June 1, 2009 in Features

Miss Manners: Invited guests carry obligation to send a reply

Judith Martin
 

Dear readers: Guests ought to be insulted by response cards. Decent people of course already know (yes? yes?) that they must always reply to all invitations, even the most casual ones. Does anyone think it all right to stand there speechless in response to “Do you want to take in a movie tonight?” unable to realize that a decision, one way or the other, must be made and conveyed immediately?

For formal invitations, a quick and clear response is even more important, and not only because the caterer needs to know how much food to prepare. That is reasonable enough, but it skips the fact that ignoring an invitation is a major insult to the hosts.

But there seem to be a great many indecent people who don’t mind issuing such insults. And therefore the notion has taken hold that it is at least partially the host’s responsibility to ensure that the invitation is answered.

First it was the addition of “R.S.V.P.” or “The favor of a reply is requested” to invitations that traditionally assumed the guests would not need to be prompted to do the obvious. But even that didn’t help. Then closing dates were added, with the same or an increasing lack of success.

Desperate hosts started supplying paper and envelopes, and even tried to guide their guests’ hands by the peculiar method of providing an M to start them off writing “Mr. and Mrs. Dominick Applewaithe accept with pleasure (or regret that they are unable to accept) …”

No go. It only led cheeky people to claim that the absence of such help indicated that no response was wanted. One lady wrote plaintively to Miss Manners that she did receive a response card and envelope, but that since the envelope was not stamped, she was at a loss to know what she was expected to do.

Another defense is for the invited to describe themselves as free spirits who cannot be expected to limit their spontaneity by committing themselves in advance of the date. How do they know if they will feel like attending when the time comes? And indeed, accepting a formal invitation is a serious commitment, for which failure to show is excused only by serious excuses, such as one’s death.

The free-as-a-bird excuse fails to charm Miss Manners. She is surprised that hosts are cowed enough by it to claim that they wouldn’t mind the idea that something better might turn up, except for the money angle. This may be easier than facing the fact that people whom they valued enough to invite to an important occasion do not care enough to give them the dignity of a reply. So again, they point to the caterer who is (reasonably) refusing to prepare extra meals for those who have not said they were attending, and charging for meals for those who indicated that they might or would attend, but did not.

Then they must go even further in attempting to do the guest’s job; they are reduced to calling around and asking.

The sad fact is that for indecent people, even cards are not going to help. Just as many cases of unmailed response cards are reported as other unanswered invitations, so you might as well save the expense and trouble of enclosing them.

Readers may write to Miss Manners at MissManners@unitedmedia.com, or via mail at United Media, 200 Madison Ave., 4th Floor, New York, NY 10016.

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