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Be Our Guest
By Laura Leon

And remember, other people’s weddings aren’t about you, your tastes or your beliefs—so mind your manners

I’ll never forget that moment when, just as I was about to take that walk down the aisle, I noticed a tardy guest loping across the lawn en route to my wedding. Rather than take his place inconspicuously among the potted palms at the back of the hall, he ostentatiously sought a seat amid his earlier-arriving friends. Needless to say, I wanted to stuff my wedding bouquet down his throat.

How to be a good guest at a wedding seems like a no-brainer, but, incredibly, Americans in general have grown up in an etiquette vacuum. Manners, which really are just good sense, have taken on the aura of that which is artificial, even dishonest, and certainly in opposition to what is natural. In a word: Bullcrap. Good manners help us all to get along better, and to avoid unnecessary tension and bloodshed. Nowhere is the practice of them as vital to the overall good time had by all than at a wedding. So listen up, Joe and Jane Sixpack, because behaving properly at a wedding isn’t all that painful.

Being a good guest starts well before the actual wedding. When you are invited to a wedding, repondez s’il vous plait immediately. Don’t put it off—that increases the likelihood that you’ll misplace the invitation and really miss the cutoff date. The RSVP has a reason: The bridal principals are paying a heap of money for what they hope is a swell party, and they need to plan accordingly for food, drinks, seating, et cetera.

This leads to an essential corollary: If your invitation says “Mr. John Doe and Guest,” feel free to put down “two” as the number of people in your party attending—that is, if you do indeed have a significant other who intends to accompany you to the wedding. Do not put down “two” and then make no effort to engage a date, and do not write “two” if you’re just nervous about going alone. Weddings are not the time to try out a blind date. Save yourself the agony, and the bride and groom the expense. Finally, if the invitation reads “Mr. John Doe,” do not under any circumstances add escorts. The singular invitation could indicate that the bride and groom are on a tight budget, and even if it shows a lack of sensitivity, don’t compound the matter by including “and date” on your return reply.

You’re pretty much in the clear between the time you send your RSVP and the time of the wedding, unless you have been invited to any of the pre-
wedding parties like showers, Jack-and-Jills, bachelor parties, et cetera. If you do get railroaded into one of these, use the same protocol when responding to the host[ess], and try to choose a gift that reflects the honoree’s tastes, no matter how different from your own. That’s why the powers-that-be invented bridal registries.

So now it’s time for the big day. First and foremost, be on time! This means arriving at the church no later than 15 minutes prior to the nuptials. This allows plenty of time to be seated comfortably, to peruse the wedding notes, if any, and to get a gander at what everyone else is wearing. Do not second-guess the usher’s wisdom—it’s just tacky. During the nuptials, do not snicker at the ridiculous headdress that the bride has chosen, or over the fact that the bridesmaids’ dresses make them look like the Dawn Patrol in Kipling’s The Jungle Book. Withhold your antagonism toward organized religion during the service—again, this event is not about you or your beliefs. Save those for your letters to Metroland.

The reception is a time when many guests let it rip. Granted, you want to have a good time, but do not remove clothing or begin doing chicken dances or gatoring unless the bride and groom take the lead in such behavior. Don’t badmouth the food (I know, this can be difficult), and don’t let your alt/indie pretensions get in the way of just enjoying the oldies band for what they are. Do not monopolize the bride’s and/or groom’s time; they’ve got enough on their plate trying to say hellos to everybody who came, including those friends of their new spouse’s parents that they don’t even know.

And make sure that you have a gift, wrapped and ready, to include on the gift table. I’ve found that waiting till the last minute to buy that gift often means you don’t have one ready the day of the wedding. Then, completing that task gets put off, and before you know it, they’ve been married three years and still haven’t received anything from you. Not only is the gift the guest’s token commemoration of having attended the wedding, but it also jogs the bride’s and groom’s collective memory—the wedding and reception can be a blur, so when they’re opening your present, they remember that yes, indeed, you did make it, and they’re just thrilled about that.

A wedding is more than just a party: It’s a rite of passage that indicates a belonging to a community of friends and family, and a promise made in front of all one holds holy. Therefore, there is something serious to even the most joyous and fun-filled events, and guests are advised to keep that in mind. But you can still have a grand old time. The keys are to let yourself be immersed in the joy (and tastes) of the bridal couple, and to use that modicum of common sense that is the foundation of all good manners.

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