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Invitation Open To Interpretation

Judith Martin United Features Sy

Dear Miss manners: Every year since the mid-1980s, we have planned a catered holiday open house for the clients of my husband’s law firm - always on a weekday night during the late afternoon to early evening hours. The number of invitations sent for the party has averaged between 375-400. Most years, 150 clients have attended.

At the bottom of each invitation, we add a “Please RSVP” notation, the date when we wish the clients to RSVP, and the law-firm phone number. Although the clients have the invitations in their offices four to five weeks before we ask them to RSVP, only 20 percent make the effort.

Do you have any suggestions for us to encouraging our clients to RSVP? I always need to let the caterers know how many people are attending three days before the party. Why aren’t people gracious enough to let you know if they’ll attend?

Gentle Reader: It’s the “Please RSVP.” The “SVP” stands for “s’il vous plait,” which is “please” in French. They are so thrown by this double courtesy that they are speechless.

No, it isn’t that. Please, please forgive Miss Manners.

But although she would never defend the rudeness of ignoring invitations, she does believe that the terms of your invitation indicate that it confers minimal social obligations on those who receive it.

It is not really a social party but a little perk for clients; the term “open house” indicates more flexibility than expected at other parties; it is timed so guests can stop by for a drink after work rather than making a special outing; and it’s so large that they can reasonably assume that you may not even notice who is there, let alone have a chance to socialize with them.

Miss Manners has no objection to these arrangements, which probably appeal more to your husband’s clients than something requiring more from them. She is only pointing out that you have set it up to seem like an option rather than a firm commitment. Even if you telephoned each person to force out an answer, she doubts they would feel their acceptances or refusals to be binding.

Besides, if 150 people generally come, why don’t you tell the caterer that? Miss Manners will save her indignation to use on your friends who refuse to answer your dinner invitations.

Dear Miss Manners: I have attended a number of Jewish events (e.g. weddings, funerals) where I have been handed a yarmulke prior to the beginning of the ceremony. I am not Jewish and do not know the appropriate custom involved. Should I accept it and wear it? I have no religious objection to this. However, I do not want to wear one if it is inappropriate. And if I am not supposed to wear one, should I still accept one if offered to me? I would like to do what I can to please the couple being married or to honor the deceased.

Gentle Reader: You can’t properly decline to wear a yarmulke that has been offered as a courtesy. The gesture means that yarmulkes are required, while it recognizes that gentlemen will be present who could not be expected to bring them.

And although Miss Manners is glad that you want to please and honor your friends, that is not the reason you should wear one. You do it as a sign of religious respect.

However, the symbolism of clothing in religion is, like most ancient traditions, wildly complicated. For example, you, as a gentile, would never put on the prayer shawl you may have observed others wearing. Yet you may have noticed Jews bareheaded at services or prayers.

So don’t even try to figure any of this out for yourself. Before attending unfamiliar services, you should inquire which customs are part of the religious observance, not to be practiced by outsiders, and which show respect and therefore should be followed by everyone present.

The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = Judith Martin United Features Syndicate

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