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Not So Inviting 

Why do people get so worked up about what's written on an envelope?

Wednesday, Apr 14 2004
Dear Social Grace,

I write this seeking a neutral arbitrator for what has become a difficult and protracted wedding-etiquette decision. When it comes to the formal invitations, the mother of the bride insists that etiquette demands addressing them in the traditional "Mr. and Mrs. John Smith" pattern, as opposed to the bride's preference, the more modern "Mr. and Mrs. John and Suzanne Smith." The bride feels quite strongly that the former is offensive to contemporary gender sensibilities; the mother of the bride insists that proper etiquette simply precludes the latter. How to resolve this quandary?

Much Obliged,
Confused Groom

Dear Confused Sir,

Ah, yes. That most wonderful time of the year is upon us once again: wedding-invitation season. I look forward to those creamy envelopes (and readers' questions about addressing them) as one of the first unmistakable signs of spring.

Now, I would like you to set your quarreling bride-to-be and mother-in-law-to-be on a comfy sofa, have them clasp hands, and, with love in your heart and a gentle smile on your face, ask them to dig this trip: Etiquette "demands" only that we treat others with respect, kindness, and tolerance. Etiquette demands that we consider others' feelings, their privacy, and their safety. Invitation-envelope etiquette, on the other hand, is a fine point, and I'd say a minor one.

Your bride's mother has tradition on her side. It's customary to address a married couple, on the exterior envelope of a wedding invite, thus: "Mr. and Mrs. Daniel Delightful." But it is also customary to alter that form for invitations to married couples with different last names, like so: "Mr. Harold Happy and Ms. Marie Mirthful." Therefore, some modern couples may prefer to employ a similar method for all married couples -- for instance, "Mr. Daniel and Mrs. Debbie Delightful."

I want to believe that no adult would be outraged by an envelope that broke from tradition, just as I hope no woman would look at a traditional wedding invitation as an attack on her personhood. We are talking about envelopes, people.

In your case, I might suggest that the bride's mother make a list of the guests she considers "traditionalists," and you and your future wife can address their envelopes in the traditional way. The bride can designate other guests as having "modern sensibilities," and you can address their envelopes her way. But really, this is nothing to argue about. It's time to move on to something that'll really test your patience with one another -- for example, the seating chart.

Dear Social Grace,

My husband and I were recently invited to a friend of my husband's wedding. The wedding invitation was addressed to Mr. and Mrs. Jack Black (not our real names). My husband wanted to bring our two small children, aged 6 and 8. I put my foot down because I felt that if they had wanted them to come the invitation would have said "and family."

At the reception, the groom mentioned to us that we should have brought our two children. My husband was quite upset with me -- so I am writing you to see if I was correct in not bringing our children.

Thank you,
Via the Internet

Dear "Mrs. Black,"

You were correct, and everyone else was wrong; please try to be gracious in victory. Only the people named on an invitation should be considered invited to a wedding. In fact, with formal invitations, children would be named at least on the interior envelope, which would read:

Mr. and Mrs. Black

Madison and Mariner

Yours is the first letter I've received from someone who didn't bring her children but could have. Most letters I receive in this vein are from people who are exasperated because they sent an invitation to "Mr. and Mrs. Jack Black," who then showed up with Madison, Mariner, and the family dogs. I commend you for your sensitivity to social nuance, and I recommend that your husband apologize to you immediately.

Dear Social Grace,

I have been invited to a cocktail party in celebration of a friend's birthday. An insert in the invitation said, "In lieu of gifts, please bring your favorite appetizer."

It seems rude to me to be told what to take to the party. My question: Is it OK to take a gift? Can I take an "appetizer," such as chips and salsa, that I know will send the message that I was displeased with the request? Or is this one of those two-wrongs-don't-make-a-right situations, so I should take an actual appetizer and just grin and bear it?

Thank you,
Confused and a Little Offended in Pleasanton

Dear Confused,

When one finds oneself preparing a food item that one hopes will express displeasure, one should realize that one may have temporarily taken leave of one's senses.

You have been asked to participate in a potluck. If you won't enjoy yourself and if you can't fulfill a potluck's obligations, decline the invitation with regrets.

Now, the note you received was rather cheeky, I'll agree. An invite should not ask guests to bring anything, nor should it mention gifts at all, really. A more informal medium (the telephone, say) is a much better way to broach the potluck plan, which should be handled in the form of questions (such as "Would you like to participate?" and "What would you like to bring?") rather than commands.

But one must accept that one's friends will occasionally err, through ignorance of or disregard for society's rules. Your confusion is understandable, as is some minor umbrage. I'm happy to read that it seems you've already begun to work your way through both.

About The Author

Social Grace


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