Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Unfamiliar Rules

I've been trying to help my sister with her wedding planning--getting the guest list put together, figuring out when things have to happen, that sort of thing. She's got most of it in hand, and when she was out visiting, we picked invitations and the associated bits and pieces that are included (rsvp, maps, ceremony/reception cards, etc). They are shipping now and she's getting ready to start the long evenings of addressing the things.

We, as a culture, just don't have big formal parties very often - weddings are about it for most people. There are all sorts of weird rules for things that we simply don't know (and if you don't pay attention you can miss them entirely). I didn't have placecards at my wedding, because I had absolutely no idea that I was supposed to, for example. Placecards? When was the last time you saw those? It all worked out, and in terms of faux pas it was a pretty minor one, but as I went through the books with Nin about what to do and when to do it and how to address things and the rest, it struck me that we really have to learn a whole new set of rules.

Take the RSVP card that's included in nearly every wedding invitation you've ever seen. It's actually a no-no in really formal circles, but everyone finally surrendered to the reality that no one writes personalized letters of regrets or acceptance anymore and has them delivered on little silver platters. We don't do it - and the etiquette for weddings finally realized that if the average person wanted to know how many people were coming to the wedding, providing them with an easy way to tell you is important. Now people are arguing whether the postcard version of the response card (instead of the little card and envelope) are acceptable, and whether providing a website or email address to response to is 'tacky'. This is all new to most people.

Which was hammered home when I started trolling a few of the wedding websites and forums looking for some general tips. Every single one has a dozen brides asking how to explicitly ask for cash as wedding gifts, or how to invite one person and not another, or how to make it clear that no children are invited to the wedding.

The "no children" thing is a serious hot-button issue with a lot of people. Some view a wedding as a huge family event at which everyone should be there and all kids should be included. To them, not inviting their children is insulting and rude. Others view a wedding as a formal adult celebration and do not want to have a dozen children running around. Sometimes it's a financial issue, sometimes it's a preference - want kids, or don't want them at the reception, either option is ok. You're not rude for not inviting them, if that's what you want. If you want kids, great. I'm not judging one way or the other.

Nin is definitely inviting kids to the wedding. She and her fiance are in their thirties, all their friends have kids - it is what they want. So for her, the issue is moot.

But there are a ton of couples out there who are struggling with the problem of not wanting to invite kids to their wedding - they aren't set up for it, they can't afford it, they simply want an adults-only affair. But this is apparently very hard to communicate to today's wedding guests. Every single forum is filled with questions on how to explain to guests who return a response card + 3, or communicate through family members how excited their kids are to come to the wedding, and when told that they aren't going to be able to bring them, announce that they aren't going to attend, either.

The thing is, there really is a rule about this -- it's just that we're so unfamiliar with the etiquette of formal invitations that no one knows what it is anymore. It's simple: only the people NAMED on the invitation are invitied. Makes perfect logical sense, but there are a lot of people out there that think an invitation to Mr. and Mrs. John Smith automatically includes their three children and the dog. I think we all intuitively know this, but given the conversations I've been reading online, a lot of people don't want to accept it. It should be enough that the invitation is written out to the two adults, to inform them that they should plan for a babysitter, but that's not always the case. Every bride was bemoaning the fact that they had to call people on their list to clarify that no, Junior is not invited and we simply cannot accomodate him. Sorry.

I wonder if you asked people randomly whether they would assume their "and family" was invited to a party, if the invitation was addressed to "Mr and Mrs...". We simply aren't aware of what the subtle wording is supposed to mean anymore. Our society isn't geared to that uber-formal sort of lifestyle, so the whole wedding etiquette thing is a monstrously huge list of do's and don'ts that are confusing. No wonder the bridal industry makes a mint on etiquette books and wedding planners. Oy!

As I said, it's not an issue for Nin's wedding - they want, and are inviting, kids. Ok, so how does that work? Technically, you're not supposed to write "and family" on the invitation, if you're being formal (and let's be honest, this is faux-formal nowadays, since we simply don't do it very often) you write all the names on the inner envelope - that's how you know that little Susie and Jimmy are invited. There are entire books out there with examples of how to address wedding invitations. What about "and guest"? Nin's fiance pointed out that he always got invitations addressed to him "and guest" and taht was perfectly fine. We pointed out to him that if the person is in a long-term relationship (as most of their friends are) then you are obligated to find out what the 'and guest's' name is and write that on the invitation (and in fact, they should receive their own). He was confused about this (well, so were we sometimes..everyone is.)

But we get to dress up, drink champagne, and pretend we know exactly how this high-society thing works. And I'm sure we'll mess up something, somewhere. It will still be fun!


laurafingerson said...

This is totally fascinating! As a casual person myself, this is a world I know nothing about. Totally interesting!

Anonymous said...

The things that get messed up will provide wonderful memories and stories for the future. What a memorable, loving affair with all those dear friends and children running around! And PJ will feel so very loved and involved. :-)