Registry Roulette: Will My Snooping Habit Bite Me Back?

When the link to Tori Spelling’s wedding registry at Tiffany-diamond-cut centerpiece bowl: $595; Sterling silver menorah: $2,800-was posted on Gawker a few months ago, I realized that everyone else was doing something I’d been furtively practicing for years. I love reading other people’s registries, whether I know them or not. It wouldn’t be such an uncomfortable discovery, except that one day very soon-June 26, 2004, to be exact-I will be joining the ranks of couples whose materialistic desires I’ve spent so much time making fun of. I’m getting married, and, of course, we registered.

My history of voyeurism goes back a decade, when the Donald was marrying Marla Maples in a 1,500-person ceremony at the Plaza. I was working at New York magazine and then-editor Kurt Andersen wanted to find out what the happy couple had registered for. It was surprisingly easy. I put on a cheap suit and pearl earrings and walked into the registry department at Tiffany.

“May I please have the list for Marla Maples?” I asked. The saleswoman handed over the registry, no questions asked.

Nowadays, with the Internet, you don’t even have to know where a couple is registered. If you surf the usual suspects-Tiffany’s, Bloomingdale’s, Michael C. Fina-and randomly enter names, you can find out a lot about people that they didn’t intend everyone to know. For instance:

1. A woman who was marrying a friend I’d fallen out of touch with was every bit the Pygmalionizer I suspected. He had always enjoyed camping. She’d registered them for a $1,200 sterling tea tray. Not such a surprise, I guess, from a woman who asked her guests to get to her wedding in the South of France at least a day in advance of the rehearsal dinner so they wouldn’t look jet-lagged in her photos.

2. Sex columnist Amy Sohn-well, it doesn’t seem that there’s much she wouldn’t want the world to know about her. She and her husband registered at Moss in Soho, but there are no items listed in their queue. Maybe they couldn’t agree on anything?

3. Shoshanna Lonstein (Saks) has surprisingly subdued taste, choosing Herend’s floral “Queen Victoria” china pattern (at $131 a dinner plate).

It’s a petty habit, but the pleasure I got from my discoveries somehow made up for all those times I had to go on those sites and actually buy an All-Clad frying pan.

Then I got engaged. My fiancé and I had an exhilarating six-month courtship and, at first, registering for gifts was the last thing on my mind. I hated how greedy and demanding it seemed. (One couple I know registered at Bloomingdale’s because store policy allows you to exchange your gifts for cold, hard cash-which they plan on doing.) Months passed, and it seemed there was a conspiracy afoot. Everyone started to ask us where we had registered. I repeatedly expressed my ambivalence. What if I asked my guests to make donations to charity instead? “You’ll still just wind up with a bunch of clocks from Fortunoff,” one friend warned.

At the urging of my future in-laws, we did a trial run in Eric’s hometown, Omaha, Neb. There, in the middle of a mall, was a fabled place called Borsheim’s. Everyone who’s anyone in Omaha registers at Borsheim’s. “They have everything!” Eric’s mom said-including, Eric pointed out, an entire alcove of housewares commemorating the five national championships won by the University of Nebraska football team.

I immediately clashed with our registry consultant, who expected me to pick out two sets of china, “one for everyday and one for special occasions.” I tried to explain: “We live in a small city apartment; we’re not going to be doing a ton of entertaining. Plus, we’re not inviting enough people to ask for all that.” Having waited on Eric’s family in the past, she assured us, “Oh, that’s O.K. In the Jewish culture there are many holidays, and friends and family will keep buying you gifts from the list for years after you’re married!”

We pulled the plug on Borsheim’s. Back in New York ( phew ), Eric and I went to Michael C. Fina, which is so big and heterogeneous that it seemed to carry the fewest negative associations. My guiding principle: I would only register for things that I myself would buy someone else. ($100 is usually my limit). When Eric’s eyes wandered over to the Hermès safari china, I gently steered him toward the Kate Spade (half the price, and I prefer not to eat with zebras looking up at me). Not so the New York Times television critic Virginia Heffernan and her husband, writer David Samuels, who displayed remarkable bravery-or hubris, or both-by selecting the Hermès, at $110 a dinner plate.

“What about these?” asked Eric, pointing to a set of cabbage-leaf-shaped majolica. “Too WASP wannabe,” I said. I was looking for something understated and mid-range, something that didn’t signal an overinflated sense of self-worth. Eric and I haggled like rug merchants. For the most part, I was able to hold the line, except for the $290 Diana Gaikazova cherry bowl that Eric thought was “neat.”

“You haven’t registered for enough stuff,” a married friend said after inspecting our printout. “You have to go back out there. Try a national chain. For the guests who’ve never heard of Michael C. Fina.”

So it was that on a recent weekend, we went to the new Williams-Sonoma in the Time Warner Center. And lo and behold, William-Sonoma actually has a password-protection option on its Internet registry to prevent snoopers like me. “But nobody ever chooses that option,” our saleswoman warned. “It’s really a pain for the couple, since you have to track guests down to give them the password. Then there are people who you may not have invited to your wedding, well-wishers who may want to buy you something.”

“They must be from the Jewish culture,” Eric said.

“I suppose strangers could go on your registry to look at the stuff you want,” she continued. “But who’s really going to take the time to do that?” I feigned ignorance.

We made our way around the store, scanner gun in hand. Once again, I was anxious and fearful. But Eric was having a great time. He compared toasters. He insisted on scanning an 11-cup Cuisinart food processor, even though he admitted that he’s never used one in his life. When he paused in front of the Le Creusets, I tried to explain to him my philosophical problem with cast-iron pots as status symbols.

Two hours later, I was ravenously tearing into a $14 package of Easter Marshmallow Medley. Eric was deep in discussion with a sales consultant about Wustof knives.

“I’ve got to get out of here,” I said. “Check it out,” he said. “A knife specifically designed to make crinkle-cut French fries!”

In my state of exhaustion, I forgot to request password protection. The next day, I got an e-mail from Williams-Sonoma notifying me that our registry was already online.

So go ahead. Check out what we’re asking for. I don’t have any problem with that, really. That’s D-A-V-I-S, R-U-T-H and K-O-N-I-G-S-B-E-R-G, E-R-I-C. Registry Roulette: Will My Snooping Habit Bite Me Back?