Sunday, November 23, 2014


Good manners never go out of fashion. Or so I thought. But now I'm really beginning to wonder. I was always taught that when you received an invitation and the host asks you to let them know whether or not you will be coming, you should do it. The concept seems easy enough but for whatever reason it seems like fewer and fewer people are answering that request. Or maybe it is just the people I know.

I first encountered the problem with people not responding when we were living in Albania. In both my paid position and in my own home, whenever I issued invitations to events people were slow to respond (if they even bothered to respond at all). I know it was unrealistic on my part to expect them to respond within 48 hours of receiving the invite (the way I had been taught) but some response at all would have been appreciated. I never really cared whether people were going to attend but as the event planner and the hostess I needed to know how many guests to expect. A sit down dinner at my house; do I plan for seating for twelve or for eight? A children's party at the embassy; if I don't know how many kids to expect how can I make sure that every child receives a goodie bag? I became a master at squeezing extra place settings in at the table or removing them if necessary. After one disastrous reception where I cooked for the number who said they were coming (plus a little wiggle room) and then ran out of both food and drink when the entire guest list showed up, I learned to always make extra food. Sometimes it all got eaten but more often than not we had leftovers for the week.

I never quite understood why people didn't respond. When I asked people (yes, it came down to that), the responses were mixed. People weren't sure whether they could make it while others said of course they would be there. (I guess I'm supposed to be a mind reader). Other would say that they didn't want to commit on the chance another offer came up (yes, I was told that), committing took the spontaneity out of the event (for the guest I am assuming), or they didn't know what the letters R.S.V.P. meant (yes, I heard that one too). And then there was the time my inquiry as to whether or not someone would be attending an event was met with the accusation that I was old fashioned and stuffy for even inquiring about such a thing in the first place.

Fast forward to our being in Belgium with an entirely new international community with the two official languages on the base being English and French. Yesterday we threw Sidney his long awaited birthday party. One month out I reserved the space, providing them with a tentative number of guests. Two weeks ago Sidney hand delivered invitations to all of his classmates. Not wanting to be a glutton for punishment I didn't give an R.S.V.P. deadline but I did ask that people let me know their intentions via email. A few replies immediately came in then silence. Sidney would come home telling me that so-and-so was attending (have a message relayed from one five year old to another hardly seems like a reliable means of communicating). Other days parents would catch me in the hallway and let me know their child would be coming. One parent even sent a handwritten note to the teacher who passed along them message to me. Two days before the party only one child had declined the invitation, sixteen had accepted but that left another ten up in the air. (Yes, Sidney has a freakishly large class). I went back to the event space giving them a tentative number and they must have been used to the non-commitment of people since they said they would work with me on however many people showed up. Having heard horror stories about everyone showing up at parties here without, I went home and baked enough cake and cupcakes to feed the entire class and their parents in case everyone showed up. The same with the goodie bags.

So how did it work out? The day of the party I received three last minute cancellations due to the nasty bug that has been making its way through the school. One child showed up without an R.S.V.P. but her father apologetically told me that he could read my handwriting on the invitation. Everyone else who said they were coming, came. We had just enough pizza, too many goodie bags (which can be disassembled and recycled for another event) and more than enough cupcakes so Glenn will once again be providing treats for his co-workers.

But this experience now has me thinking. Am I misinterpreting what R.S.V.P. actually means? Does it now mean regrets only? Respond if you feel like it? Of course I'll attend? Or do people simply chose to respond to those invitations they deem important and ignore the others. What is a hostess to do? I don't know what anyone else does but my solution is to be prepared by making extra food and to be ready for the unexpected. What other options do I really have?

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