Everyday Ethics

Where does one go when they need a little Etiquette 101? Why Emily Post, of course! We’re pleased to introduce Daniel Post Senning, moderator of the Emily Post Q+A blog – Etiquette, as a new guest blogger.

Our belief here at Everyday Ethics is that wrestling with what might seem to be a “little” problem can really be just one of many considerations that add up to a life lived thoughtfully and, we hope, ethically.

This is why, when we receive questions about etiquette, we don’t just hit the delete button (or raise our ethical snoots in the air). Ethics and etiquette have an important and natural relationship — one we hope to do justice.

Sometimes we need a helping hand – for instance, I recently received an email from a friend asking for help solving her dilemma with an upcoming wedding invitation. I know how I would handle the situation, but I’m pretty sure it’s not the right way to handle it.

And that’s where Daniel is kindly stepping in…

Q: I was invited to a wedding in California in October. I feel an obligation to
go because I really like the woman but the truth is
we aren’t good friends — and it’s a lot of money to go out for a
weekend! However, I think she’s wonderful and she seems really excited about me coming and has even offered to find me a place to crash for free! How do I let her down nicely? Am I a horrible person or what?

A: First off I would like to thank Hillary and Paddy for their generous invitation to join you all here at Everyday Ethics.  It is exciting to have an opportunity to talk about etiquette generally, and manners specifically, as the daily expression and regular practice of a larger set of values.   At the Emily Post Institute we like to solve etiquette dilemmas by applying core principles of honesty, respect, and consideration to a given situation.   So let’s take a look at our question today.

Wedding invitations are of great concern to many people.  They potentially represent a great deal of planning and preparation by someone who is organizing one of the most important events in their life.  There are a few traditional guidelines to keep in mind when you receive any wedding invitation.

  • The first is that you RSVP whether you plan to attend or not.  The reply should be sent as soon as you know your plans.
  • The second is that you respond to a wedding invitation with a gift whether you plan to attend or not.  The gift should arrive before the wedding if possible or you can bring it with you if you plan to attend.  This helps the bride and groom to keep track of everything they receive and get their thank you notes out in a timely fashion.

These same rules apply for a destination wedding, like in one California.  There is no reason to feel bad if you cannot attend a far away wedding for any of a number of reasons.  It is always an honor to be invited and while you might regret not being able go there is no reason to feel guilty if it is not possible.  It is best to communicate this as soon and as clearly as possible.  Send a written reply but follow it up with a call if you know the bride, groom, or immediate.  Explain that you will not be able to attend but wish them the best for their big day.  It is nice to send a small gift even if you are not going and this call could be a great time to ask where would be the best place to send it.

The worst thing to do is feel badly about not going and to let this interfere with giving the host(s) the reply they need to complete their planning.  While your new friend will surely miss you, she may also be relieved to learn that she has one less person to arrange housing for.  It can also help, when letting someone down easy, to take on some responsibility.  Don’t say that the “problem” is how far away the wedding will be, instead mention that you are otherwise committed.  I am confident that given you are thinking about the best way to handle this, that you will find a suitable course of action.

-Daniel Post Senning

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