Saturday, October 30, 2010

Wedding Etiquette and Other Forgotten Things

We have a couple of friends who are getting married soon. I haven’t been to a wedding in South Africa, but I’ve been to a bunch of them in America, and virtually every one of them has left me shaking my head…not at the nuptial couple, but at some of their guests. Who knew that the abandonment of manners and consideration for others had reached even such personally significant events as weddings?

Most of the grim wedding guest gaffes I have observed have involved alcohol or children…or both. One wedding, the mother of the ring-bearer, a cute little rosy-cheeked blonde boy, used up her drink tickets (how the bride and groom had chosen to limit the hits on the bar) and spent a good portion of the reception cadging tickets from the groomsmen and other men. She was young and pretty and flirtatious…and seriously intoxicated. The little boy was looked after by his slightly older sister as Mama reeled from man to man, flirting her way to inebriation. I don’t know how she got home, but I can only hope she did not drive herself and those kids!

Another wedding, held in a rose garden in a San Francisco Park, was lovely…until a baby started crying. One of the family members was making a video of the event and, according to my friend the groom, the infant’s wailing drowned out the vows and even a good bit of the music. Also marring the event was the infant’s toddler brother running amok during the ceremony and later at the reception. Neither child had been invited, and the bride and groom simply had assumed that their guests did not need to be told that a formal wedding was an adults-only affair.

My own wedding, an informal affair held in an Indian restaurant, had its own surprising and unexpected event. When I sent out the RSVP cards, I made sure to limit the number of attendees by giving the guest only two choices: 1 person attending or 2 persons attending. Imagine my surprise when my brother’s RSVP card came back with “4 persons” inked in. Sure enough, he showed up with his girlfriend and her two young teens who proceeded to turn up their noses at the buffet offerings (which were purposefully chosen to appeal to people who do not have much experience with Indian food…plenty of simple, unspiced choices). Imagine my surprise when our 35+ invited guests sat down to their chicken tikka and breyani and these two (uninvited) kids scarfed down a bag of McDonalds!

While it is technically incorrect to address an invitation to “Miss Mary Smith and Guest” as a wedding does not qualify as a dating event, many people are uncomfortable attending a wedding singly. Having no other way to formally indicate that Miss Mary may choose to attend with an escort, the “and Guest” tradition has pretty much taken hold. Unfortunately, a shocking number of people seem to no longer understand that the day is about the bride and groom rather than themselves, and take a wounded…or even insulted…attitude when they perceive that little Perceival and Priscilla are not part of the invitation. The “love me, love my kids” attitude is fine for single mommies shopping for a new husband, but it just doesn’t fly at some else’s wedding…even when the bride is a sibling of the invitee. Children, unless specifically invited (in which case a wise bride will have provided diversions for them), are not part of the wedding invitation.

I have to wonder what my old colleague must think whenever he and his wife view their wedding video. They wrote their own vows, heartfelt words pledging themselves to each other, but all that can be heard on the video is the screaming of someone else’s infant. American life being as transient as it is, they may no longer even be in contact with the mother of that child, may even have forgotten who she is, save for the obliterating of their vows by her child’s screams.

One of the outstanding memories of my own wedding is seeing my brother’s girlfriend leave the restaurant, only to return later with a McDonald’s bag in hand. Did it not occur to her the insult this must have dealt the restaurateur, who had gone out of his way to prepare a menu designed to appeal to both Indian food aficionados and neophytes alike? Did she not recognize this as a learning opportunity for those children, an opportunity to teach them to put someone else first for a short time? These children were in their early teens, easily old enough to wait an hour or two for the food of their choice or to politely nibble on a bit of salad if they couldn’t bring themselves to try a piece of tikka chicken or some plain boiled rice. In truth, they shouldn’t have been there at all, they were not on the guest list and, despite their refusal to sample the food, they counted in the head count so we paid for them, invited or not, whether they ate or not.

And that is a large part of the problem with uninvited guests at a wedding, particularly at a reception. The bride and groom pay “per person” for the food and the caterer prepares a quantity of food based on headcount. Buffets may be able to accommodate an extra person or two, but plated meals are a real problem: if the caterer has set up for 100 guests and four extra people come, what are they to do? There aren’t enough place settings, chairs, or food to accommodate the extra parties. And if the extras are uninvited children, there’s nothing for the kids to do except get bored, tired, and disruptive.

“Not my kids!” I hear some of you saying. Yes, your kids! We all have different ideas about what is acceptable behaviour from children, some of us more liberal than others. What is acceptable behaviour to you may be profoundly offensive to someone else, and another person’s wedding is simply not the place to demonstrate the result of your child-rearing philosophies to a large assemblage. Even if your children are beautifully behaved, the centre of attention should be the bride and groom, not some cute little tot who has recently mastered…and simply must show off…her curtsey or his alphabet. Bottom line, if your children’s names are not on the invitation, they are not invited…do not bring them!

The same goes for your boyfriend, girlfriend, neighbour, mother, cousin…unless the invitation clearly indicates that you may bring a guest (i.e., the invitation is addressed to more than just you), you are to attend solo. And be sure to RSVP, otherwise you will show up as an “extra,” your invitation notwithstanding. Failure to RSVP is the same as declining, so don’t be shocked if you rock up and the bride, groom, and caterer are all surprised…and even dismayed…at your arrival.

It amazes me how many people do not seem to understand that a wedding is A) a solemn affair and B) an affair in which the bride and groom are intended to be the centre of attention. What you choose to wear and what statements you choose to make at your own wedding is, of course, your own business, but hijacking someone else’s wedding and competing with the nuptial couple for attention is just tacky and in bad taste.

