Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Bridesmaid's Guide: Protocol/Etiquette (Part I)

[Etiquette is] a substitute for war.
—elbert hubbard

Imagine yourself at an elegant French restaurant with the handsome, smart guy you've been dating for several months. He's meeting your parents for the first time. Suddenly he picks up the flower vase, tosses the blooms, and replenishes his water glass with the contents of the vase. You're flabbergasted and horrified. You think, "Who is this guy? What other bizarre behavior will he treat me to if I stick around?"

Sometimes even the most intelligent and sensible people get a little nervous when the spotlight is on them. Combine scrutiny with flashbulbs and a finger bowl and suddenly they're acting as if they were raised in a barn. You laugh—but at a wedding, this could be you. One certain way to avoid socially short-circuiting and making a spectacle of yourself is to rely on your good breeding (or just follow our advice).

Growing up, you were taught everything you needed to know about table manners and how to be a charming weekend guest, but chances are your mother or other legal guardian let wedding etiquette slide. Now that the wedding invitations outnumber the J. Crew catalogs in your mailbox, you find yourself wondering if it's crass to give cash as a gift and whether it is acceptable to have a date accompany you. As a wedding guest, you can often get by on common sense and with some advice-seeking phone calls. But the day you receive The Call, the questions multiply and issues of dignity loom. Good wishes and a mail-order gift won't suffice. The time has come for a new level of professionalism. As a bridesmaid, you've got to do more than show up.

You've got to behave.
A wedding is the bride and groom's Big Day, but all eyes are on the entire wedding party. A not-so-funny thing can happen when you put on a dress that's been picked out especially for you—and five other girls. You may feel a lot more like window dressing than the beloved friend the bride wanted to include in her wedding. Fears of resembling decoration understandably lead to feelings of vulnerability and anxiety. You may be seized with an urgency to assert your individuality. Perhaps you'll roar into the church parking lot on your Harley-Davidson while the bells are chiming, or nuzzle the priest on the dance floor, or pull out your harmonica and jam with the band. Forget it. Stand out by knowing the drill and performing it with grace. This is what breeding is about. It doesn't shout, it shows.

Manners adorn knowledge, and smooth its way through the world. —Lord Chesterfield
Protocol? Etiquette? No, these are not concepts that became outmoded when Eisenhower left office. They are virtually synonymous. Protocol is a code, established by precedence. It is a rule that you can memorize and follow. Etiquette is the conduct prescribed by authority to be observed in social or official life. Etiquette and protocol are traditional rules of behavior established over generations. These social codes impose order on a complex world and remind people to interact honorably and with sensitivity. You learn etiquette at home, by watching and mimicking role models. You exercise etiquette—good manners—with the help of instinct, sound judgment, and your heart. The rules of etiquette may sometimes seem inflexible, but should be viewed as a helpful road map across unfamiliar territory, or simply the double yellow line on a road well traveled. As a blue-blooded race-car driver once observed, protocol tells you how to put the wheel on the axle, etiquette is the grease that makes the wheel spin, and good manners inspire the winner of the race to shake hands with the other drivers. Protocol tells you through which door to make an entrance; etiquette tells you how and to whom you introduce yourself once you are inside. The warmth of your introduction and the personalized gift you thought to bring are the admirable manners that get you invited back. Get it? Protocol and etiquette can be diagrammed; manners makes elegant use of the diagram, doesn't flaunt the diagram, and never embarrasses others who don't have it. Traditions change, but what follows are some protocol basics for bridesmaids to remember, along with ABCs that distinguish well-mannered bridesmaids from the ill-mannered.

1. The prospective bridesmaid responds to the bride's invitation to be a member of the wedding party if not immediately, as promptly as possible. As soon as she has a wedding date in mind, the bride is obligated to inform as many family members and close friends as she can, so no one feels slighted by hearing the exciting news secondhand. When the bride makes these calls, she asks some individuals to be attendants. Therefore, help her out by giving her an answer as quickly as you can.
  • An assenting bridesmaid first asks the bride to give her an estimation of the costs involved and has checked her bank account to ensure it can withstand the financial burden of the mission.
  • The ambitious prospective bridesmaid inquires about the number of single men who will be at the wedding before confirming that she can participate.

