My boyfriend asked me to share the rest of his life with him. The period that followed was pure bliss.
Or so I thought. Unfortunately, six months passed before I interviewed Emily Post’s great-great-granddaughter Lizzie Post about the new edition of her famous family’s book, Emily Post’s Etiquette.
Now, I know I could have done a few things better. Hopefully this reaches you, dear reader-brides, before you make the same mistakes.
Shooting down my mom’s ideas.
I did not want a cover band. A group of tuxedoed musicians playing generic versions of rock standards absolutely frightened me. But when I turned down my mother’s idea, she felt hurt that I had rejected her contribution. Lizzie offers a more graceful way.
“Love every idea for five minutes while the person’s telling it to you,” Lizzie says. She uses a psychological term: positive, non-committal responses. The 18th edition of the book, subtitled Manners for a New World, offers exact phrasing for many of their suggestions.
“Don’t say ‘Yes I’d love to do it.’ Say ‘That’s a very interesting way to do that,’ or, ‘Wow, I’d never thought about that before,’” Lizzie says.
Failing to proactively embrace my fiancé’s culture.
In the increasingly globalized South, more and more weddings are blending cultures and religions. I was raised Episcopalian in a bacon-and-shrimp-loving Mississippi kitchen. My fiancé, however, is Jewish, and both of his parents keep Kosher homes. One of the trickiest among this complicated set of dietary rules is the ban on eating dairy and meat in the same meal. Many kashrut-keeping homes maintain a separate set of dishes, or even a separate sink and fridge, for dairy and meat foods.
The first few times I dined with my in-laws, I walked on eggshells. My fiancé hovered over me, making sure I didn’t drop the wrong fork into the wrong sink. And I felt guilty for being unable to help cook or clean.
“It’s difficult, and it’s a learning curve,” Lizzie says in regard to any new cultural custom. She encourages people to reach out upfront, rather than waiting to apologize after you’ve made a mistake. Talking about it would have let my in-laws know that I respect their culture, as well as eased our anxiety.
“That way [your mother-in-law] knows that your intent from the get-go is to be on board with it and be respectful,” she says, adding, “You can even say ‘Let me know if I do something wrong.’”
The newest edition of Etiquette devotes more page space to cultural diversity, especially in regard to Muslim cultures.
We do things differently down here.
I’m proud to say, however, that I did a few things right.
As a Southern bride leafing through national wedding magazines, I felt wrong for wanting a buffet. The glossies emphasize table settings and place cards. Am I shortchanging my guests by forgoing a timed, three-course meal?
But every Southern wedding I’ve attended has been a buffet. Southerners like to dance all night and eat all night. We like to give our guests the option to visit the buffet four times or none at all. If my guests want to skip the gumbo and eat cake and whiskey for dinner, they can! To me, a sit-down dinner felt stuffy.
Lizzie has consulted her Aunt Peggy, who is Emily Post’s great-granddaughter-in-law, on this regional trend. Peggy grew up in New Orleans and is one of Etiquette’s co-authors.
“She said that a lot of times New Orleans weddings will be much more of a buffet, and you come right in, you start eating, you start dancing,” said Lizzie. “It’s much more of a bigger party than the formal sit-down service dinner.”
I love you, you monster.
The second thing I did right was also the easiest thing: I fell in love with my mother-in-law. Lizzie says that the newly engaged often find this relationship difficult, especially at the beginning.
“The biggest joke is the monster-in-law, as opposed to the mother-in-law,” Lizzie says. “But really go into this thinking, ‘This is the person who is going to be the grandmother to my children. This is the person who has raised the person I love [. . ].’”
Lizzie says that often the challenge lies in the difficult relationship that your fiancé has with their mother. If it was a rocky road for them, then you probably already knew the details before you met her, and it colored your perception of her.
So maybe I can’t take the credit for this one. She’s a wonderful mother and an incredibly smart woman, and I find her very easy to love and respect.
The writing on your Wall.
The final thing I did right was to notify our loved ones about the engagement as soon as possible. Mailed announcements may have gone the way of the dowry, but I wanted to touch base with my friends and family before they heard it through another source, whether Twitter or the grapevine. After all, they are a big part of the celebration, not just standing on the periphery.
“It really is important in this day of Facebook and instant communication to make sure that when you get engaged that you tell all of your very close family members and friends over the phone or in person first,” says Lizzie.
Oh lawd, there are people who don’t do that? I think I’m having the vapors!
Molly Davis writes about New Orleans for NolaVie. Catch her tweets about Southern art and politics at www.twitter.com/journsouth.