple. Hear best man say a few words. Hear the speech from the groom. Eat a little more. Take photo with couple. Eat a little more. Walk out main entrance shaking the hands of the parents and the couple.
Singaporean weddings are so standardized that it would make Henry Ford proud.
I shared the incident of the last-minute wedding with some friends and the consensus was that I was a third-tier friend, invited only because a space opened up and the couple didn’t want to waste a slot (i.e. pay for an empty seat).
And so I developed a cynicism that activated each time I got a wedding invitation. Was I being invited because the couple genuinely wanted me there. Or was I a last minute inclusion because a more important friend couldn’t make it. Had they initially wanted me at the wedding but I was excluded because of space constraints and now they were more than happy that they could include me. Or was I there to make sure they didn’t get one less red packet.
You would think that I would know the strength of my own friendships with my friends to not be bugged by such questions. And it is true. For most weddings I’ve been invited to, I knew the reason I was invited and going – to celebrate an important occasion with friends I love.
But the questions became relevant when I started wondering why other people were at these weddings. Did my friends invite them because of their parents? Was it because the use of the ballroom demanded that a certain number of tables be filled? Were these extra tables subsidizing the couple’s desire to have a wedding in a ballroom at a specific hotel?
The thought process that goes through my head when deciding the amount to put into a red packet.
1. He/She is a good friend. I really want to give an amount to bless them.
2. But hey, don’t you remember, red packets are really just about covering cost (this is my arguably flawed perception of the thinking occurring in the minds of people getting married).
3. So what’s the cost of a table?
4. Ok, I’ll just give my share.
5. But wait, he/she is a good friend.
6. Ok, so I give enough to cover my cost and a little more.
7. Wait, can I afford to give enough to cover both the cost and the blessing?
The continuation of the above thought process is linked to how I see people react when they realize they didn’t get a red packet from a guest or that the guest gave below a certain benchmark (usually the cost of a table divided by ten) – they get upset.
Now, there are many reasons to be upset, some valid, some invalid, and one of them which I think is invalid is the feeling that the guest didn’t live up to the expectation of helping the couple not lose money for the banquet.
A valid one might be – I thought we are close friends, and well, they aren’t poor, so giving so little, makes me think our friendship is not valuable (sadly, whether we like it or not, money is a marker of worth and value in our society).
8. Since society has made it really just about covering cost (or rather since I think society has really made it just about covering cost), then, I’ll shall just put enough to cover cost. If that’s the standard, then, let’s play by it.
Which of course is rather petty.
Giving the red packet isn’t about how my married friends will react to the amount or about what their expectations are or even how society at large plays this game. It is really about me wanting to do right with my friends.
It is about me wanting to bless them as they enter the next phase in their lives.
In a way, I’ve missed the opportunity to think that way with 3 of my best friends – JS, HX and WS. I won’t make that mistake anymore.