You won’t often hear me beg. But there is knowledge which, if possessed by all nuptial-bound humanity, would make the world a better place. That knowledge is etiquette. And etiquette is about manners, and manners are about kindness. With wedding season upon us, the potential for manners mischief is about to be unleashed with a festooned and crinolined fury. If you fear for your inner-Miss-Manners, consult the real one in her and her daughter’s indispensable and highly readable Guide to a Surprisingly Dignified Wedding.
A copy was given me three years ago by friends of ours, she the former press secretary to First Lady Betty Ford and a friend of Miss Manners’ creator, Judith Martin. (If you asked me if I would rather have lunch with Judith Martin or George Clooney, it’s not even close–nothing personal, George.) At the time planning my own second wedding, and without benefit of my always-knew-exactly-how-to-do late mother, I trusted my upbringing and instincts. Miss Manners’ Guide, however, was a great reinforcement and steady reminder of What Is Important, because it’s real easy to get distracted in all the Bridezilla insanity. Even if you’re not 25. Ahem.
A wedding is not meant to be about showing off or self-aggrandizement. Not that it can’t be gorgeous or even extravagant (if you can afford it), and that you can’t have a good time. But it can also be simple. Etiquette embraces simplicity, write the Martins. “A dignified ceremony followed by a happy celebration for those who care about the couple, done in a somewhat more formal version of the way they usually entertain…” is just great.
Human beings since the dawn of time have honored rituals around life’s important passages. What Miss Manners says she missed, however, is “the section of the Constitution that guarantees every couple an elaborate wedding.” Admittedly I cannot help the occasional guilty pleasure of her verbal velvet hammer shattering a display of brittle cluelessness–or silliness, however un-intended:
“Dear Miss Manners: …What about when the bridal party is called to the dance floor and then the parents–is my husband expected to dance with his ex-wife? Or do I?
Gentle Reader: You are certainly not expected to dance with your husband’s ex-wife. Miss Manners is happy to provide you instant relief from that worry…
Last week, in an airport-newsstand-induced spasm of tabloid-itis, I picked up the OK! sporting Prince Harry and his girl Cressida Bonas on the cover. (Speak of the devil–there’s George Clooney, too, trying to make me jealous.)
They make it sound like the engagement is a done deal, but it isn’t–just so you know. Easter, they say… But as “an insider” points out, it won’t be “a normal wedding where you do what you want; this wedding belongs to the people of Great Britain.”
Well, the truth is it belongs to both, and a sense of noblesse oblige is far more attractive than one of entitlement. Yes it is “your day,” but it is also your duty to be gracious hosts to the family and friends who’ve come to celebrate your union. And they should be gracious guests as well.
The notion that etiquette and manners are the sole purview of royalty or the well-to-do is absurd. Bloodlines and bank accounts have aught to do with nobility of character.
Miss Manners’ Guide to a Surprisingly Dignified Wedding is a compass that points you in the right direction and gives you a jolly good read along the way.
If you’d like to call on Miss Manners’ website, do so here, where there is also a funny Simpsons-esque video about her newest book – Miss Manners Minds Your Business, co-authored with her son Nicholas Ivor Martin. Links to buy all Miss Manners books here.