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Advice Column Phenomena: “Can I” do something?

April 23, 2011

Why Etiquette Is Important

Far be it from me to encourage people not to ask for advice, but I’ve noticed a strange phenomenon of people asking if they “can” do something under the auspice of etiquette.

For example, this bride wants to know if she can call the vacation she is taking a year after her wedding, a “honeymoon.”  The answer itself is irrelevant, but I am curious to know why she is even asking. I see this a lot, especially with wedding stuff (something so steeped with rules and etiquette that I think people just got cowed.)

Etiquette is practiced to make sure everyone is on a level playing ground. If everyone knows the rules and plays by them, then no one gets hurt and everyone knows what to expect. Sure, it get’s abused and blamed for all sorts of shitty behavior, but at believe it or not, at it’s heart – it’s there to make everyone comfortable.

It’s also used to protect us from appearing (or actually being) greedy, malicious, mean-spirited, etc.

So these kinds of questions baffle me. Sure, some of them may be breaking with tradition, but that’s a choice to do so, and if it’s not hurting anyone – why not go for it? A general good rule to ask yourself is “What’s my motivation for doing this, could anyone possibly be hurt or offended? If so, do they have a point or are they just being a jerk?, and What’s the worst that could happen?” If those answers make sense to you, then go for it. Seriously. There is no ….

Grand Arbiter of Social Breeches Regarding Weddings and Related Social Events

Although I really, really want this title.

What do you really think will happen if your maid-of-honor wears a different color than the bridesmaids, or you have one more guy than lady in your wedding party or if you don’t have a father-daughter dance but your fiance wants to dance with his mother? What horrible breech of the social contract do you think you are making by not matching the napkins to the coasters at your tea party?*

Sure, there may be guidelines and rules about those things (although I am unaware of the napkin/coaster issue) but if it’s bothering you enough to ask about it – something is very, very wrong.  Who really cares? And if they do, do you care that they care? Because it’s kind of silly.

And let’s say there’s no crazy aunt or “society” obsessed mom breathing down your back. Let’s say you go buck wild and decide to call your vacation a honeymoon 370 days after your wedding? What do you think is going to happen?

Lots of us can be The Deciders, but who is the cop that’s going to bust down your door and take your presents? What are you really afraid of?


* Point of Clarification: These are different questions than “I’ve decided to have more males than females – any suggestions on how to have them walk down the aisle so no one walks down alone or any variation of those kinds of questions. I’m specifically objecting to the “Can I?” and not the “How do I?”

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Henway permalink
    April 23, 2011 11:15 am

    I think we shouldn’t worry about the little things in life – just make a decision and go with it – it’s not life changing if you make a mistake. For the bigger things in life such as marriage, or quitting a job, we should solicit for advice and take it into consideration.

  2. April 25, 2011 9:15 am

    I just want you to know that I LOVE your blog! I have been “into” ettiquette since I was a little girl (I was sent to ettiquette/formal dance classes as a kid,) and I have an Emily Post compilation on my bookshelf.

    To a lot of people, it all seems so old-fashioned, but I find that even now, it helps us function effectively as a society. (Plus, it makes for some damned good conversation at times!)

    Have a great day!

    • April 25, 2011 9:18 am

      Thanks so much Jen!

      Despite being incredibly informal as a kid (and now as an “adult”), I was always into this idea of these “high society” rules. But as I grew up, I realized that the whole concept is about so much more than that.

  3. April 25, 2011 11:23 am

    I think the people who ask “can I” are looking to seek comfort in the rules. Because, let’s face it, while we might talk big, some of us are uncomfortable with chaos and making up the rules as we go. Etiquette and its various rules provide structure and a sense of calm and comfort – we know what we’re supposed to do because there’s a rule that says so and all we have to do is follow it. Those people who are asking the “can I” questions, I think, are looking for someone else to validate their decision to toe the line or throw the rules away (or, conversely, they’re looking for someone to provide guidance so they don’t have to be the one to make the final rule).

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