Manners & Misfits: Reasons to care about wedding etiquette

5 years ago

For a while now, a dominant trend in weddings has been personalization and originality. Wedding vendors have responded with goods and services custom-tailored to suit your retro, rustic, gamer, steampunk, or rockabilly wedding. Even so, the wedding section at your local bookstore is likely filled with books on traditional etiquette. That might seem constraining to conformity-averse couples (I'm half of one myself) who are comfortable bending rules. But try to compose an invite, and you'll discover their value. Today's prized modes of social conduct (self-promotion) and communication (texting, tweeting) can lack something when it comes to delicacy. Not everything can be said, or said well, in 140 characters. A few reasons to familiarize yourself with wedding etiquette:

Your diplomatic communication skills are a little rusty

You might have heard that your wedding is about you and your fiancé. That would make planning easy. The reality is that it is likely important to many people, and very important to some. Few occasions in life are charged with as much significance and emotion or involve all of your friends and family. A wedding is a public thing. And not for everyone (individualists, I refer you here). Having a wedding involves sharing sharing something personal with a community, and inviting them to celebrate and support your marriage. The respect goes both ways. It's a beautiful thing. And yes, it starts with the wording of your invitations. You're communicating with people of different generations, expectations, and values. Diversity is wonderful, part of every family, and sometimes a hassle. As Lucinda Holdforth writes in Why Manners Matter, manners evolved as "a means to help very different people exchange ideas with one another," creating common ground. If your primary vehicles for self-expression include one-way conversations on your wedding blog and decals on your motorcycle helmet for instance, your communication skills might need a little polishing.

This scenario is a new one

Inevitably, a wedding forces some unfamiliar situations upon you. It takes some finesse to insure that feelings are not hurt and your wedding is the happy occasion you want it to be for all. There might be people you would like to invite the reception but not the ceremony. People who invite themselves. People who "can't be in the same room together." True etiquette can be a help in these times and provide a welcome dose of sanity. You do your best. You put thought and care into the words you use and the consideration you give your guests. You're gracious and inclusive, with the help of whatever etiquette aids you have at your disposal. And then let yourself off the hook. You can't control the behavior of your guests or insure their happiness and trying to control what you can't is a recipe for bad manners.

Small weddings need cheerleaders 

I don't think I'm inclined toward judgmental or prudish attitudes when it comes to other people's celebrations, and I've been surprised to find my feelings in alignment with lots of what etiquette experts have to say about modern weddings.  Particularly in regards to their  disdain for a certain style of wedding perhaps best described as "narcissistic cleavage conventions".* For the record, it's the narcissism I find more distasteful than the cleavage. There will be little of either at my wedding. The latter due to natural causes.

Etiquette books can help drown out excess noise in the form of sales pitches, peer pressure, and unwanted advice. Champions of good manners generally favor weddings that put non-commodities like the dignity of the ceremony first. I agree with the opinion expressed in Miss Manners' Guide to a Surprisingly Dignified Wedding, that so much of what passes for etiquette is really pushy advice aimed at selling a bigger wedding, or an agenda that benefits a particular interest involved. As she puts it, the advice may sound "egotistically greedy and expensive," but "relatives, friends, colleagues, strangers, and most emphatically, wedding vendors and their publications assure [the engaged couple] that these are the customs and traditions they must follow." In Miss Manners' view, the comfort and enjoyment of guests is a priority, but impressing them is not. The well mannered, in her opinion, do not live beyond their means. If you're a bride on a budget, that's an opinion worth adding to the chorus.

*Source: one especially frustrated clergy member interviewed in One Perfect Day: The Selling of the American Wedding by Rebecca Mead.

Good Manners for Everybody: Vintage Rabbit Antiques
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