Wedding guest etiquette tips for Indians and Indian diaspora
Sharing my experience of last 40 years. Wedding guest etiquette tips are for honouring the couple and celebrating their marriage in gracious style.! When it comes to weddings, what might simply be another invitation to us is the culmination of someone else’s dream. We acknowledge the bride’s and groom’s joy when we respond quickly and happily; when we conduct ourselves with dignity at the wedding ceremony and reception. It’s an honour to be invited to someone’s wedding. And with that honour comes some special wedding guest etiquette, because if there’s ever a time to rise to an occasion, this is it!
Be the first to RSVP
A quick response shows you’re eager and honoured to attend the wedding. It also demonstrates that you’ve made it a top priority on your schedule. The proper time to respond to a wedding invitation, and I know this will come as a surprise to many, is within 24 hours of receiving it. Seven days is the absolute latest the response note should be e-mailed or texted.
A special touch is to write a text message letting the couple know how excited you are for them. Something like “We’re so happy for you and looking forward to being with you on your special day!”, sends a positive message to the bride and groom that their wedding is going to be a memory-making day for their guests.
Thank the hosts for including you. Even if you don’t feel grateful for being included, thank the hosts, because it’s always nice when someone considers you, even if the wedding is one where you hardly know someone. Even if that’s the only time they think of you, thank them anyway. Why? Because you have great manners, and a gracious person like you always responds graciously to all invitations. It’s a way you can lead by example.
No thank you
People understand conflicts in schedules in our busy culture. So, by all means let them know you have a previous engagement and what it is if you feel you can share it. When you put it all together, it would go something like this (this could be left as a voice mail, or modified to be sent as an email, or shared in person):
“Hi ……. Your invitation to the wedding arrived today. The invitation is lovely! You were so kind to invite our family. I’m sad we won’t be able to be there. My niece is flying down from Delhi that week, and our extended family will all be entertaining her. Thank you again, and I hope you have a fantastic time!”
Your response as a host
The fact that guests are actually responding to your invitation, even if it is with a no, is always gracious of them. You don’t want to accidentally put them in an awkward position. When guests decline your invitations, your best response is “You’ll be missed!”, and then change the subject and enjoy a lovely conversation, whether it’s a long or short one.
Sometimes, with good intentions, we ask why they won’t be there, or we give them reasons why they should attend: “It’s going to be a great wedding!” While you didn’t mean anything by it, it’s actually bullying. Now that you know how to graciously RSVP that you can’t attend an event, keep this in mind: different people have varying levels of comfort in attending social events. As a host, don’t take it personally if someone doesn’t attend.
Life is too short, and people are too precious to get upset about someone not attending a party.
You were kind to extend the invitation, and the person declining was kind to acknowledge your invitation. Now you know that you can invite someone else, or that you just got some extra wiggle room in your party budget. Either way, both the guest and host are happy. And that’s what both of you wanted in the first place! It’s all good – and gracious!
A wedding invitation is not transferable
If your spouse can’t attend, it doesn’t mean your sister or best friend can automatically fill in. The invitation is extended only to the persons whose names are on the message or envelope. Every guest is hand-chosen and should be known by either the bride or groom. If a card is addressed to “Shri Pratap Mehta and family,” then he’s free to bring whomever from his family. The couple should know the name of everyone at their wedding even if they don’t know them personally. For this reason, Pratap should include the name of his family member/guest on the response card (RSVP). “My son Nakuul and his wife Jankee, will be my guest for the wedding. I look forward to introducing you!” (Haha, who doesn’t know Nakuul?)
Children are not invited unless their names are listed on either the outside or inner envelope of the invitation. Also, please don’t put hosts in the awkward position of asking whether they may attend. They’ll feel bad if they have to say no. And please don’t think that it’s anything personal. A lot of times the budget dictates the exclusion of children. You might see some children at the wedding. They’re usually close family members like nieces, nephews, or cousins. Or they might be the children of other guests who weren’t as considerate as you and brought their children even though they weren’t invited.
If you attend the reception, you are obliged to send a wedding gift
A noble thought, that the gift may be sent in advance to the host home or address on invite. In the times to come, the gifts may be opened at the reception, for security reasons. So, it’s more thoughtful not to bring the wedding gift to the ceremony or reception. It’s also a logistical nightmare to ensure their safe keeping and then get all the gifts packed into a car. Gifts are best sent to the bride’s home (or the return address on the invitation) prior to the wedding. That way, the bride has the opportunity to open the gifts and send the thank-you notes as the gifts trickle in instead of having a hundred cards to write after the wedding.
If there’s a line for blessing the couple, go through it. Keep your compliments and good wishes brief so the line moves quickly. Introduce yourself to each person you don’t know, and never bring food or drink with you. Be careful as you hug the bride that your makeup doesn’t get on the shoulder of her gown and that you don’t accidentally leave a lipstick mark of a kiss on his cheek.
Awkward situation when you forget names
You’ll be meeting new people and members of the bridal party. If you’ve ever been in the awkward situation of seeing someone you know, but you’ve forgotten their name, this is what will rescue you every time. They’re all gracious points of wedding guest etiquette. If you’re meeting the person for a second time, reintroduce yourself. Usually, when you give your name to others, their natural reaction is to respond with their own name. After you re-introduce yourself to others, if they don’t respond with their name, simply and kindly ask them to tell you their name. The perfect go-to script is simply to say, “Please tell me your name again.”
What to wear? You may wear colourful, white or black to a wedding
Just make sure that your black dress won’t be confused for what you wore to Great Uncle Mehta’s funeral. Particularly for my friends in US. Also, black is best left to weddings starting after sunset. If you’re having trouble figuring out how dressy or informal of a wedding it will be, read the wording on the invitation again. Traditional and colourful would be my choice.
Don’t be the first or last to leave
If you need to leave early, do so with as little attention as possible, because once guests notice someone leaving, others tend to follow. You don’t want to be the last to leave, because after a long day that was preceded by so much planning (especially during the week leading up to the wedding), the members of the wedding party are probably tired. If you want to keep the party going, you can meet up with friends somewhere close by. Try to stay until the couple cuts the cake, if there is one and if you can stay to send them off, that’s even better. However, wedding receptions often run long, and it’s not always possible.
My thank you note to the host’s daughter after the wedding:
1st May 2018
You guys rock..! From beginning to end of planning the wedding event, extending your personal touch, you made us feel comfortable, confident and very special. On behalf of Shail Kaki and Jankee Bhabhi, I would like to thank you for a most wonderful wedding celebration this past weekend. The setting, the decorations, the food were all fabulous! Thank you for keeping us all on track. If not for you Aneesha, we might still be wandering around like the sheep. Haha… Due to unavoidable reasons, Nakuul Bhaiya could not attend. Hope you will appreciate. Hopefully he shall make up for his absence on 3rd May @ Kolkata?
So, permit me to write you a glowing, shouting tribute from the roof tops, THANK YOU. Everything (just about) was perfect for the occasion. Your wait staff was excellent (polite, efficient and helpful), the food was delicious, and the bartending staff was excellent (though I fetched a few drinks but not for myself). Manmeet and Biyaniji deserve a special mention.