I have been reading this site a fair bit over the last few years, and always find it both entertaining and instructive. Recently though, when I’ve made the odd comment giving my opinion on the subject at hand, I’ve found myself thinking, “Would I have had the same reaction to this post five, ten, fifteen years ago?” It’s made me realize that sometimes I’m judging people from the privileged position of experience, and at least some knowledge of etiquette (most of which I’ve gleaned from this very site).
I thought it might be interesting to see if anyone else has committed crimes against etiquette and graceful behaviour in the past, which cause them now to look back and cringe at their former selves. Here’s my own story, which concerns my wedding.
My husband and I married about twelve years ago, in our mid-twenties. I’ll leave out most of the details so as not to get mired in unnecessary description. Briefly, it was a traditional church ceremony followed by a catered buffet reception at the same venue. We invited about sixty people, about fifty of who attended, a mix of family and good friends. Overall it was a lovely day, and we still occasionally get compliments on the relaxed and happy atmosphere, the ceremony (particularly the music), the venue, and my dress (£180 from Monsoon, for those in the UK. If only I could still fit into it!) The only “mishaps” were my BIL spilling water all down the front of his suit while moving a pedestal of flowers, and the fact that I preferred my bridesmaid’s bouquet to my own! Oh well.
And so straight to my faux pas, and I’m afraid it’s a major one. We included a “registry” with the invitations. Worse, that registry was what I can only describe in hindsight as a cash-grab. (I assure you I am wincing as I type this). I don’t have an excuse for this. It was an action borne of ignorance, and, if I force myself to be brutally honest, a bit of over-excited greed.
My husband and I had been saving up for our honeymoon throughout our engagement (sixteen months), and had booked it all about two months before our wedding. At the time, I thought one was supposed to receive gifts at one’s wedding; I thought that was just the way it was. And what we wanted was some extra spending money for our honeymoon (yep, still cringing hard over here). Now in the spirit of full disclosure, I was going to include the actual text from the dreaded “Gift List” in this submission, but I’ve just looked through my wedding memory box, and it isn’t there. I have copies of the save the date card, the invitation itself, the order of service, and the readings we had (the officiant read Song of Solomon 8. 6-7, my dad read a passage from The Fellowship of the Ring, and my best friend [my bridesmaid] read Robert Frost’s The Road Not Taken). But I no longer have a copy of that dreaded gift list. I can’t say I’m surprised, as I had a vague memory of, at some point in the intervening years, having got rid of the wretched thing, and so I must have done.
So as accurately as I can reproduce from memory, it said something like, “We do not expect gifts, but if you would like to make a contribution to our honeymoon, here are some ideas.” There then followed a list ranging from “posh dinner out” at £80/$150, through things like museum admission and cinema tickets, down to “public transit tickets for the day” at £5/$9. (We’re British, our honeymoon was to the U.S., and at the time the exchange rate heavily favoured the pound over the dollar). It was printed in the same font and on the same type of paper as the invitation, on a separate piece of paper, but enclosed in the same envelope.
What were we thinking?! I’ll be as honest as I can. While we did believe at the time that it was usual protocol to provide gift lists, we were also pleasurably excited at the thought of receiving cash gifts that we would benefit from. And as I said before, I can really only put that down to greed on our part. Looking back on it, two things in particular about our gift list really stand out to me, aside from the incredible idiocy of including it in the first place: 1) The fact that we included “prices” in both pounds and dollars, which adds a rather special tackiness to the whole thing. 2) The wording that introduced the dreadful document. “We do not expect gifts, but if you would like to… ” As I said, I’m reproducing the wording from memory only, but I’m pretty sure it’s fairly accurate. And looking at it with wiser eyes, my own wording now says quite plainly to me: “We know we’re asking for something we have no right to, but we want it, so we’re going to ask for it anyway”. In other words: a greedy, thoughtless guilt-trip.
As a side note, it surprises me looking back that neither my mum or dad vetoed this. They are both the type of person to tactfully speak up if they think I’m about to make a mistake, they are both well-mannered and considerate people, and my mum in particular cares what others think, and has a horror of doing anything rude or gauche for no reason. The fact that they blithely posted these gift-grabbing enclosures along with the invitations can only suggest to me that they themselves had no idea there was anything wrong with it. I want to be clear that I’m not making excuses for my actions. Do I wish that, twelve years ago, someone had stepped in and told us how rude and tacky my husband and I were being? Of course. But I also know that we’re reasonably intelligent people who, had we stopped to think properly about what we were doing, would’ve known that we were doing the wrong thing.
Which is the main reason I’m so grateful for this site. The most important lesson I’ve gotten from it over the years is to always ask the question, often mentioned by Admin, “Who does this serve?” In some cases, of course, I think it’s okay for the answer to be “me”, but that’s in situations that involve my ongoing quest to develop a polite spine. In the tale I just told, the answer should have alerted me to the mistake we were making, had I but known to ask the question in the first place. In the long run, I hope that asking myself that question has taught me to be a bit more gracious and a lot less selfish.
So this submission is in part a thank you: to the Admin for keeping up this site and for her often wise advice, and to my fellow readers and commenters for their experience and perspectives. I can honestly say that EHell has played a big part in teaching me, over the years, to become a more well-rounded and thoughtful person.
So does anyone else have any past etiquette crimes to confess? Awkward, tacky, or just plain heinous things they did in the past but would know better than to do now? I for one would probably feel better for hearing them! And if Admin or commenters are so inclined, I’ll gladly take my lumps for the gift list debacle. While it’s a lesson I’ve taken to heart, fresh eyes on the situation couldn’t hurt. There may be perspectives I hadn’t considered.
While I am not averse to trying to shake some sense and courtesy into the mindless, clueless and outright greedy/boorish people of the world, it’s not an Ehell “thang” to beat up on the sincerely penitent. We celebrate those who develop beyond being a typically selfish person and who embrace the past mistakes in order to become better people in the future.
Do I have cringe-worthy regret? You better believe it! Mine nearly always involves some foot-in-mouth faux pas since I am a gregarious person who wears her emotions on her sleeve and sometimes the governor in my brain hasn’t been well connected to my mouth. I flinch thinking of some of the mindless things that have popped out of my mouth but I use that regret, and, yes, shame, to my advantage by making it a learning moment. How would I have done or said that differently? How can I develop more discretion? I’m told by people I’ve apologized to that I am overthinking my offense since they claim to not be as offended as I assumed they could be but I’d rather err on the side of being aware of how I have the ability to be offensive as opposed to being oblivious.
Shame is a good thing, in my opinion, because some things are shameful and thus deserving of regret and cringing. Shame and regret are the deterrent to future mistakes.