Which do you suppose is the social form that people are most anxious about wording correctly?
Well, yes, wedding invitations. Perfectly normal people go etiquette-crazy when planning to be married and demand to know the proper way of doing everything, including some startlingly improper acts.
But it is not the correct wording for inviting the guests for which Miss Manners is constantly being asked. On the contrary, the very correctness of that tradition annoys people who claim to want formal invitations. It's "too formal," they protest. And, apparently, using their names does not sufficiently "personalize" it. So instead of writing perfectly nice informal invitations, they mess with the formal sort, lopping off honorifics and inserting extra words and thoughts about their pride, happiness and cordiality.
What they want to get exactly right according to tradition is a line they believe goes somewhere at the end. Here are some examples -- among thousands -- of the most frequently asked wedding question:
"My son and future daughter-in-law have two beautiful children and have lived together for eight years. She wants to put on the invitations that they would both prefer money instead of gifts. How do you word it in the invitation?"
"Where does the information about gift registries go? I have seen it on the back of the invitation and on a separate card (with the couple's mailing address for convenience). Which is the right way?"
"What would be the proper way to tell guests that we would appreciate monetary gifts, certificates, cash, checks, etc., without sounding snobbish? Someone suggested a poem on the subject but neither of us are poets. Would you happen to have anything to that effect in your archives?"
"I know it is tacky to ask for cash or checks in lieu of regular gifts, but what about gift cards? A friend suggested I use these lines: 'For the gift-minded, we would like to keep our load light as we (all) will be traveling. Gift certificates or cash is acceptable.' Help!"
"What is the polite way to express that money would be more welcome than physical gifts? We don't need anything but do not want to disallow monetary gifts by saying 'No gifts please.' "
"Is there a way to bring up contributions to a 529 plan as an option for a wedding gift?"
"My fiance and I are senior citizens who do not wish material gifts but would not mind receiving monetary gifts. We do not want to appear greedy so this is a dilemma for us."
"How do we put on the invitation that there will be Dollar Dances with the bride? I've been at weddings where guests were caught without the cash to participate."
"My stepdaughter wants to include in the invitation a request that guests contribute money toward their honeymoon. Is there a tactful way to do this without being crude?"
"I did not register for our wedding, because I would like to do a money tree that I have heard about. Could you please help me? I want to be gracious on how I do this."
"How would we ask for a money tree-type thing without sounding like a 'gimme-pig'?"
Miss Manners is sorry to have to tell them all that she does not have a gracious and tactful extortion plea in her files, and that their qualms about sounding tacky, greedy and crude are fully justified. Only gimme-pigs regard their wedding guests as cash cows.
Dear Miss Manners:
I have been unfortunate in that my mother had never taught me how to sit "like a lady." I've been told that it involves crossing one's ankles and placing one's feet flatly on the floor. Whenever I attempt this, my foot ends up on its side, giving me much pain after sitting for a long period. Am I attempting this correctly?
Not exactly. Etiquette may occasionally pull someone's leg in a playful mood, but it never twists an ankle.
Feeling incorrect? E-mail your etiquette questions to Miss Manners (who is distraught that she cannot reply personally) at MissManners@unitedmedia.com or mail to United Media, 200 Madison Ave., New York, N.Y. 10016.
© 2005, Judith Martin