An eti­quette re­fresher for wed­ding sea­son

The Washington Post Sunday - - ON LOVE - BY ME­GAN MCDONOUGH me­gan.mcdonough@wash­post.com

Wed­dings are com­pli­cated. From plus-one in­vi­ta­tions to pick­ing the bri­dal party to dis­cussing the bud­get, wed­ding eti­quette can be tricky for the cou­ple and their guests. And it doesn’t help that ex­pec­ta­tions are con­stantly evolv­ing with tech­nol­ogy and chang­ing so­cial norms.

So, how can you avoid, or ad­dress, sticky and some­times stress­ful sit­u­a­tions?

En­ter Lizzie Post, the pres­i­dent of the Emily Post In­sti­tute and co-host of the podcast “Awe­some Eti­quette” (and, yes, the great-great-grand­daugh­ter of so­ci­ety doyenne Emily Post).

In a re­cent tele­phone in­ter­view, Post tack­led some all-toocom­mon wed­ding prob­lems, of­fer­ing ad­vice on how best to nav­i­gate them. Q: What do you do if you were in­vited to a wed­ding but did not re­ceive a plus-one and would like one?

A: You do noth­ing. I hate to say it, but there are no op­tions. That’s when you buck up and say, “Maybe I’ll meet some­one cool at the wed­ding — whether it be a friend, a ro­man­tic in­ter­est or just a gal pal.” You put on all your best “per­son out on their own” tac­tics, whether that be some good con­ver­sa­tion starters or al­low­ing your­self the per­mis­sion to say, “I’m go­ing to use this week­end as an op­por­tu­nity to en­joy time with my­self and cel­e­brate the cou­ple.” Q: My orig­i­nal plus one is no longer able to at­tend. Can I bring a friend or fam­ily mem­ber in their place?

A: I would call the bride or groom, which­ever per­son you’re clos­est to, and say, “Hey, lis­ten, it turns out my plus one can’t come af­ter all. I’d love to bring some­one else and I have a per­son in mind. Is it okay if I switch and get you the new, cor­rect name?”

I think as long as you’ve been is­sued a plus one, you should be fine, but a phone call con­ver­sa­tion is the way to do it. If you send a note along with the in­vi­ta­tion, it sounds as though you are dic­tat­ing [the switch] rather than if you men­tion it to them di­rectly. Ei­ther way, you need to let them know ahead of time. You don’t want some­one else’s name show­ing up on the ta­ble cards. Q: Can I live-stream or Snapchat the wed­ding cer­e­mony?

A: Not un­less the bride and groom have specif­i­cally re­quested it. The bride and groom will set that up if that’s some­thing they would like to do. I think it’d be pretty rude to do it on your own ac­cord with­out check­ing with them first. I’d also cau­tion peo­ple against post­ing any­thing at or about the wed­ding be­fore the bride and groom have had a chance to do so. Q: How much should I spend on a wed­ding present?

A: That is en­tirely de­pen­dent upon your bud­get. If you are go­ing to 20 wed­dings in one year, you might have a $10 wed­ding bud­get, and that is per­fectly fine. A sen­ti­men­tal gift can be an in­ex­pen­sive gift, or it could be a very ex­pen­sive gift. It’s up to you and your cur­rent fi­nan­cial sit­u­a­tion. Q: Should I bring a present to an en­gage­ment party?

A: No, but this varies re­gion­ally. When I RSVP, I would ask the host, “Are you ex­pect­ing peo­ple to be bring­ing presents?” It’s a good ques­tion to ask be­cause you can al­ways send an en­gage­ment gift to the cou­ple’s home. I’ve been to en­gage­ment par­ties where it was all about open­ing gifts — al­most like a bri­dal shower — which was very un­ex­pected. Q:I want to cut cor­ners and have a cash bar. Will my fam­ily mem­bers dis­own me?

A: No, and yes. Cash bars are in­ap­pro­pri­ate. You don’t ask some­one to come and cel­e­brate one of the most special days of your life, sug­gest gifts that this per­son would buy and then say, “Hey. Can you also pay for your drinks?”

