Wedding Toasts and Kurt Vonnegut Don’t Mix

by admin on November 18, 2010

I’ve debated a while whether to submit this to you or not. I finally decided to, because the story is just too hilarious not to share, and because the unfortunate denizen of etiquette hell just so truly did not understand what he had done wrong, that no one, then or now, could be mad at him.

I’ll call him “Sean”. Sean is a friend of mine, and he is the best friend of “Jake”, so when Jake got married to “Julia”, naturally he was the best man. I’m also friends with both Jake and Julia, so I was at their wedding reception.

At the time, Sean was a graduate student in philosophy, and he’s long been famous in our circle of friends for being absent-minded and for having a decidedly off-kilter way of looking at things, which may explain what came next.

As he stands up to give his toast, he starts out by saying that he had difficulty composing it, because although he and Jake had had many great times together, he couldn’t think of anything that he could say in mixed company, har har. People laugh politely.

So, he pulls out a copy of Shakespeare’s “Blow, Blow, Thou Winter Wind” and reads it dramatically. For those unfamiliar with the poem, it’s a cynical diatribe against man’s inhumanity to man. Not exactly happy wedding material, especially since it contains the line “Most friendship is feigning, most loving mere folly”. He finishes this poem by saying that when life is cold, the bride and groom should cling to each other. Ok. A little weird, but ok.

However, at this point, it goes completely off the rails. He says he has one more example for the bride and groom. He then begins to recount, in agonizing detail, the plot of the Kurt Vonnegut short story “Welcome to the Monkey House”. I’ll let you look up the plot of the story for yourself if you don’t know it; I had never heard of the story before that day. To keep matters much shorter than Sean did, I’ll just say that I have never heard a collective gasp louder than the one that went up when Sean said the phrase “and he rapes her”. I kept my face in my hands, cringing, for most of it; at one point, I heard an irate bride’s relative at the next table say, “Who is this guy?” People were shifting around and muttering and giggling nervously; through it all, Sean seemed totally unaware of the effect he was having.

When the summarization was finally over, Sean basically says that his point was that no one in the short story understood sex, love, and procreation, but that Jake and Julia did understand the proper meaning of these things. This came across as a thinly veiled reference to the fact that Julia was about five months pregnant.

Sean later asked people how they liked his speech, and seemed confused and surprised when people stammered and hedged and (in the case of some friends) tried gently to inform him that it wasn’t quite appropriate. 1117-10

{ 62 comments… read them below or add one }

Ali November 19, 2010 at 3:09 am

Actually the minister at my cousin’s wedding made this big deal of welcoming my cousin’s child to her new husband’s family. We were all whispering, “Does he not know that it’s (my cousin’s husband’s) kid?” Of course my cousin’s son was already part of her husband’s family, he had his last name and wasn’t treated any differently by either set of grandparents because his parents weren’t married. It was very awkward.

The minister also made this big speech about how my new cousin-in-law shouldn’t see his marriage as a burden, so it seemed to have oddly anti-women sentiments in it.

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Just Laura November 19, 2010 at 9:14 am

To Hal & Elizabeth Bunting:
I’m going to agree with you. My wedding in March will be more informal due to the following:
*I’d like to spend money instead on the honeymoon, and most of my friends still live on the East Coast (I moved West to be with my fiance), so they won’t be in attendance.
*Most people in attendance will be friends of my fiance. To say that they are unaccustomed to formal events and what that entails… would be putting it mildly. I’ll just head this problem off at the pass, and have a tiny wedding, followed by a pleasant reception at a nice restaurant.

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phoenix November 19, 2010 at 9:31 am

Elizabeth Bunting-

I remember that one. You did not receive “verbal abuse,” and please stop playing the victim about it. Nobody called you names, used inappropriate language, made fun of your life or any aspect about you. Every response you got was along the lines of “I can’t believe you’re saying this.” You phrased the same basic idea in a way that came across very offensively, and then immediately launched into whining about being attacked when people disagreed with you. This is at least the second time you’ve commented since then about how terribly you were treated. I think it’s time to let it go.

Online, we can only judge your words. When your words are poorly chosen, people may take offense at what it looks like you are saying. When they challenge or disagree with you, however strongly, it is time to re-read what you said and clarify if people are taking it in a way you didn’t mean, not to pull a martyr complex.

Also, it is the internet. People might disagree with what you think. That is not abuse. That is discussion.

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Skoffin November 19, 2010 at 9:48 am

Hal, I am a little confused. Are you suggesting the couple should have had a bbq type affair, or that Sean should forgo the reception and have some informal affair?

Elizabeth Bunting, I’m a little confused on your response as well. Are you talking about the couple or Sean? If it’s the latter I can agree with you, if the former I don’t understand as they were not the ones to stumble through a formal outing.

Alexa, if he does have such issues then I can agree that we are being perhaps too judgemental of him. However there has been no indication as to whether he does have such issues or not, thus I based my own opinion of him on experience I’ve had with all sorts of people. To me he came across as one of the type to talk about things they know other people are not comfortable with in a show of their own self indulgence.

