WHEN IS the correct time for a bride to get pre-nuptial jitters, who should be present, where should each person stand, what should they wear, and does this event require a seperate present?
This is the only ingreident Miss Manners can imagine which has not yet been codified into the marathon of wedding events recommended by florists, photographers, social consultants and other such well-wishers to those who want to make their weddings occupy as much time of their married life as possible.
Of course, the more sub-events there are in a wedding, the more opportunities for squabbles between the two families and among their members over those two-major issues -- who controls the procedure, and who pays for it -- that Miss Manners had never succeeded in convincing anyone are unrelated.
Far be it from her to interfere with such a sacred tradition as the founding of family feuds, so here is a schedule of possible activities from the arrival of the wedding party until the departure of the bridal couple. TWO DAYS BEFORE THE WEDDING
1. Bachelor dinner, given by the bridgegroom to provide his friends with an opportunity to entice him to behave in such a way that the bride will call the wedding off.
2. Bride's luncheon (or tea or dinner), given by the bride to provide her friends with an opportunity to complain about the color of the bridesmaid dresses and the quality of the groomsmen. ONE DAY BEFORE
1. Bridesmaids' and usher' dinner, given after the rehearsal for all members of the wedding party, including clergy, and, if possible, out-of-town guests. Traditionally given by the bride's parents or godparents or close family friends.
2. Rehearsal dinner, which takes place of the bridesmaids' and ushers' dinner and is identical to it, except that the bridegroom's family pays for it, an increasingly popular custom, especially with the socially and financially exhausted parents of the bride. WEDDING DAY
1. Bride lives out all her royalty fantasies by acting spoiled at the expense of parents, sisters and friends as she gets dressed. Bridegroom, separately, endures jokes at his expense by his parents, other relatives and friends.
2. Wedding ceremony is performed, a necessary event although it allows for the least leeway, except to very young relatives who may use the opportunity to make innocent but loud remarks which are interpreted by the congregation as dirty.
3. Wedding breakfast (which is to say lunch) following morning wedding, or reception (which is to say tea) following afternoon wedding or dinner (which is to say dinner) following evening wedding.
a. Receiving line so everyone can tell bride she looks beautiful and then mess up her make-up.
b. Eating, which may include a full meal before toasts are made (to the bride by the best man and anybody else who wants to, inlcuding the bridegroom -- unless the bride offers return toasts to the bridegroom and her parents, she will never get any champagne) and the bride and bridegroom cut the cake together and try to feed each other bits of the same piece without ruining their clothes.
c. Dancing, first by the bridal couple, then each with opposite-sex inlaw, then with their own parents, and then whoever asks.
d. Ancient and disgusting rituals, such as the bride's throwing the garter to the groomsmen, a custom from the days then the attendents helped the couple change out of their wedding clothes, so to speak; and throwing the bouquet to be caught by a bridesmaid who is either already engaged or tired of being asked when she is getting married.
e. The couple, having donned travel clothes, departs in a shower of fertilizing rice, rose petals or confetti, in an automible which their friends have ruined with wedding graffiti. DAY AFTER THE WEDDING
The couple sometimes shows up to continue the festivites. This must be discouraged, no matter how long they have lived together and how short a time they have off from work. Enough is enough. MISS MANNERS RESPONDS
Q. How much of an excuse do you need to break a social engagement after you have already accepted? Does it depend on how well you know the hosts? I mean, of course, that you can tell a close friend that you got a weekend invitation and don't want to stay home for just one night's dinner, but that someone you don't know as well should probably get a more urgent excuse.
A. There is no surer way to get to know somwone less closely than to confide that something better has come up than your engagement with him. Miss Manners was once forsaken by a guest who cited the opportunity to participate in a weekend encounter group. Can you imagaine anyone's thinking it was more important to bare her soul to strangers than to use the material for its amusement value at Miss Manners' dinner table? Naturally, she was struck from Miss Manners' list.
The direness of the excuse should correspond to the size, structure, nearness of the event. At one extreme, you would have wine and cheese party two months off, and at the other, a seated dinner the following evening. For the latter, the best excuses are extreme illness or death, preferably one's own.
Q. I can handle my social life fine -- the part when I'm out, that is. It's before I go out and after I come home that the etiquette problems occur. With the babysitter. I've had them ranging in age from 12 to 82. The problems have ranged from finding one asleep in our bed with a friend (and this one wasn't one of the teen-agers, either) to discovering that one had re-arranged everything in the kitchen cabinets. I've been told to provide special foods, transportation to and from their homes, and a new television set because ours doesn't get the educational channels.
With one thing or another, most of them have gone away mad, including two who were the children of friends of mine, or rather, ex-friends. Could you please tell me what the proper behavior is toward babysitters, not forgetting to include the correct thing to say when you come home and find comparative strangers making love in your bed.
A. There is no deciding what the correct thing to would be to say under those circumstances, because you will undoubtedly say, anyway, "Hey -- what are you doing?" This isn't even a sensible question, but it is always asked on such an occasion.
As for the rest of it, you can minimize the problems by spelling out beforehand what the working conditions are. Babysitters should not be expected to do housework, other than cleaning up after themselves, unless there is extra compensation, but they should not be able to use your house as a free motel, either.
The employer is generally expected to provide transportation, and some food; the employe to enjoy some mild amussement, such as watching television, after the children have been put to bed. You might spell our your resources and expectations when you provide the standard information, such as feeding and disciplining instructions, emergency numbers, your whereabouts and the hour of your return. "I don't feel that this is a job that allows you to entertain others during working hours" is the way you phrase the rule about not messing up your sheets.
Q. It is now six weeks since my father died, and we are just beginning to have the house free of the sickening smell of too many flowers -- our church permits only one family wreath, and re-directed the others here -- and of the unpleasant telephone calls from people who demanded to know why we "didn't let them know" of the death. He was a man who hated any kind of fuss, although he touched many people's lives with his quiet kindness, and we did everything as privately as possible, to keep it in his style. But it didn't work. What should we have done?
A. You have been following two rules of good taste that unfortunately apply to everything except funerals. Other of life's milestones, such as births, graduations and weddings, are commonly rendered vulgar by people who try to use them to seek personal publicity and to manipulate the gift-giving potential. When someone dies, however, it is appropriate to inform the local newspaper and supply biographical material, and it is acceptable to inform people that flowers should be ommitted -- usually suggesting another means of expressing sympathy, such as a charitable donation.