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· Culture Notes: Two Months' Salary

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Culture Notes: Two Months' Salary
by Dorothy

I recently caught a link to this series by Lee Gainer, in which she collected images of engagement rings at various price points, representing two months' salary (or wages) for a variety of occupations. Two months' salary, as you probably know, is the amount a man is "supposed" to spend on an engagement ring, for fear of being thought stingy and unloving. According to Gainer's research, this rule was invented and proclaimed by DeBeers in 1947.

It occurs to me that aside from being extravagant, this "rule", if followed, renders engagement rings rather vulgar; it's a well-established rule of etiquette that it's impolite to talk about money in public, and allowing a ring to do the talking for you -- "I'm marrying a man who makes this much!" -- isn't much better. Gainer's statement on the series refers to derogatory comments made about men who buy insufficiently expensive rings -- "he tried his best but it wasn't good enough", "very nice for a friendship ring", that sort of thing.

A shame, because I think several of the "cheap" (still not actually cheap) rings here are rather pretty. Of course the entire engagement ring phenomenon is a bit lost on me. My mother didn't have one, I'm pretty sure my grandmothers didn't either, I rarely wear rings, and while I admire individual pieces of diamond jewellery, diamonds in general don't suit my personality (absent-minded), my colouring, my politics or my budget.

Gainer is obviously very critical of the engagement ring "tradition". Her reasoning makes sense to me, but I remain a little more agnostic. I have a number of friends who cherish their engagement rings and I would never criticize them for this; even so, I can't say the practice holds much appeal for me.

What do you think?

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4/22/2009 [16]

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