Hannah Normandeau, Green Mountain Weddings: What kind of new inquiries are you and the Institute getting in this new decade? What’s exciting you in the world of etiquette, wedding-specific or not? What’s new, what’s changed?
Lizzie Post: We’ve been covering the subject of legalized cannabis heavily. We came out with the book “Higher Etiquette” that does actually cross over into wedding etiquette. It’s really fun to see the cannabis community getting to celebrate openly at mixed gatherings and things like that. That’s probably the newest.
LP: The other big trend that we’re starting to see in weddings is the tiny wedding. We’re huge advocates of it; we just suggest making sure it doesn’t feel rushed. So, making sure that even though everything is on a small scale, or even that the timeline is shortened, that you’re still really finding the time to cherish the day and do the things that will make you feel married.
Love in the time of coronavirus
The coronavirus outbreak, which began in December 2019 and was declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization on March 11, 2020, necessitated previously unimaginable changes in everyday life. It will certainly have an effect on weddings and events planned for this year and beyond.
HN: If your wedding planning has been affected by COVID-19, what’s a good way to tell your guests that you might have to make some changes?
LP: It’s a big concern. I imagine a lot of weddings right now are being canceled, or at least postponed. And if people do choose to go to weddings and gatherings like that, their behavior at them is going to be quite different. Many, many, many couples are just choosing to wait. And I would anticipate the wedding industry taking a hard hit because of it.
HN: Welcome to the new decade; I don’t know if this is what we were expecting.
LP: Not at all.
Consideration, respect and honesty
According to the Post Institute the principles of etiquette — consideration, respect and honesty — are the “three qualities that stand behind all the manners we have.”
“Respect can be a feeling, and it can be demonstrated in our actions and words,” the Institute states on its website. “To us, respecting other people means recognizing and acknowledging their worth and value as human beings, regardless of their background, race or creed.”
Post says today it’s important to think about the ways to measure a conversation, and decide from conversation to conversation how far you’ll engage, and what you’ll tolerate from other people.
LP: Politics is the big one this year.
HN: How do you stay civil when some examples that are being provided are terrible, frankly?
LP: It is really tough. A lot of people think conversation means cycling every opinion in view. Others feel like there is no hope whatsoever.
It’s about how you’re going to choose to conduct yourself, because the goal for etiquette is to conduct yourself in a manner that makes you feel comfortable and puts the people around you at ease as well. And we as human beings toss that out the window all the time.
People think that etiquette is trying to say, in every single situation, you have to just let everybody else talk. And that’s not the case. You can say, “I really don’t want to engage.” Say, “you know, I would love to hear about your vacation to Greece,” or wherever instead — maybe something else is going on. But it’s really easy to feel trapped by the political conversations.
I love giving people the encouragement to seek out multiple avenues that they can pursue so that when they find themselves in difficult situations, they can choose the avenue that’s right for that particular situation.
There are times where getting into it with your family is a good thing, but it can cross into offensive and insulting territory, or where people aren’t listening to each other.
HN: I think the honesty part is really coming out now, and people are feeling more comfortable saying “Hey, I don’t want to talk about that,” or, “I think you’re wrong, but let’s move on.” People are calling out bad behavior even as we see so much of it.
LP: No, it’s OK. But at the same time with the calling-out of bad behavior, you have to look back on yourself and look at the whole situation. That image of whenever you’re pointing a finger at someone, there’s three pointing back at you.
HN: How do you respond to someone who assumes that they’re going to your wedding; maybe is talking about it, but they’re not going to be invited?
LP: I think you have to have an honest conversation. So make it kind, and say something like:
• “It makes me so happy to hear you’re excited about the wedding, but because of the way the guest list has shaped up, we’re not able to invite you to the wedding. And I am so sorry about that.”
• “I’m really hoping that we’re going to be able to share photos and talk about it together.”
• “Even though the numbers are tough to accommodate, I just want to tell you how much I appreciate the enthusiasm and the support right now.”
There’s no good way to let someone down who truly thinks that they are on the guest list. It’s not going to feel good, and you should be prepared for them to be upset, or not act well. Or, they might say, “I’m so sorry for assuming, I totally understand.”
Weddings are really challenging events when it comes to prioritizing the guest list. We try really hard to just prep people as guests to be gracious about it, but there are times when it’s awkward.
HN: Honesty is the important part for sure. What about if you’re invited to a wedding or to be in one, and it’s too expensive for you — how do you let the couple know?