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Jillybean November 19, 2010 at 10:34 am

@Hal – you said: Be on time. Be properly dressed. Behave.

Yep – sounds right. Even us commonors can do it. People can have whatever level of formality for their party/wedding they choose, regardless of past experience with such. And plenty of people who attend formal events their entire lives can still show a remarkable lack of class. While many people who attend no other formal functions love dressing up and having a wonderful time at a wedding.

@Elizabeth Bunting – I recall that post, too. I agree with Phoenix. You weren’t “verbally abused” you were disagreed with, and some of the outrage, if I recall, stemmed from the fact that the wording of your post insinuated that only religious people were entitled to a “formal” wedding, a point which you later clarified.

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Michelle P November 19, 2010 at 1:24 pm

I don’t believe that Sean’s major in college has anything to do with the inappropriate toast. I don’t see that as an excuse for being rude and vulgar, and that’s exactly what he was. Maybe he didn’t do it intentionally, but no one should ever mention what he did in a wedding toast.

@ElizabethBunting, which story did you post on that resulted in the verbal abuse? I’m not doubting you, I just want to see it.

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Simone November 19, 2010 at 4:05 pm

I have dinner parties, but they’re not formal. I go to restaurants, but they’re not often expensive ones. In summer my prefered method of entertaining is an outdoor casual bbq. Christmas lunch was by the pool. And yet, I have been to many weddings, made toasts at some of them, and managed not to think that “here is a horrible, horrible story about how truly dreadful life could be” would be an interesting and entertaining part of the toast. Neither did anyone else making toasts at any of those weddings.

I’ve also been to formal weddings with total bogans [Australian word, means (roughly) often very good people who just happen to like to drink beer, eat meat, and would no more have a formal dinner party than fly] and yes, they did eat their soup from the ‘wrong’ side of the bowl. But they had enough innate class not to make dirty jokes in a wedding speech.

So I stick to my original position – have whatever kind of wedding you want, but if you have a completely clueless best man, either skip the toast or check it beforehand.

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Elizabeth November 19, 2010 at 4:32 pm

I get what Hal is saying and it does make sense. If you are inviting people to a huge formal event who aren’t accustomed to it, you can’t be stunned if they don’t know “proper etiquette” or don’t have as much fun. Not to say they automatically won’t have fun/know how to act. The problem seems to be when people equate fancy with important. Your wedding ceremony and reception will be important no matter how fancy or low key it is.
I, like Just Laura, opted for the more low key wedding because (a)we were broke when planning and (b)we had never vacationed together (in our 5 years together) and felt the honeymoon deserved more financial attention. Plus, I knew from experience my family members, like me, enjoy more informal events. When celebrating the marriage to the person you love things like money and showing off just aren’t important. The love love and commitment is. . . and having fun. :-)

@Elizabeth Bunting- I don’t know what thread you were verbally abused in, but it feels like you are trying to start a fight in this one.

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Skoffin November 19, 2010 at 5:00 pm

This is partly why I was confused. Whether the host had a formal or low key event, the comments made by the Best man were wildly inappropriate. If I were to have a black tie reception and I invited people not accustomed to it, it’d be understandable if they didn’t know what utensils to use for what specific thing. It’d be understandable to not know what to be doing and when. However, whether it’s a black tie event or a BBQ in the backyard reception, I expect my guests not to tell me a story about rape.

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irish November 19, 2010 at 6:26 pm

Well as I recall, though I don’t remember which story Elizabeth Bunting’s original post was on and thus cannot check it again, she made a comment to the effect that people of an informal nature should not get married in a church or otherwise formal venue. It was a little clumsily phrased which made it possible for people to take it as meaning that non religious people shouldn’t have a formal wedding. I felt it was a bit of a stretch to suggest that she’d meant that, but anyway I believe she did get some at best blunt and possibly quite angry responses. Why am I getting involved? Because I think both her comment here and her previous comment, mentioned by phoenix, sounded as though she was very hurt. I also seem to remember her saying before that she is in her seventies, and at least where I come from, etiquette entails being extra respectful to older ladies, particularly bearing in mind that they may have views we consider old fashioned.

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Kat November 19, 2010 at 7:35 pm

Hal & Elizabeth – I’m wondering how you feel about wedding receptions with all the formal trappings (catered food, indoor reception hall, etc) but at which semi-formal behavior is understood by all as acceptable? We had my reception at a country club, and after the fancy plated dinner the girls took off their heels, the guys loosened their ties, and we danced to Lady Gaga under the disco ball.

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Elizabeth Bunting November 26, 2010 at 10:33 pm

Dear Kat,

Well, it is a party after all. I wouldn’t care as long as nobody dressed like Lady Gaga with her raw meat ensemble. Yuk!

I would think that the “formal” part of the wedding would be over and the partying would begin.

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