2. The bridesmaid is not expected to respond to the wedding invitation she receives. As she has agreed to be a bridesmaid, it is understood that she will be at the wedding. The invitation is sent to be kept as a memento.
  • A beloved bridesmaid includes the invitation at the end of a personalized scrapbook she presents to the bride at the shower,
  • The battle-weary bridesmaid throws the invitation into a drawer with her diaphragm, her condoms, and the fifteen other wedding invitations that have arrived in the mail this year.
3. Bridesmaids pay for their own dresses, accessories, and travel expenses. The bride should make lodging available for out-of-town attendants with nearby relatives and friends, and arrange for group rates at a local hotel. If a bridesmaid prefers to stay at the local hotel, she is responsible for her bill.
  • A generous bride may help her bridesmaid with some of these expenses. If the bride's maiden name is Hilton or Marriott, her attendants ought to concern themselves with room service rather than room rates.
  • A cost-conscious bridesmaid cheerfully accepts the accommodations at Aunt Dora's home and sleeps in a bunk bed.
  • The cheap bridesmaid totals her expenses and deducts this sum from the price of what she will spend on the wedding gift.
4. Bridesmaids wear the dress the bride has chosen for her wedding attendants. Ideally, the bride has selected three styles from which her attendants can chose.
  • A diplomatic bridesmaid sensibly steers the bride toward an attractive dress that is affordable for all attendants.
  • The determined bridesmaid insists on the dress that is most flattering to her figure; the wedding is her opportunity to meet her future husband.
5. Bridesmaids assure the bride that the dress they must wear is a vision of couture, especially when compared to other bridesmaid dresses they've seen or had to wear previously.
  • An economical bridesmaid already knows the name of the consignment shop that will resell the dress for her.
  • The environmentally conscious bridesmaid recycles the gown as a scarecrow for her vegetable garden and forgets to remove it before the bride comes over for tea after her honeymoon.
6. Bridesmaids organize and pay for the bridal shower.
  • A frugal bridesmaid comparison-shops for the caterer that will give them the biggest bang for their buck.
  • The forgetful bridesmaid never booked the private room at the restaurant where the shower is being held.
7. Bridesmaids defer to the maid of honor in matters of planning the bridal shower.
  • A gracious bridesmaid offers useful suggestions about place, theme, and guest list.
  • The grudging bridesmaid shows up late to indicate her displeasure with the early hour set for the shower, and spikes, the punch because nobody else wanted mimosas.
8. Bridesmaids cooperate with each other.
  • A harmonious bridesmaid exchanges her phone number with the other attendants and goes with the flow.
  • The halfhearted bridesmaid doesn't know the names of her comrades. The hell-bent bridesmaid treats every detail as a matter of life and death.
9. Bridesmaids assist the bride with wedding-related errands and, if the bride is not having a calligrapher address her invitations, may help address them by hand.
  • An indefatigable bridesmaid offers to pick up the helium tank' for the reception party balloons with her Ford Explorer when she hears that all the ushers drive Miatas.
  • The inept bridesmaid takes her car to the repair shop the week before the wedding, owns a broken answering machine, and leaves traces of her lipstick on each envelope that she seals.
10. Bridesmaids participate in all pre-wedding parties and wedding-related functions. These may include an engagement party, the bridal shower, a luncheon for the bridesmaids, a rehearsal dinner, and a breakfast the morning after the wedding.
  • A joyful bridesmaid is always punctual and ready with a camera to record those special moments.
  • The jealous bridesmaid is available only for the wedding ceremony, or attends only some of the functions, making it amply clear to all other participants the many appointments she had to juggle to make her presence possible. She, not the bride, is the star.
11. Bridesmaids entertain the bride on the night when the groom is at his bachelor's party.
  • A kindly bridesmaid arranges a lovely dinner for the bride at her favorite restaurant.
  • The kinky bridesmaid pays a gorgeous fireman to show up at the bride's door after her lovely dinner.
12. Bridesmaids assuage the bride's last-minute misgivings about her future husband.
  • A loyal bridesmaid tells the bride that her jitters are natural.
  • The lethal bridesmaid reveals rumors she's heard about the groom's infidelities.
13. Bridesmaids arrive at the dressing site two hours before the ceremony and assist the bride with her gown and grooming preparation.
  • A meticulous bridesmaid arranges a carpool with other attendants and brings a survival kit with extra stockings, clear nail polish, and other necessities.
  • The messy bridesmaid shows up late with her dog in tow.
14. Bridesmaids sign the wedding guest book.
  • A noteworthy bridesmaid neatly signs her name and records a personal remark that the bride will always treasure.
  • The nosy bridesmaid flips through the book and reads everyone else's entry while other guests wait to add their own names and good wishes.
15. Bridesmaids arrive dressed at the ceremony site one hour before the wedding for photographs.
  • An optimistic bridesmaid smiles charmingly on command so the session doesn't last two hours.
  • The obnoxious bridesmaid wears false eyelashes that flutter in the breeze and perfume that makes everyone sneeze.