No. No, no, no, no, no. In­stead, limit it to beer and wine, or serve a spe­cialty cock­tail. There are lots of ways to do it, but make sure you are pick­ing up the tab for it. Q: What if I want to back out of brides­maid or best man du­ties?

A: First, when some­one asks, don’t im­me­di­ately say yes. Say, “Oh, my, that is such an honor, thank you so much. I would love some time to look at my sched­ule, and my bud­get, to make sure I can com­mit to ev­ery­thing so you have the sup­port that you need.”

And, if you can’t do it, say: “I re­ally can’t com­mit to this, but I want to show you my love and sup­port on this day. Is there some­thing else we can come up with, whether it be a toast, a read­ing or just gen­er­ally be­ing help­ful, I can do to sup­port you? I want you to know it has noth­ing to do with not be­ing your close friend or stand­ing up there and sup­port­ing you. It’s to­tally cir­cum­stan­tial.” Q: I am a brides­maid in a wed­ding and the maid of honor (MOH) isn’t ful­fill­ing her re­spon­si­bil­i­ties. What should I do?

A: You can take the reigns, by all means, but please don’t mi­cro­man­age the maid of honor. Check in with the bride di­rectly, not the other brides­maids (you don’t want to step on any toes). I’d say, “I know when I was a MOH these were my du­ties and I just want to make sure it’s all be­ing taken care of. If you need me to fill in or sup­port you with any­thing at all, I would be more than happy to help.” Q: How much should I ex­pect to spend if I am a MOH or best man?

A: That is com­pletely de­pen­dent on what your bride is set­ting forth as her game plan. You need to find out, in ad­vance, what’s be­ing re­quested and what’s be­ing of­fered. Some brides will pay for all the hair and makeup; oth­ers don’t. It de­pends on what the bride is set­ting forth. I see brides set forth things like, “We are go­ing to do a five-day week­end in Ve­gas.” And you’re just like, “What? That’s a $1,000 trip.” It’s daunt­ing.

If your bud­get is tight, tell the bride: “I’ll be able to come to this, this and this, but I won’t be able to make it to the oth­ers. I’d re­ally like to be there, but un­for­tu­nately my sched­ule, bud­get, etc., won’t al­low it.” Pro­vide the real rea­son, which is usu­ally time and ex­penses. Lizzie Post, the great­great-grand­daugh­ter of so­ci­ety doyenne Emily Post, is the pres­i­dent of the Emily Post In­sti­tute and co­host of the podcast “Awe­some Eti­quette.” She is co-au­thor of “Emily Post’s Wed­ding Eti­quette,” sixth edi­tion, with her sis­ter Anna Post. Q: If some­one asks me to be in their wed­ding, do I have to re­cip­ro­cate when it’s my turn?

A: No. Q: Can I wear a white dress to a mar­riage cer­e­mony of two men?

A: Ask the grooms ahead of time, but I would as­sume yes. Q: How much a faux pas is it to wear a suit to a black-tie func­tion?

A: It de­pends on if the dress code is manda­tory. I would say worse things could hap­pen to you in life, how­ever, if the at­tire has been listed as black tie, you re­ally should show up in black tie. If you can’t, I hope your suit looks in­cred­i­ble. You’ll need a dark suit that looks sharp, a nice tie, shirt and shoes . . . . Ev­ery­thing has got to be in mint con­di­tion and fit­ting well. Q: What should I buy the cou­ple if they don’t have a wed­ding registry?

A: That is a trick­ier sce­nario, but I al­ways go the route of an en­graved pic­ture frame with the date or some­thing that may be mean­ing­ful to the cou­ple. Ev­ery­one takes pho­tos and you know the cou­ple is go­ing to get pho­tos from their pho­tog­ra­pher, but what do they do with them? Frames. Q: How long do I have to give the cou­ple a wed­ding present?

A: Three months. It used to be a year, but now, with our fast­paced so­ci­ety, we’ve upped it. You don’t want peo­ple strag­gling or sit­ting on it. Q: If I can’t at­tend the wed­ding, do I need to send a gift?

