Minding My Manners


Oh my.  The overwhelming response to my last post was to simply address my save the dates to “George and Louise Guestenbaum” so I don’t have to worry about if Louise’s a doctor or if she prefers “Mrs.” to “Ms.”

Oh, readers.  Oh, sensible, practical, living-in-the-now readers.

I suppose none of you had a stern, terrifying grandmother who despite her childhood Catholicism was such a WASP that the High Order of Terrifying WASPs considered reworking the acronym to accommodate her, before she saved them the trouble by switching churches.

Well, I did.  My grandma started sending me etiquette guides before I left kindergarten.  By the time I could tie my shoes, I had seen more than one illustration depicting how to use a finger bowl (even though I have to this day never seen an actual finger bowl.)  Most of my memories of my grandmother involve her handing me napkins or giving me money on the condition I would buy “some blouses that are not so low-cut.”  She once forwarded to my father a thank you card my sister sent her, attaching a note reading, “Please instruct your children to date all correspondence.”  She was, in short, insanely proper.  And although she is no longer with us, I am still scared of her.

I think she might faint if she received an issue of Reader’s Digest that didn’t address her as “Mrs.” Receiving correspondence regarding a wedding with just her first and last name would probably have resulted in some kind of global cataclysm with Wilmington, Delaware as its epicenter.

“But Robin,” you say, “You don’t have to invite your dead grandmother to your wedding.  All your living invitees will be chill.  And if they aren’t, illegitimi non carborundum.”

Oh, Reader.  Kind, gentle, level-headed Reader.  That kind of sensible thinking isn’t going to work for me.  You see, I don’t believe in ghosts, but I do believe that any etiquette transgression on my part runs the risk of my grandmother rising from the dead, hunting me down,  and stabbing me in the neck with an oyster fork.

Yes, I’m saying that I am worried that my bad manners may pierce the veil and revive the dead.  I know you think I’m crazy, but deep down you’re worried I’m right.

It’s hard, because rules of etiquette are arcane, rife with inconsistencies, and frequently incompatible with my feminism, my laziness, and even my sense of right and wrong.  Ultimately we all have to make these decisions about which rules to follow, which rules to bend, and which rules to ignore completely in a way that feels true to ourselves.  And part of me comes from my grandmother.  I have an inner etiquette snob.  There are many times in wedding planning I wish I could distract her with a tea party and make sane choices instead of striving for “excruciatingly correct,” but that old dame will not be quieted.


  1. As someone who still has dreams of my dead grandmother begging me to join the DAR, I totally and completely understand.

    That said, I have absolutely no idea about your invitation dilemma. But I’ll ask Grandma if she shows up tonight.

    • My grandmother never begged me to join the DAR, but I think that is because she assumed I OBVIOUSLY would because one of my relatives had already done the hard work of proving our lineage. I do think it is cool that I could be in the DAR, but I don’t really want to hang out with a bunch of conservative rich ladies trying to convince everyone they aren’t racist anymore.

  2. I was much more prim and proper when planning my first (far more formal) wedding, and went with hand-calligraphy, formal titles, and inner and outer envelopes. This time around, I feel no qualms about using only first and last names for this wedding because, I am fairly certain, your dead grandmother would be appalled by our ENTIRE wedding plan — city hall, chicken wings and cupcakes back at the house and therefore all bets are off.

    I know she would be appalled because, upon hearing our plans for the wedding, my very own sweet mother told me I shouldn’t bother looking for a wedding dress wear but should just wear my old Daffy Duck costume from Eighth Grade Halloween. So there you go. I am simply embracing my tacky.

    • 1. Despite my claims to being proper, I just went on a tear against inner envelopes.

      2. My inner etiquette snob is not as strong as my inner lover of chicken wings.

      3. Daffy Duck is an awesome idea for a Halloween costume.

  3. As much as I am delighted to be regaled with stories of your grandmother, I am also now terrified of her. I fear that just from hearing about her secondhand, she will commence appearing to me at night, floating perhaps above my bed, shaking her fist at me for all the atrocities against etiquette I’ve committed in the past. Or perhaps fist-shaking is not proper etiquette? Maybe something else, like finger-bowls, are involved? I am not sure. I am now too scared to look it up. I don’t even know where to look it up. I think I am going to go over into that corner and quietly stare at the wall for a while.

  4. beautiful use of “pierce the veil”

  5. What IS a finger bowl? And I’m supposed to date thank you cards?

    • A finger bowl is a little bowl of water that is presented between courses, and one should daintily dip her fingers in it and then discreetly dry them with her napkin. I have never seen one in real life. I half suspect it is a canard designed to intimidate those of lesser stature and keep them away from fancy ladies’ dinners.

      I don’t know if there is a specific rule about wedding gift thank you notes and dates, but my grandmother was of the opinion one should date ALL correspondence. [Fortunately, WordPress automatically dates blog comments.]

  6. Two notes:
    1. So, the reason we know about the “Please instruct your children to date all correspondence.” thing is because i came across that note when i was going through Mom and Dad’s paperwork. When i was doing that, i was totally imagining Dad and Gramma and Loraine (who felt the need to send us the funny pages from her newspaper every week or something, bloating the amount of paper i had to sort through) in the afterlife hanging out together and mocking me with how difficult they had made that endeavor. All of which is to say: You are correct! Gramma can scold you from beyond the grave!

    2. My biggest stress with the formal titles was how to do Grammy. I hate the “Mrs. John Smith” form of address, but the internet informed me that that was correct for widows. I wanted to go with the “Mrs. Jane Smith” form, but the internet told me that was correct for divorc√©es (which seems insane to me), and i was worried Grammy would know that and care (for those playing at home, Grammy is our other, more reasonable, grandmother). I think i eventually did go with the “Mrs. John Smith” form, but i put “Grammy” on the inner envelope.

  7. Bah. I hate offending people with salutations as much as I hate offending my feminist sensibilities. It’s an impossible conundrum. Which is why we avoided it on our save the dates altogether by emailing them. Which means, of course, that I’ll just have to grapple with the issue on our invitations. Eek.

  8. Pingback: Invitation Wording | HitchDied

  9. Pingback: Invitation Wording | HitchDied

Leave a Reply

Required fields are marked *.

Notify me of followup comments via e-mail. You can also subscribe without commenting.