Miss Manners on weddings

I’ve had a couple of days off work, and as an indulgence I purchased Miss Manners’ Guide to a Surprisingly Dignified Wedding. I’ve been reading it all day. It’s a less vicious indulgence than wedding blogs because it’s very funny and sharp, enough that I might actually have enjoyed reading this before I got interested in weddings.

I agree with Miss Manners on most issues, allowing for cultural differences — she writes for an American audience, and a very particular one, at that (surely it can’t be normal in all parts of US society for the engaged couple to enjoy the benefit of multiple showers all involving gifts from the guests). So far I’ve only seriously disagreed with one letter (on arguing with a future mother-in-law about surname-changing — I think the default Western position on this needs to be changed). She’s super mean and funny, but also sensible:

A truly proper, festive, and enjoyable wedding is not the financial and social burden you seem to suppose. … Few people can ahndle with equanimity being propelled inot unfamiliar territory, taxed with designing a ceremony and a large formal party that show case their personalities and taste, and directed to produce a complicated day that is perfect.

Instead, you could exhibit truly good taste. That would mean following the time-honored civic or religious ritual in which you believe and then having a gala celebration that favors conviviality over pretentiousness and incidentally stays within your means.

Now that is sense. I have decided Miss Manners is the semi-real life version of Flora Poste, the pragmatic, civilised, modern young woman who sorts out the romantic dysfunction of her relatives’ lives in Cold Comfort Farm.

Reading the book nerved me to the task of informing a friend that it will not be possible for me to attend her wedding — Miss Manners says that an invitation does not require anything of the invited except a prompt response, and that you do not have to give reasons for a refusal. I have given reasons and have offered to buy the happy couple a dinner to make up for it, but I don’t think Miss Manners would fault me in doing either of those things.

I find the things that work her up quite funny. Miss Manners doesn’t like response cards being provided to guests with invitations because it implies that the inviters believe the invited are not polite enough to dig up pen, paper and postage wherewith to respond. And you’re allowed in Miss Manners’ world to register for a list of wedding gifts at a department store, but you’re not allowed to tell anyone about it unless they ask. And ideally they shouldn’t ask you, but your relatives, the idea being that you should be pleasantly surprised by any gifts guests choose to present you with. She also absolutely loathes the idea of the wedding couple soliciting for cash in lieu of gifts.

I can see the point of all this, but I probably will provide pre-addressed response cards for guests who aren’t family, just so it’s easier to keep track of them. (It’s not as important to keep track of family — for one thing our parents can probably be trusted to chase them, and for another if they turn up we kind of have to have them whether they’ve warned us in advance or not). We are going to have a wedding registry because P thinks his family would strongly prefer it. And I’m not gonna tell people not to give angpow at the Malaysian wedding because it would just confuse everyone!

Also I disagree that you shouldn’t cut down the guest list on the ground that you can’t afford to feed them properly, and that more guests + a cake & punch reception is preferable to fewer guests + steak for dinner. If I couldn’t feed my guests a proper meal I’d feel it was rude to invite them — false advertising. Obviously this view depends on your idea of a wedding, though. I definitely come from a culture where it means “multiple-course meal”, whether that takes place in a school hall or a fancy hotel ballroom.

It is useful to have read the book, though! It clears the mind a bit to think about the etiquette of it, and to consider why one disagrees (if one does). It confirms me in my belief that feelings are the most important thing in a wedding, but feelings can go too far is a pretty good guiding principle in wedding planning.


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