A: This is the only in­vi­ta­tion that you’ll re­ceive where the gift is con­sid­ered oblig­a­tory. This is a big-deal in­vite; this is not a birth­day party. The ac­tual wed­ding it­self — to be there and to be asked to be present when some­one is com­mit­ting his or her life to an­other per­son — is a mas­sive honor. It’s im­por­tant to rec­og­nize that com­mit­ment and say, “Thank you for con­sid­er­ing me some­one you would like to have at this very special mo­ment.” Q: The in­vi­ta­tion says no kids, but I’d still like to bring mine. How do I broach this sub­ject with the bride or groom?

A: First of all, your wed­ding in­vi­ta­tion should never in­di­cate “no kids.” You shouldn’t write “adults only” or “please get a babysit­ter,” or any­thing like that, on the in­vi­ta­tion . . . . The bride and groom in­di­cate a “no kids” pol­icy by only invit­ing the adults of the fam­ily to come or, in some cases, kids over 14. When the per­son writes in “Oh, Kevin and Kelsey will be join­ing us, too!” you call them up and say, “I am ter­ri­bly sorry, but I think there has been a mis­un­der­stand­ing with the in­vi­ta­tion. We will have babysit­ters on-site, but we’re re­ally keep­ing it to guests ages 14 years and older.” It’s okay to spell that out and make it clear to some­one — you just have to do it po­litely. Q: My ex is get­ting mar­ried to an­other per­son. Can I crash their wed­ding?

A: NO! That’s hor­ri­ble. You don’t get in­vited, you don’t go and you don’t go as some­one’s plus one. Don’t ever, ever do that. Q: Who should be the first peo­ple you tell about your en­gage­ment?

A: The very first peo­ple you should tell are your chil­dren, if you have any. Be­yond that, par­ents and sib­lings, grand­par­ents, aunts, un­cles, god­par­ents, best friends and then you can start open­ing it up to work col­leagues and so­cial me­dia. You want to get through that list of your friends in your clos­est in­ner cir­cle, and I ad­vise that you do so in per­son and over the phone to your clos­est fam­ily mem­bers and friends, and a phone call or email to the ex­tended fam­ily. Then, at last, so­cial me­dia. A lot of peo­ple ask, “Well, why?” and the rea­son is you don’t want your Aunt Karen find­ing out about the wed­ding from what your co-worker posted on Face­book. Q: How do I get my guests to RSVP in a timely man­ner?

A: You don’t. This is one [topic] that has plagued eti­quette ex­perts and hosts alike for years. What you do is put an RSVP date on the in­vi­ta­tion, but peo­ple just don’t, it’s re­ally an­noy­ing, so you have to call them up and ask for their RSVP. You are al­lowed to do that as of­ten as you need to, but re­mem­ber to be po­lite with each phone call. Q: I’m con­sid­er­ing send­ing on­line wed­ding in­vi­ta­tions. What do you think?

A: Not much. If you are host­ing a ca­sual, re­laxed wed­ding, with just your peers, I think you’re in a lot safer ter­ri­tory to do that. If you’re host­ing a for­mal or semi­for­mal event with lots of gen­er­a­tions at­tend­ing, I think that you need to think more about your guest list rather than con­ve­nience. This is a big-deal day, es­pe­cially if you’re set­ting up a registry. Don’t give it a small in­vi­ta­tion, and all on­line in­vi­ta­tions are small and ca­sual in my book. A for­mal in­vi­ta­tion sug­gests a for­mal event. You run the risk of the in­vi­ta­tions go­ing to spam or peo­ple for­get­ting about them. Q: Is it in­ap­pro­pri­ate to give new­ly­weds a wed­ding check?

A: No! Who doesn’t like money? Just make sure that check isn’t go­ing to bounce.

MOMCILOG/GETTY IM­AGES/ISTOCK

On June 1 at 12:30 p.m., Lizzie Post will be of­fer­ing eti­quette ad­vice and tak­ing ques­tions on Face­book at wapo.st/ wed­ding­donts. Are you get­ting mar­ried in the Wash­ing­ton re­gion? Tell us why we should fea­ture your nup­tials here. wapo.st/wed­dings

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