It’s clear from the rag tag comments on Motte’s post about Bridal Gift Registries that the Boundless Line readers would benefit from reading Miss Manners on Painfully Proper Weddings, by Judith Martin.
Contrary to the title, this book is a painless and quite entertaining read. More importantly, it’s a needed reminder that etiquette is more than a set of stuffy old rules. It’s the means by which we may interact with other people in a way that has their interests at heart. It’s a more formalized version of the second greatest commandment, if you will. It’s the Golden Rule applied to specific social settings.
What it isn’t, is a hodge-podge of personal opinions about what seems like the right or logical way to proceed in certain settings (see the comments on Motte’s post to see what that looks like). If we were left to our inclinations alone, it’s not hard to imagine weddings devolving into chaotic get-togethers.
In case you’re not inclined to read the whole book, here are a few snippets:
1. Registering for anything and everything is crass, as is including little “we are registered at” cards in the wedding invitations. (If you register, keep it to yourself until and unless someone asks you if you have and where.)
2. Wedding gifts are given at the discretion of the guests — it’s their way of saying, “we want to help the young couple get off on the right start”
3. Wedding gifts are not the price of admission to the ceremony or reception, nor are gifts expected to cost a certain amount or cover what the bride and groom spent on dinner.
4. It is never appropriate to ask for cash, nor offer the “option” of guests paying for certain elements of the wedding or honeymoon, nor even to suggest “in lieu of gifts, please donate to our favorite charity” (for more, see point 2.)
Just because you think something is done out of respect for etiquette doesn’t mean it is. Many of the customs we Americans have adopted around weddings are in fact directly opposite of what’s required. In many cases, one bride goofed, or misunderstood a tradition, and all her friends copied her, thinking she knew what she was doing. And before long, everyone was doing it.
My favorite example, from Martin’s book, is that rectangular piece of tissue paper that accompanies all invitations these days. It’s original purpose was to separate engraved invitations from one another, in order to prevent the ink from smearing during their transport from the print shop. As soon as the ink was dry, the tissue was discarded — before the invitations were sent. Not only do most brides no longer engrave their invitations (too expensive), they keep that tissue in place for mailing (too funny). But alas, I did. I thought that was what etiquette required.
When in doubt, check.
This is just a taste of all the good and essential detail Martin covers in the book. I loved it so much — even though it forced me to reckon with the many mistakes I made in my own wedding — that it’s my new favorite gift to give recently-engaged brides.