It was never Miss Manners' intention to keep a Ghastly Weddings file.
A staunch believer in True Love, despite mounting evidence about the length of Ever After by modern reckoning, she looks with charmed indulgence upon every bridal couple. Unless they are actively panhandling among their guests, she assumes that they mean well.The beauty of the occasion makes any little etiquette errors so insignificant that even Miss Manners fails to notice them. Well, almost. Let us say that she has learned not to let black dresses on the ladies, evening clothes worn during the daytime by the gentlemen, presents brought rather than sent, and other such commonplace transgressions, spoil the occasion for her.
But everyone else seems to believe that Miss Manners is a collector of the hideous ideas associated with modern weddings. "This is for your Bad Taste Collection," Gentle Readers will note with enclosures, or "Here's another for the Tacky File."
Many of these innovations are so awful that she has been tossing them out of sight, in order to retain a properly benevolent mood about weddings. But the pile is now too big to ignore. Here is a sampling of real-life wedding horrors.
For starters, here are some of the new panhandling techniques. "Under the R.S.V.P., there was listed a money amount per person, with the notation `Includes dinner, dancing and gift,"' reported a Gentle Reader. "Is it considered appropriate for the guests to pay for the festivities and to chip in for a gift to be determined by someone else?"
(Note that Miss Manners' readers are so polite that they always stifle indignation with a measured inquiry as to whether it is they who misunderstand the rules.)
"A member of the bride's family passed a hat decorated with flowers and ribbons, indicating that it was for donations for the honeymoon," reported another Gentle Reader. "This is the second time this has happened to me. Is it the latest trend?"
"I have been informed of a custom I find most disconcerting," reports another contributor to Miss Manners' file. "Specifically, guests are expected to cover the cost of their portion of the reception by placing cash or check in an envelope that is handed to the bride and/or groom. No one has said, `If you can't pay don't come,' but I must admit the impression is there. Please tell me that cash reimbursement of the reception costs from guests is not New Wave Etiquette."
In what one must presume to be an advance of delicacy, one couple offered a chart with a heart to be placed by the guest donor, indicating whether that person's contribution should be spent on such choices as "a night on the town," "a moonlight cruise" or "shopping for souvenirs." Another bride, eschewing the crudity of collecting cash, listed her demands with the catalog numbers from which they could be ordered.
The file also contains an invitation listing "Primary Sponsors" and "Secondary Sponsors," and one with program notes about the bridal attendants ("Sherrie is a newlywed herself and a new mother," "Mike especially enjoys water sports").
As the last shows, it is not only greed that leads people into sending invitations that offend their guests. Someone has sent Miss Manners a draft of an invitation in which the laudable, if unfortunate, desire was to have their deceased parents, as well as their living ones, act as hosts. The wording was:
"Mr. William Trotter and Mrs. Alice Comely
in body or fact or deed
Mrs. Louisa Trotter and Mr. Patrick Comely
request the pleasure of your company . . ."
Miss Manners is sorry to say that it does these parents no honor to use their names to give guests the creeps - much less to suggest that the deceased partners are cavorting together in heaven while their spouses are pairing off on earth.
But it is the size of the file, rather than any particular example, that Miss Manners wants to draw to the attention of anyone contemplating embellishing the standard wedding invitation with what seems like a bright idea. Miss Manners can only presume that these invitations are in her desk because the prospective guests didn't want them in their own.
DEAR MISS MANNERS - A certain married couple lives in a country where divorce is not an option, because of religious beliefs. The couple are legally separated. When one of the parties dies, is the surviving person considered the widow or widower?
I fear I may have been incorrect in addressing my sympathies to the children alone.
GENTLE READER - The legal spouse of a deceased person has indeed been widowed, but is not necessarily in need of comfort. Miss Manners trusts you know this individual situation better than she does, but she can imagine that refraining from commiserating could be the more delicate choice.
DEAR MISS MANNERS - Having grown up in a college town, my husband and I have always been interested in the university sports program. We became avid hockey fans and are season-ticket holders with our best friends, who are also alumni of the university.
My mate and I are graduates of another institute of higher learning. Although we stand when the university's alma mater song is played, we refuse to sing. We feel we have no right to participate and would be showing disloyalty to our own alma mater.
Our friends have become angry, maintaining that one should sing the song of the hosting school at any event, whether it is one's own school or not. It is becoming uncomfortable for us to attend sporting events with them.
GENTLE READER - Then Miss Manners suggests that you do not plan a vacation abroad with these people. Having confused respect with loyalty, they will go around singing other countries' national anthems and bowing to foreign sovereigns in the mistaken notion that politeness requires falsely pretending to fealty.
- Feeling incorrect? Address your etiquette questions (in black or blue-black ink on white writing paper) to Miss Manners, in care of this newspaper. The quill shortage prevents Miss Manners from answering questions other than through this column.