Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Bride's Guide to Etiquette


A Beautiful Bride as captured by the talented Vantage Pictures

I love brides.  I really do.  There's something magical that happens to even the most ordinary of gals when they are all done up with the hair, the makeup, the veil, the shoes, and (sigh) the dress.  They glow.  And it's amazing.  Just look at this lovely gal seeing herself in full bridal regalia for the first time.  I mean...how can you not love this stuff?

But sometimes, something else happens, too.  With all the preparations and thought and effort and money that circle around what amounts to just a few hours on a given day, your perspective on reality can start to shift, and the seams on your sanity can start to loosen and let a little bit of crazy seep in.  Even brides who normally make rational decisions will start to see everything through a filter of tulle.  So I'm here to help keep your feet on the ground and give a little bit of advice for avoiding behavior that will inspire whispers of your name spoken in conjunction with the "b" word - "bridezilla".

The Duke & Duchess (Queen Elizabeth II) of Edinburgh on their Wedding Day, 20th of November, 1947
You are the bride, not the queen
I'm sure you've seen the video from Obama's recent trip to London in which he had a little etiquette mishap when toasting her majesty, the Queen of England.  Now I'm all for tradition, but the hostess in me was squirming in my chair in sympathy for Mr. President.  I get it, she's the queen.  People are expected to behave in a certain manner when she is present, and she gets top billing in any room.  As lukewarm as I am about the whole royal arrangement, I'm even less enthusiastic when I see brides begin to appropriate an air of, hm, what's a diplomatic way to say it, majesty about their bridal status.  Listen, you automatically get top of show, you're the one in the pretty dress. 

With that said, while you are the bride, you are also the hostess of a really big party.  You are inviting 100, 200, 300 people to a dinner (or lunch or pizza party) and will be graciously feeding and entertaining your guests for the evening, many of whom have spent a pretty penny to attend.  Therefore, you are responsible for their well-being and happiness while attending your party.  This means you should do none of the following:
- make them wait for you
- leave them to their own devices for any portion of the wedding (meaning, don't leave guests to figure out how to entertain themselves for a half hour while you do your bridal portraits without any food or beverage for them to enjoy)
- make them sweat (for example, making your guests walk a mile uphill in the rain to a remote and rocky outpost for your ceremony because the spot is so gorgeous you couldn't do it anywhere else). 
- unless your wedding dress is also edible, don't skimp or cut corners on the food and beverage in order to buy the dream dress that is totally out of your budget.  The same obviously goes for your flowers, shoes, outfit change, etc.  Not even your most fashionable friend will notice your gorgeous Louboutin's if they are grumpy and hungry and underfed.

After the jump...
do what you can afford
be a bride, not a doormat
you are what you eat


Do what you can afford
A thoughtful, well done wedding, no matter how modest, will leave a much bigger impact on your wedding experience for you and your guests than would a second-rate version of the wedding you wished to have but couldn't pull off for budget reasons.  Work with what you've got, and everyone will be much happier.  I, for one, would much rather attend a sweet daytime affair with a make-your-own biscuit bar (like the one featured on 100 Layer Cake - photo below) and fun champagne cocktails than an evening affair where the hors d'oeuvres are few and far between and there's a (gasp) cash bar, even if it is at the Plaza (who, for the record, would never do a cash bar).
100 Layer Cake
Be a bride, not a doormat
I've found myself in lots of circumstances where I get stuck in the middle of a fierce tug-of-war, with the mother standing on one side of the proverbial line and the bride at the other.  While your parents' (or sister, mother-in-law, etc.) opinions should hold some weight, that is not an invitation to push their weight around.  Some brides are more complacent than others, but even the most strong-headed bride has the right to make her wedding her own.  If you find that someone (your mother or sister or maid of honor) is undermining your efforts by calling the caterer to make menu selections or making requests of the florist, simply have a conversation with your vendors informing them that no decision is final until you approve it, eliminating confusion and miscommunication.  It won't be the first or last time your planner or DJ has heard this.  How you handle it with your culprit is up to you, I'm not a (licensed) therapist, but trust that if you remain true to your vision of how your (yes, I'm stressing your) day should be, once it's all said and done, even the strongest naysayer will be singing the praises of your party.


You are what you eat
There's a fine line here, and I'm going to try to walk it.  Imagine for a moment that you are a vegan.  I'm not going to play because I couldn't live a day without cheese, so I'll volunteer to be the narrator.  So back to being vegan...you don't eat meat or butter or cheese or any product that originates from an animal.  Now imagine you are invited to dinner by a friend.  You arrive to discover that the dinner's theme is a churrascaria, or Argentinian barbequed meatfest, and there is not a single thing, including the vegetables, that isn't prepared in butter (or cheese or any other offending food item).  You, my friend, are out of luck.  So now not only are you hungry, but you're quite frankly feeling a little awkward, too.  Do you say something to the hostess, running the chance you come off like a Debbie Downer?  Do you clandestinely nab a jar of pickles from the fridge and make due with whatever you can scrape together from their pantry?  Do you call and order delivery (for one)?  And just like that, you are officially not having a good time.

When you are the hostess, it is your responsibility to make sure that all guests are accommodated for, from the vegan to the nephew with food allergies to your friend who keeps kosher.  Of course the guests who have particular needs are responsible for speaking up about their specific dietary restrictions - you can't know that your dad's boss' wife is allergic to shellfish - but once these requests are brought to your attention it's your job to comply. 

Now here's where I start to push it a wee bit (and I certainly invite you to comment to the contrary if you feel I'm way off base here)  Beyond strict dietary restrictions, it is also important to keep a well-rounded, universally approachable menu on tap for the evening so that everyone, from the picky to the adventurous, can find something to eat.  Sushi?  Love it, so long as there are other cocktail hour options for folks who like a little heat on their meat.  You're on a raw diet?  Impressive, yes, great idea for your dinner for 200?  I would think twice. 

Getting back to the vegan thing, I've had more than one vegan bride ask if we can do an entire vegan menu.  Sure, anything is possible, and I certainly understand the conviction behind it.  But I can also understand how most of your guests would be really disappointed when they discover that they aren't having steak (or chicken or fish or cheese or butter or shrimp or anything of animal origin) and how when they look back on your wedding for years to come, this will be the prevailing memory from your event.  I always recommend compromising whenever possible - how about offering a vegan entree as one of your options and ensuring that plenty of food during the cocktail hour be vegan friendly, but still including non-vegan options for the other 85-99% of your guest list?  Vegan cake?  Sure, as long as it tastes great. 

What's the takeaway in all of this?  It's very easy to get wrapped up in the emotion and pressure of all the details that go into planning your wedding, and because you are the bride, you carry an enormous amount of responsibility for what happens.  Sometimes this can be overwhelming, and you can lose touch with what really matters by (almost) not fault of your own.  So remember, this is a wedding, and a wedding is a party, and parties are fun, so relax.  And above all, the wedding is not the finish line, it's the start of what I hope will be a fulfilling and long-lasting life with your partner, and when it's all said and done, in twenty years you won't remember your cake flavor or what you ate for dinner, but you'll recall every detail of the extraordinary experience of actually saying "I do" to the one person you love more than anything, in the world, even your wedding dress.

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