Women are not supposed to wear black (a funeral colour and worn only if you wish to tastefully display your disapproval of the marriage) nor are they supposed to wear white or near-white colours, which are the bride’s colours. Daring cleavage, bare midriffs, bare thighs…each a serious fashion faux pas at a wedding. Also eschew attention-grabbing hair styles and colours, hats that grab attention and/or block the view of other attendees, stripper heels, and tight pants. In fact, at a wedding, women should be wearing dresses or skirts and pants are seldom appropriate unless they are of the flowing palazzo pant variety. All of this, of course, does not apply if you are attending a theme wedding or if the bride has assented to something unusual in your garb, knowing it will likely take attention away from her.

Men can be fashion fumblers at weddings as well. Unless otherwise reliably informed (eg, by the bride, not the groom), don’t plan to wear jeans, sandals, sneakers (takkies), caps or hats (unless you are Jewish or it’s a Jewish wedding and you are sporting a yarmulke) and for heaven’s sake, wear socks!! Formal trousers, a dress shirt, leather shoes, a tie, a sport coat…minimal attire for men at the average wedding. Make sure you shave or, if you have facial hair, that it is neat and trimmed.

This is a day belonging to someone else. It is not a platform for you to display to the assemblage how eccentric or what a fashionista you are, or how politically “relevant” you have become. It is not a place to display evidence of your love of animals, the environment, a political party or leader, a religious leaning…this is not a venue for you for anything except to witness the bride and groom become united in matrimony and then share a feast in their honour. If you do not feel you can attend the nuptials and keep PETA in your pocket or Green Peace silent in the harbour of your brain, if you don’t think you can spend several hours watching two people wed and celebrate their union without drawing attention to yourself and your pet causes or peeves, then stay home!! If you feel you absolutely must have a large audience to which to demonstrate your beliefs or feelings or even your sartorial eccentricities, you are well within your rights to throw a party of your own…at your own expense…but you have no right to hijack someone else’s celebration for your own purposes. Good manners and respect for the bridal couple dictates that you do everything in your power to help create a positive, pleasant atmosphere that the bride and groom can remember happily for the rest of their lives.

If you are lucky enough to be part of the bridal party, this means you sacrifice a bit of your own convenience for the rare opportunity to help the bride shine on her special day. Have your own grooming needs taken care of the day before the wedding…nails, hair colour and cut, facial, etc., because on The Day the bride is going to need your help. You are an “attendant” and that is more than an empty title…you are expected to be with her in the hours before the wedding, both for moral support and for practical matters, like helping her with her gown and veil, buttoning 10,000 little buttons, remembering something blue and the coin in her shoe, last minute touch ups to hair and make up, etc. etc. As a bridal attendant, you actually have a job and your reward is that you get to be part of the wedding party…remember that the bride is that star of the show and that you are one of the supporting players.

Remember this is a celebration, but it is their celebration, not yours. Keep your alcohol intake modest, leave everybody at home except those whose names are on the invitation, remember to RSVP, dress appropriately and most of all, enjoy yourself…your joy will simply add to the joy of the celebration!


  1. Yes, Etiquette. Gone are the days when a book on etiquette was a suitable wedding gift. People even used to joined fraternal organizations where they were encouraged to exercise good manners including writing thank you notes. Does anybody know what a thank you note is? Bread and butter gifts anyone? We are now a culture of crude morons. Norine

  2. Yes and sadly, it is contagious and it is spreading across the world. South Africa has always been more European than American, but that, unfortunately, is changing... More than McDonald's, Coca Cola and KFC are being imported and eagerly adopted by the locals.

    It wasn't so bad when bad manners was a choice...when people KNEW what was expected of them and they chose to ignore the standards. You could appeal to their sense of honour...or get them to respect the rights and feelings of others (which is basically what manners are all about). Now, however, we have ignorance and all its attendant evils: stubborn refusal to admit and correct error, self-righteous insistence on one's "right" of self-determination, narcissistic belief that what one wants is what one is entitled to do. It was a sad day when we decided our own rights superseded the feelings and rights of others and then taught that selfishness to our children...children who are now crude, clueless adults who are raising children no better than themselves. Fortunately, I am sufficiently aged that I shall have gone (politely) to my reward before the ultimate debacle that is inevitable in "every man for himself" societies.

  3. Unfortunately, I agree with your response. What is unsaid is the deterioration of "family values", which I define more pointedy as the obvious result of drug use. Drugs including alcohol make people selfish and crazy, and sadly, in its circular reasoning, that has become okay. Norine

  4. Thank you! Finally someone who thinks like I do! I am planning a wedding for next May and people are shocked that I don't want children there. I hate to admit it, but it's getting to the point that I'll have to specifically write "no children" on my wedding invitations.

    The last time I went to a wedding, it was my female cousin's. When she walked down the isle, the whole church turned to look at how pretty she was. Apparently, this infuriated a little girl who thought all the attention should go to her. The little girl raced down the isle and began jumping up and down on the wedding gown leaving shoe prints everywhere. What made this scene even worse was the fact that the child's mother thought this was hilarious and was too busy laughing to stop her child. I was mortified! This was suppose to be my cousin's special day, but she spent most of the day in the bathroom crying.

  5. Tiffany, maybe you could send potential violators a link to this blog post. It MIGHT give them a clue...

    Hope your wedding goes off without a hitch and child-free!!




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