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Wedding Etiquette For Guests

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It’s hard to believe that June is finally here, but one look through the day’s mail is enough to convince me that the school year is almost over and summer will be here before I blink. What makes me say that? The plethora of large cream envelopes, addressed in calligraphic letters, bearing stamps with pictures of creamy white roses.

You know what I am talking about. Wedding season. And with the advent of those many June simchas, it seems appropriate to devote some time to things the chosson and kallah and their respective parents wish you knew.

First and foremost, unless you have made a simcha of your own, it is hard to understand just how infuriating it can be when your invited guests neglect to send back their return cards. You may know that you wouldn’t miss that wedding for the world, but unless you take the time to send back that card, your hosts will have no idea whether or not you will be there in person to share in their simcha. Does it really matter? Yes, it does. For starters, it is difficult to plan seating when you have no clue who will be showing up. And more often than not, because of financial constraints, your hosts may only be able to invite a limited number of their friends and family members, which means there will be people that the baalei simcha wish they could invite but just don’t have the ability to do so. If you can’t make it to a wedding, send your regrets as soon as possible so that your hosts can invite other guests to enhance the occasion.

While not everyone feels obligated to send wedding gifts for the bride and groom, if you are going to buy something, put yourself in the recipients’ shoes and ask yourself what gifts they would most like to receive. Feel free to call up the chosson, the kallah, their parents or relatives and ask if there is anything in particular they need. Some couples end up with a dozen challah covers while others end up with a whole collection of salt shakers – and while owning multiples of both of these items can be useful, there is a limit to just how many of the same item anyone needs. Also, if you are personalizing an item, such as a becher or a challah cover, resist the urge to have your name added to the gift as a reminder of your warmth and generosity. Having been married for twenty six years, I can assure you that I can still identify which wedding gifts came from which cousin and which family friend without the benefit of having the donors’ names inscribed on the gift. Also, if you are having a gift engraved or embroidered with the names of the chosson and kallah, take a moment to find out what names they actually use. Very often the formal names that appear on the invitation are not the names that the bride and groom actually use in their day-to-day lives.

While this may seem obvious, be sure to go over to your hosts to wish them a hearty mazal tov. You may think that they are too busy to remember who actually greeted them or not, but I still remember wondering the day after my kids’ weddings if particular guests had been in attendance because I didn’t see them once the entire night. And while your hosts may not have more than a moment to speak with you, rest assured that knowing that you took the time to get dressed and come out for their simcha really does add to the indescribable happiness of the occasion. Similarly try to take a moment to introduce yourself to all the baalei simcha even if you haven’t met them yet, be they the bride, the groom, one set of parents or both and even the grandparents. Everyone will be happy to accept your warm wishes and will appreciate the fact that you took the time to say mazal tov.

When it comes time for dancing, no matter who you are, do NOT monopolize the guests of honor. Yes, you may want to dance with the kallah or her mother. But remember that both the kallah and her mother have dozens of people to dance with in the short forty minutes that comprise the two dance sets that typically make up most weddings. By going back to dance with the kallah three times, you have effectively taken up the dance slots of two other people who might have also wanted to dance with the guest of honor.

If you sit down at the meal and discover that you don’t know a soul at your table, the most adult thing to do is to introduce yourself to your tablemates. Chances are that whoever did the seating didn’t just throw the place cards up in the air and let gravity decide who sits where. There probably was some forethought that went into the seating process even if it seems totally random to you, so give it a shot and you may be pleasantly surprised. If that option really doesn’t work for you, then if there appears to be empty seats at another table where you happen to have a friend or two, it is probably okay to switch seats. Whatever you decide to do, don’t come to the baalei simcha and whine about your seat. It just isn’t appropriate. Similarly, if you have any dietary preferences or restrictions, while you might want to discuss them with your host before the wedding, don’t even think about raising the issue with them during the simcha. Take up any problems with the wait staff. And if they can’t help you, just grin and bear it.

Finally, we know that reality can sometimes intrude on the best laid plans of mice and men and that the happiest day of one person’s life may coincide with the most hectic day of another’s. If you are having one of those days and are tempted to just be a no show, remember that if you got an invitation to a simcha, it means that it will really makes someone’s day if you show up. So don’t worry about what you are wearing, don’t worry about coming half an hour late and don’t worry about what your hair looks like.

Just come.

Because you will be missed. And the simcha won’t be complete without you.

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