16. Bridesmaids walk behind ushers in order of height during the processional, either in pairs or in single file.
  • A poised bridesmaid stands straight and smiles without fail.
  • The political bridesmaid refuses to walk behind an usher and carries her bouquet like a firearm.
17. Bridesmaids stand to the left of the maid of honor and slightly behind her during the ceremony, facing the officiant.
  • A qualified bridesmaid knows to be quiet while she listens to the cherished words that the bride and groom exchange during the ceremony.
  • The quixotic bridesmaid recites the vows that she would have written.
18. Bridesmaids are escorted out by the ushers (to each usher's right) immediately following the maid of honor and the best man during the recessional.
  • A reasonable bridesmaid adjusts her pace to that of the couple in front of her and trusts that her escort will do the same.
  • The reproachful bridesmaid trips herself on the dress she didn't want to pay a tailor to hem and hisses at her companion to slow down.
19. Bridesmaids stand to the left of the maid of honor in the receiving line (optional). Check with the bride; she may ask that her bridesmaids circulate among the guests instead.
  • A sociable bridesmaid greets each guest with warm words of welcome.
  • The shocking bridesmaid offers guests unsolicited comments about the suitability of the nuptial match and, while gulping from her glass, apologizes that the champagne is Californian and not French.
20. Bridesmaids compliment the mother of the bride on how youthful she looks.
  • A thoughtful bridesmaid opines that the mother of the bride can still fit into the gown she wore on her wedding day.
  • The toxic bridesmaid asks her who does her collagen injections.
21. Bridesmaids sit next to the ushers at the head table in alternating seats. At the head table where the wedding party is seated, there should be place cards.
  • An understanding bridesmaid does not tap her glass incessantly with her silverware, demanding that the bride and groom kiss for the crowd.
  • The unrestrained bridesmaid switches placecards so she is seated next to the sexiest usher, then removes the satin ribbon from her napkin and ties the usher's wrist to his chair.
22. Bridesmaids do not react inappropriately to sentimental toasts.
  • A vigilant bridesmaid never yawns while the father of the bride drones on nostalgically about his little girl who has grown up.
  • The vampish bridesmaid winks at the groom as he toasts his new wife.
23. Bridesmaids may offer a toast, but only after the best man's toast, the groom's toast to his bride, and words from the bride, parents, and relatives.
  • A witty bridesmaid composes a clever and short poem to wish the bride and groom a loving and prosperous future together.
  • The wanton bridesmaid reveals that she and the groom played Spin the Bottle in junior high and that she hopes his technique has improved since then.
24. Bridesmaids dance with ushers and other important guests.
  • A Xenon dance-clubbing bridesmaid foxtrots with the bride's groping fifteen-year-old brother, makes the bride's grandfather feel like Fred Astaire, and comes equipped with a pair of rubber-soled flats.
  • The xenophobic bridesmaid refuses to dance with men she doesn't' know. The X-rated bridesmaid wants to lambada stripped down to her black leather G-string.
25. Bridesmaids tell the bride repeatedly that she has never looked so radiant and everything is perfect.
  • A yielding 'bridesmaid allows the bride to be the center of attention.
  • The yearning bridesmaid asks, "What about me?"
26. Bridesmaids circulate among the guests and act as deputy-hostesses.
  • A zealous bridesmaid makes a point of engaging any guest who is standing alone in light, friendly conversation and setting him or her at ease.
  • The Zen bridesmaid sits quietly by herself meditating.
27. Bridesmaids encourage single women to participate in the bouquet-tossing ceremony. This usually takes place in the last half hour of the reception.
  • An altruistic bridesmaid allows charity cases optimum catch position.
  • The aggressive bridesmaid body-checks any female over fifteen who gets between her and a fistful of flying lilies.
28. Like any other guest, the bridesmaid has a year to give the couple a wedding present.
  • Sometimes, it makes sense to wait a year. If the couple is buying a new home, they'll appreciate receiving gifts at their new address. A bullish bridesmaid buys the newly weds four place settings, anticipating the needs of a young family.
  • Sometimes, it makes sense to wait a year. You never know— what do you think their chances are! The bookie bridesmaid calculates the couple's odds of staying together and indiscreetly collects for the pot.
Having a grasp of wedding etiquette is essential to your survival as a bridesmaid. The bridesmaid of good character understands that her performance speaks volumes about her respect and love for the bride. She'll use these guidelines to express her awareness about the bride's special concerns and needs at this tumultuous time, and to complete her mission with grace and ease. When in doubt, assess the circumstances, and refer to the codes you have memorized. Decide upon the most common-sensical and kind solution, take action, and keep a sense of humor. No matter how intimidated you are by the shifting moods of the bride or the demands of her tyrannical mother, you'll breathe easier knowing that there are certain unchanging rules with which you've armed yourself before entering the strange and chaotic world they've constructed, which probably feels like a jungle.

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