With all the lists, notebooks and Web sites that people use to plan weddings, they still keep getting the proper order of events backward. And Miss Manners isn't even counting the widespread notion that consummation should occur before committing to courtship, and house-holding before becoming engaged.
She is referring to other practices that have become commonplace:
* Deciding where to be married and planning a string of related events before determining if the couple's families can or will spend the amount of time and money they would have to in order to have the expected pleasure -- or perform the duty -- of attending a relative's wedding.
* Finding the site for the reception and then dealing with its limitations when composing the guest list, rather than first figuring out who should be invited and finding a place that will accommodate them all.
* Choosing the bridesmaids' dresses before hearing the bridesmaids' views about what will suit each of them and what each can afford, and telling them what parties to throw without being asked.
* Selecting the wedding presents without waiting to see what the guests might care to give, and then letting the guests know what to buy without being asked.
* Throughout all the planning, making decisions without having accumulated the money to pay for their results.
These upside-down approaches lead to much of the ugliness now associated with weddings. It is only the beginning when the bridesmaids find out what they have implicitly agreed to wear without having been given any warning or say, and deliver their opinions after the fact.
When the invitations go out, those who could reasonably expect to be invited ("reasonably" meaning relatives, friends and those who issued invitations to their own weddings, not office colleagues and other volunteers) but who were cut because of space limitations are, with good reason, hurt.
Then there are the people who are invited but who calculate what attending would involve. In a mobile society, wedding guests are used to having to travel, as the principals rarely live all in the same place. It is something else altogether, however, to be issued an entire holiday package, planned by others but at the guests' expense.
Furthermore, guests are likely to be targeted when the couple deals with the gap between their resources and their plans. A myriad of nasty little schemes for profiting from the guests has arisen, as if marriage conferred a license to beg.
Presents are preselected and announced by the couple -- if, indeed, they don't ask for cash. Three or more rounds can be expected -- for an engagement party, any number of showers and the wedding -- and the registries show that these are not to be trivial.
To avoid this sort of trouble, the couple need only turn their planning notebooks upside down, so that they fit their plans to the people they should invite and the money they can spend, instead of the other way around.
Dear Miss Manners:
I was ready to leave a parking space this morning. I was belted in and my engine was started. A young woman stepped into the space between my car and the car next to mine and began a cell phone call. It was unsafe for me to pull out, so I waited until she finished. Fortunately, it was only a couple of minutes.
Since then, I have examined the alternatives to waiting had she taken longer. Would exiting my car, excusing myself for interrupting and asking her to please move have been acceptable? Do you recommend any more expeditious action?
If those are the only alternatives that came to mind, Miss Manners congratulates you. You might even have been forgiven for honking and watching her jump.
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.
(c) 2004, Judith Martin