LP: This is why when you first get asked, you should never accept — you just simply say that you’re so excited, you feel so honored, and that you’d love to hear more so that you can look at your budget and schedule and make sure that you will be able to participate fully. … Also, that never happens. (laughs) It’s very rare that it does, anyway.
And then you find out that she wants a bachelorette party in Vegas, and the dress is going to cost $500, plus hair and makeup, and the shoes are $300 … so when that happens, once you start hearing the things that are being asked, that’s when you want to say, “Hey, I need to talk to you.”
It’s really, really tough, so get ready for things to feel weird. Sometimes people want the number of bridesmaids to match up, so you bowing out is going to really upset things for them. There’s just so many things that people get in their head about why they want their wedding to be the way they want it, and you just have to let them have it.
Sometimes you might come back later and have regrets — or realize, “I’m so glad I was able to disengage before spending all that money.”
Here’s a few honest, albeit difficult, things to say:
• “Between the dress and the shoes, etc., I just can’t afford to be a bridesmaid.”
• If it’s a time commitment, like if the bride wants everyone there two weeks before the wedding: “I only get two weeks of vacation time for the year, but I can make it there by Thursday before the wedding.”
• “I would love to bow out and support you in a different way.”
Living in a digital world
One inquiry Post said the Institute is getting lately is politeness with AI (artificial intelligence), and what responsibility people have to tell guests about security or surveillance equipment they might have.
She gave the example of her parents’ house, which now has a security system that can send them notifications when activity is detected.
“Anytime I drive up, or go to pick up a bike from the house or something like that,” it sends a notification, Post said. “It was an interesting change in my behavior and a change in what I needed to do to let them know.”
“The function of (security) now being attached to our phones changed a lot of the behaviors in my own family, so it kind of fascinates me.”
LP: So, do you tell the person who’s coming to stay or work at your house that you can see them coming and going at all hours of the day or night?
HN: I would think as a guest, you might want some heads up, like, “Oh, and by the way, there’s a camera here. So don’t freak out if you see it,” with the subtext of, “don’t do anything weird.”
LP: Or like if you forgot your hairbrush in your bag, and you’re in the shower, and you want to run downstairs to grab it, you know? … Like, I didn’t mean to strip in front of your security.
HN: I wonder if venues would tell you that those are in place, or should you just assume that you’re kind of being watched anywhere you go?
LP: I think we’ve had that assumption for quite a long time, especially when it comes to places like grocery stores, gas stations, convenience stores, banks, airports. Most places of business now have some kind of security system in place. I think we’re very used to it when we hear about it in movies and TV and radio programs and podcasts, when people talk about “going to the tape” to solve the case.
HN: We’re kind of conditioned to it already.
LP: That way we are, but homes for some reason feel different. I remember a family that I babysat and house-sat for, they told me they bought a device at one point to watch the kids. I think they were trying to figure out who was making a mess in the basement. I just remember getting a text message of “Oh, by the way, we put in one of these (cameras), but we don’t want you to think that we were spying on you.” She didn’t want me to think that I was assuming a loss of trust.
HN: So thinking about how things are going digital, do you still need to send paper invitations, or is it OK to not mail those?
LP: I still believe in paper invitations, and at the Emily Post Institute we still recommend that.
If you are really trying to do a carbon-free wedding, then don’t use paper invites. But we really suggest that people do still stick with a mailed invitation — it gets a lot of attention. We do suggest things like using electronic RSVPs as an option, but it doesn’t have to be the only option.
There are ways to stick to a tradition and also give it gravitas or kind of a formality. So many weddings are casual, but mailed invitations still make such a wonderful impression. It’s a beautiful way, a really special way to invite someone to your special day.
If we devolve into shooting off text messages, I think we’re going to start to get to a place where it just doesn’t feel like a big deal. There’s a big part of me personally that says maybe weddings shouldn’t be such a big deal. But I think that as a society, we still really believe that they are. We see how monumental the decision is, and we’ve seen the history of celebrating that decision in beautiful ways, with a lot of revelry.
I think that written invitation that shows up in the mail has stayed for so long throughout the digital era for a reason.It’s also why we came up with a line of greeting cards, because people like receiving things like this, sending their gratitude in beautiful ways. I don’t think that we want to try and stifle that.
It’s really interesting to see what we pick and choose that’s going to stay as part of our traditions.
This interview was edited for length and clarity.