Rude Things You Will Do While Planning A Wedding

We talk a lot about weddings here, because for many adults it’s the first time the World of Etiquette descends on them in such a massive way. I’m having a wedding tomorrow. I’m sure it will be lovely, and I used much of Victoria’s and my own advice in planning it in as polite a way as possible.

But I have a secret for you–even if you’re the editor of a minor etiquette blog, you will fuck up. You will do some tactless things and commit some faux pases. Some will be out of thoughtlessness, and some will come after you’ve thought everything through and said “fuck it,” and you will not know if it goes unnoticed but you also will not care. Here are a few things we did:

  • Got overexcited and emailed a bunch of friends for their addresses with the hint that it was for invitations, before we were solid on how many people we could invite, and then didn’t invite some people on that list.
  • Threw an impromptu “engagement party” by inviting a bunch of local friends to a bar, including people who were ultimately not invited to the wedding. (I justify it in that it was clearly not an Official Wedding Event.)
  • Had an engagement party thrown for us (by my grandmother) which included guests not invited to the wedding. (This was an Official Wedding Event, but we did not have control over it.)
  • Asked people to turn of their phones/not take pictures during the ceremony (which some people think is rude but Victoria assures me is not.)
  • Invited people and not their spouses or long-term partners.
  • Invited some people within one “tier” of relation and not others.
  • Had a B-list.
  • Not had seating charts, which is apparently Not Done if you have over 50 guests. The justification is that we went to a wedding of 120 with no seats and everyone figured it out just fine.
  • Not realized we had to actually tell people our plans about day-after breakfast or afterparties or anything.
  • Ignored emails with helpful “suggestions” from family members.

More than the actual rude actions though, there have been rude feelings, which I hope you know are okay to have. It’s okay to wish that you could spend the day drinking and partying and not having to say hi to every person. It’s okay to realize that after a year of planning, if you had to do it over, you might not have a wedding in the first place, but accept that that would be impossible feel that way without having planned it already. It’s okay to not have a vegan cake option (sorry, Steve). Make every effort to ensure people have a nice time, but remember that you can’t please everyone. Just don’t apologize for not having wedding favors.

House Cleaner Etiquette

By WPA [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Now that we’ve talked about all the old fashioned kinds of servants and how to treat your fancy live-in servants, let’s get real and talk about the only kind of “help” we are ever likely to have (if we are lucky!).

  • Clean up your mess! There is much hardee-haring over the idea of cleaning up for your house cleaner, but seriously, man, that person is there to remove dirt, not organize your junk. Clear off surfaces, stash stuff, pull all your makeup and potions off your bathroom counters.
  • Especially don’t leave anything gross out. Dirty undies go in the hamper, not as a surprise under the bed.
  • Stay out of the way. If you can, it’s almost best not to be there at all so that it feels like some helpful brownies have come in and worked their magic, but if you must be home while the cleaner is there, move to the bedroom when they are in the living room and then switch.
  • Don’t hover. They are pros and know what they are doing. If you find fault with the cleaning, either explain before their next visit or find someone new who jives with your expectations.
  • Discuss what the cleaner will and will not do before they get there. Some will do laundry/dishes, others won’t. Keep in mind if you ask them to do anything extra, they will probably charge you extra.
  • You don’t need to tip, but if you use an individual person instead of a service, a “holiday bonus” of the cost of one visit is pretty common. Cleaning services usually don’t send the same person/people each time, so a one time bonus isn’t that useful.
  • It should go without being said that you shouldn’t be rude to, scream at, or otherwise demean your cleaner.
  • This is one service where I don’t think haggling is appropriate. They are a professional and probably have a set price for their service.

Do I Have to Reciprocate a Lavish Birthday Gift?

If you are Victoria's friend this is probably what you are getting for your birthday.

If you are Victoria’s friend this is probably what you are getting for your birthday.

Dear Uncommon Courtesy,

So for my birthday, I received a gift card for Petco from my coworker for $50.00, which I think is a lot for someone I don’t know too well and have never hung out with socially. His 30th birthday is next week- do I need to spend that much on him? 

Overwhelmed with Generosity

Official Etiquette:
Miss Manners says that present giving should be roughly even, but that thoughtfulness can be equivalent to monetary value. If you do not wish to exchange gifts, you can tell your friend that you would prefer to just acknowledge birthdays with good wishes.

Our Take:

Jaya: I have no idea what to do about this question, but I would not feel like it’s an obligation to get him $50 worth of anything. I will also use this as an opportunity to apologize to all my friends. after like age 20 I am such an “I’ll buy you a drink at the bar” gift friend, even to my closest.

Victoria: Hahah yeah, I hate buying birthday gifts for friends. Like, it’s such a crazy thing. Who can keep track of whether you gave them something, did they give you something, and if you do it once, is there an expectation to keep doing it?

Jaya: Exactly! Like, we all know a gift is a gift and not an obligation, but an awful lot of people treat it like one.

Victoria: Yeah. I think there is the option, in this situation, where you can say “oh this is too much, I couldn’t possibly accept it”and then they say “no, no it’s fine.” And then I think you definitely don’t have to reciprocate. I mean, since she already took it, I might give him a $10 or maaaaaaybe $20 certificate to somewhere. But seriously, only because his bday is so soon after hers. Otherwise I would say forget it.

Jaya: Yeah, and next year do not repeat.

Victoria: Definitely.

Jaya: I think some people are just gift givers. Like your family, you give gifts a lot right?

Victoria: Yes, but ONLY to immediate family. And actually, its more my mom that sends stuff to us.

Jaya: Ahhh. But yeah, I think some people are just gift givers. And really do not expect things in return.

Victoria: That’s true! And like, I make people cakes all the time, but certainly do not expect 5 different cakes for my bday.Though if you want to…

Jaya: Oh shit, you’ve thought I was an asshole this whole time!

