Posted by: Lisa Pampuch | June 6, 2006

Remember to RSVP

“Manners are a sensitive awareness of the feelings of others. If you have that awareness, you have good manners, no matter what fork you use.” ~ Emily Post

Late May marks the onset of birthday season in our family. Both of my children, my husband, my parents and several nieces and nephews on both sides of our family celebrate birthdays during the warm summer months. For many families, this is also graduation and wedding season.

Lots of invitations for lots of celebrations are issued this time of year. Most of those invitations bear the acronym RSVP. Why is it that so few people seem to understand it?

I don’t think it’s because RSVP is acronym for a French term, “Respondez s’il vous plait.” Surely everyone knows that “RSVP” means “Please reply” in English.

Here’s what Cathleen Hanson of the International School of Protocol says about those four important letters: “We must RSVP. It is not an option. Think of the host. It is a matter of respecting that other person’s invitation. Even if you are going to decline, you should always contact the host.”

Actually, it’s sad that invitations need to include that “RSVP” reminder at all. As Judith Martin, Miss Manners, says, it ought to be common sense to respond to the kindness of an invitation.

Whether it’s a kid’s birthday party or a backyard barbecue celebrating a graduation or a catered formal wedding, it’s just common courtesy to respond to an invitation with a “Yes, I’ll attend” or a “No, I can’t make it.”

It’s such a simple, common-sense, common-courtesy concept, yet in my experience, even with the gentle reminder on invitations to RSVP, people can find a multitude of ways to get it wrong.

The first way people mangle the simple concept of RSVP is by not responding. This puts the hosts in something of a pickle. They wonder: Did the invitation not arrive? Should they plan enough food, beverages, and party favors for the non-responding invitees or not?

As a host, it’s uncomfortable to run out of any of these items. But it’s also frustrating and expensive to buy enough party favors and the extra-large birthday cake to cover the non-responding invitees only to see them go to waste. Multiply that waste and expense by the the increased size and cost factors that a wedding entails and you’re talking real money.

Even though a simple phone call – or in the case of most wedding invitations, returning a card in a stamped, addressed envelope – doesn’t seem like much effort to expend, the RSVP rate I’ve experienced is astonishingly low, sometimes less than 50 percent for kids’ birthday parties.

What are we teaching our children?

Whenever I gripe about the poor state of RSVP etiquette, I hear horror stories from friends and acquaintances about baby showers, weddings, anniversary parties and other catered events where hosts had to guess how many expensive dinners to buy because so many people couldn’t be bothered to RSVP.

One person I know is so frustrated by the RSVP rudeness consistently exhibited by a family member that she no longer invites this person to parties.

Here’s another way people manage to ruin the RSVP process: Becoming no-shows or canceling at the last minute. Once you accept an invitation, short of serious illness, a death in the family or a call from the president, you need to show up. It’s breathtakingly inconsiderate to tell a host that you’ll come to their event and then fail to do so, or to change your mind at the last minute without one of these legitimate excuses.

Then there are the folks who don’t get the simple concept that an invitation is not to be shared. If the invitation is addressed to Janie, then it’s not OK for Janie to bring along her friend Julie.

It’s not OK to assume an invitation sent to Mr. and Mrs. Doe includes their kids. If the tykes are invited, their names will be on the invitation envelope. No names, no invitation.

Don’t add extra guests to the reply card and don’t put your hosts in the awkward position of having to tell you not to bring the kids, the in-laws, or the new squeeze when you call to make your case that their party should include your extra invitees.

It’s just a matter of common sense, but given the increasing rarity of that commodity, I guess I really shouldn’t be surprised that so few people have mastered the RSVP concept.

“Common sense is not so common.” ~ Voltaire

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