Rhoad to the Altar: ‘Miss Manners’
and today’s wedding etiquette

When it comes to weddings, I feel like I am very unschooled in the etiquette surrounding such a large affair.

I’ve been to plenty of weddings, but when it comes to how to do everything properly, I’m lost.

My wedding will probably be the biggest event I will ever co-plan in my life, and I want to do it right.

Christian brought home “Miss Manners’ Guide to a Surprisingly Dignified Wedding” by Judith Martin and Jacobina Martin from the Martin Library in downtown York and I started reading it to  get a handle on how this wedding business should be conducted, and it really was an eye-opener.

She does a great job of breaking the book down into “etiquette” — or things that have just become so commonplace, right or wrong, that most brides, grooms, parents and guests have just come to accept them — and actual wedding etiquette.

Here are some of commonly held ideas passed off as wedding “etiquette”:

  • Brides are granted dictoral power over looks, locations, behavior of guests and wedding party, menu, no matter budget or family input.
  • Wedding planners are far superior to any experience mothers have.
  • Weddings consist of a series of showy events to entertain, including a grandiose proposal, engagement party, series of bridal showers, bachlorette/bachlor party, organized events the day/weekend before the wedding, including a dinner party and an all-night party after the ceremony, with brunch the next day.
  • Only guests known by the couple will be invited, regardless of parents’ wishes.
  • Couples must register so everyone knows what to get them. And if they don’t need presents, maybe guests can help pay for the couple’s honeymoon or just give them money for their new house.
  • Though you expect presents of the highest caliber, thanks don’t need to be acknowledged for an entire year.

Things guests have come to expect:

  • Hosts’ must provide self-addressed envelopes with RSVPs, because how else are they going to get back to the wedding couple?
  • Guests are entitled to bring guests of their own. Isn’t it the the more the merrier?
  • Guests are expected to pay for their plate and then some to help the poor couple who just shelled out thousands upon thousands of dollars for a night of entertainment.
  • If couples don’t register, they expect cash.

Some of these rules of “etiquette” just floor me. The fact that guests should “pay for their plates” is something I never would expect or thought was expected of me. If you want to throw a $30,000 wedding and spend $100 a plate, that’s your choice, not mine. And I would never imagine waiting more than a month to thank guests for spending their time and money to come help me celebrate my wedding. However, some of the things that might be passed on as etiquette, such as registering for gifts, make more sense today.

Miss Manners addresses everything from wording of wedding invitations to who should receive invites and the fact that your wedding should not be an event disguised as a three-ring circus. For the most part, her opinion on weddings is very old-school and traditional, making some things seem almost old-fashioned.

Courtesy of Gelatobaby — Flickr.com
No one loves a bridezilla.

Registering – the gift that keeps on giving
For example, Miss Manners doesn’t think registering follows the rules of etiquette because it’s like telling your guests how to spend their money. I agree to a certain extent and have been to plenty of weddings where couples register for absolutely outrageous items, such as a $90 knife bag or a $100 anti-fog shave mirror for the shower. However, without a registry, I’d be lost as to what my friends want and need.

She said the idea is that if you are inviting people who are close enough share your special day, then they should know you well enough to give a thoughtful gift. True, but friends drift apart and separate enough that it doesn’t work that way anymore. Just because I consider someone a close friend doesn’t mean I know what they need to stock their kitchen.

The more the ‘marrier,’ right?
On the other hand, Miss Manners’ book gives guidance on some wedding etiquette I didn’t quite know how to approach. For example, who exactly should get a plus-one on their wedding invitation?

She points out that guests seem to think weddings are free-for-all parties and that they should be able to bring the girl/guy they picked up at the bar last Friday as a date. However, most people can’t afford to feed all of their friends’ friends. As guidance, unless your guest is married, in a serious relationship, or may not know anyone else at the wedding, a plus-one isn’t mandatory. And if the person addressed on the invitation can’t come, then guests shouldn’t feel like it’s a free pass to bring whomever they want.

Another one that surprised me is that couples aren’t actually supposed to provide an RSVP. By telling people to RSVP, etiquette calls for invitation recipients to write their own (in formal tone)  response, stamp it themselves, and walk it to their own mailbox. I’m all for this. My guests really can’t manage to put their own stamp on an RSVP? How you are going to manage driving yourself to my wedding?

In planning your wedding, Miss Manners advises approaching the planning in the opposite route most couples take. Most people find their venue and then cut the guest list as needed. The point of weddings is to celebrate with your close friends and relatives, so when 50 or so people won’t receive invitations because the Such-and-Such Chalet only accommodates 126 people, it goes against the wedding’s main purpose. Figure out your guest list first, and find a wedding venue that fits your number.

Gift-giving max-out

Courtesy of CWMGary — sxc.hu
Weddings shouldn’t be used to pilfer gifts from your friends and relatives.

Miss Manners addresses the topic of gifts in multiple chapters, as that weddings are not to be used as fundraisers. Today, weddings seem to be prefaced with multiple parties, and by the time the wedding actually occurs, guests are burned out on buying presents. There’s the engagement party, the bridal shower(s), the bachlorette party. These parties, aside from the bridal shower, are not traditional, and while most maids of honor are happy to throw their bride a shower, even that is not mandatory. Do not use your wedding to see how much you can pilfer from your friends.

Don’t be a bridezilla
Also, remember that while yes, you are the one getting married, that doesn’t mean that this is just “your” day. Don’t forget all of the people who raised you and helped you get to where you are today. This is a big day for your parents and other relatives, so give them common courtesy with the guest list. She points out the fact that your parents are just excited to share the day with their close friends as you are.

What Miss Manner boils it down to is don’t lose sight of the reason why all of this wedding craziness is occurring — to celebrate the joining of two families and the joy that surrounds that. Be polite, as a bride, as a future wife and as a daughter/sister/best friend. Remember common courtesy during planning and execution and that everyone else hasn’t been living their life in anticipation of this day like you have/or will for the next year or so.

I definitely recommend picking up this book just to give you a little bit of a different perspective on all of the hooplah and ridiculousness that surrounds wedding planning. It gave me the chance to step back and say “Just because everyone else does these things, doesn’t mean it’s necessarily how weddings should be.” It also made me feel better about being a bit more down-to-earth than those crazy bridezillas out there.

You may also like...

2 Responses

  1. Jo Ott says:

    Love Judith Martin and I miss reading her weekly column in the Washington Post since moving back to PA. Not sure if she still is a Post columnist. She’s a classy lady who lived in DC–not sure if that’s still so either. One of the first lessons I learned from her many years ago is on making telephone calls. Never before 9 am or after 9 pm! I still practice it, but of course that was long before email and all the electronic devices many have today that allow us to send messages 24/7 without awakening someone in the middle of the night. Although I haven’t seen her on tv for years (I don’t turn on the tv during the day or watch talk shows) once in a while she will make a tv appearance and if you ever get the opportunity to see her, do so.

  2. Abby Rhoad says:

    Thanks so much for your comment, Jo! I think I might pick up a couple of the other Miss Manners books at the library. A little etiquette can go a long way! I think it should be a class kids are required to talk in school. :)

Leave a Reply