Victoria: No! I’ve never made you a cake because we celebrate our birthdays at the same time and I have been PROHIBITED from making a cake for my own bday party.

Jaya: Ok, as long as we never stop celebrating our birthdays together, because my cakes will never be as pretty as yours.

Thank Goodness We Don’t Have to Do That Anymore: Know How to Treat Servants

By the way, it is unlikely that your servants will become your BFFs.

Back in the day, having servants, even in a modest household, was very common as labor was very affordable and the day to day work of running a household was very, very difficult. Today, if you are in the position of having live in help, most of this is still likely to apply. I’ve sourced this information from Emily Post in 1920 and Amy Vanderbilt in the 1960s and the basics are very similar, so they are likely to hold up today as well.

Hiring Servants:

  • Interview candidates in your own home, making sure to state all the bad parts of the job as well as the good parts. Be upfront and clear about the wages.
  • Be sure to have your children present when interviewing nannies and nursemaids, as you shouldn’t hire someone who your child instantly dislikes.
  • Always be in charge during the interview- if a servant starts bossing you around from the beginning, they will always be in charge in the relationship
  • When introducing a new servant to the household, make sure to introduce them to everyone, even the men! (ed: yay, sexism!)
  • References are the standard currency of servants and withholding one is a very serious matter indeed. Always make sure you check references when hiring and offer them to departing servants.

Servants in the Home:

  • Children are called by their first names by servants. In very formal household, teens are called Master John and Miss Jane. Adults, of course, are called Mr. Smith or Mrs. Smith.
  • If you can, call servants Mrs. Jones instead of Lucy, unless she prefers to be just Lucy. This is especially important for more senior servants like a housekeeper.
  • Introduce servants to guests, but don’t introduce the guest to the servant.
  • Always be polite to servants, say please and thank you.
  • For adequate service you need at least three servants: a cook, a butler (or waitress), and a housemaid. But if you can only afford one, both Post and Vanderbilt helpfully provide menus for entertaining that can be handled by one servant. (ed: no servants is unimaginable!)
  • Live in servants must be given as much independence as possible and their room should be comfortable and be a place where they can visit with a friend. The furniture should be comfortable- spend a night in your servant’s quarters to test it out!
  • In the US it is customary that the servants eat the same food as the family, except for perhaps, special delicacies. If the special foods do disappear, you can buy a locked food safe!
  • In households with minimum servants, the employers have to be more aware of fitting into the cleaning schedule and making sure they are out of the way so things can get done.

Post stresses that if you have “servant trouble” the cause is probably your poor management and poor treatment of your servants.

Examples of poor servant management are:

  • Allowing poor work to slip by, too much leniency is just as bad as too much strictness.
  • Reprimanding a servant in front of another person.
  • Reprimands for work left undone when there are more tasks than time.
  • Being distrustful: locking up all valuables, watching the servants at all times.
  • Not allowing them to have some space for themselves in the house where they can entertain friends.
  • You should know how to do all of a servant’s tasks so you can teach and direct instead of complain.
  • Be careful when servants do the household ordering- some merchants give kickbacks to servants for bringing in business and pad their bills, or they charge for things they don’t send. Always ask to see receipts!

Etiquette for Servants:

  • Always be neat and speak in a low voice.
  • Always say “Yes, ma’am/madame” or “No, sir”
  • Everything is always presented to employers on a tray.

How To Be A Respectful Traveler


Don’t steal important monuments

We’ve already covered some points of hotel and hostel etiquette, but where you sleep is just one aspect of how you travel. If you’re one of those people who books a package tour, gets carted around in a bus and never interacts with anyone actually from the country you’re visiting, fine, keep doing what you do because you probably aren’t self-conscious about how you come off anyway. But for the rest of us, travel is an opportunity to meet new people, see new things, and understand new cultures.

The basic idea is that you need to adapt yourself to the local culture, not the other way around. Do this by researching the area. What are the tipping customs? Do you have dietary restrictions or other medical needs you need to be on top of? Can you learn some basic words in the local language? You don’t have to know everything, but you really have no excuse to not even attempt “hello” and “thank you.” Most people just appreciate the effort, and will do their best to help you out if they know you’re trying.

Also, do you need to dress differently? That last one definitely (unfortunately) applies to women. I’m going on my honeymoon to Sri Lanka and have been stocking up on light but covering clothing, since tank tops and shorts don’t really fly there. I could be all pissed about the pervasive idea that women’s bodies are inherently sexual and thus crude, and the double standard when compared to men, but I’d rather just buy some linen pants and hang out in Buddhist ruins. I’m not ready to start any revolutions yet.

Aside from knowing the rules and languages of where you’re traveling, and in general just being polite and considerate, there are also some larger political things to consider. For instance, there’s the issue of “voluntourism” and how helpful a group of well-meaning but poorly-trained westerners attempting to build houses in a remote Costa Rican village actually is. Much has been said of this, but this essay sums up the core issue well:

Our mission while at the orphanage [in Tanzania] was to build a library. Turns out that we, a group of highly educated private boarding school students were so bad at the most basic construction work that each night the men had to take down the structurally unsound bricks we had laid and rebuild the structure so that, when we woke up in the morning, we would be unaware of our failure. It is likely that this was a daily ritual. Us mixing cement and laying bricks for 6+ hours, them undoing our work after the sun set, re-laying the bricks, and then acting as if nothing had happened so that the cycle could continue.

This really does have to do with etiquette, because when you travel, you are a guest in another country. You are welcome to explore and learn and do what you want, but like any good guest, you should be leaving the place as you found it, perhaps even better than you found it. And being rude or ignoring local customs or making people rebuild your well-intentioned charity project is not leaving it as you found it.


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