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The lost art of RSVP
The lost art of RSVP

By Prunella de Pedant

Who sends invitations to events or parties by post (aka snail mail) any more? Few and far between (even for weddings!) - not when there are convenient resources like Facebook, Twitter or Email right at one’s fingertips.

Why should one bother?

Well, for one, it’s a treat to get a hand-written invitation in the post. Moreover, a sweet card stands out in a pile of inevitable bills and junk mail.

So, maybe this can explain why an increasing number of gentlepeople have become so lackadaisical when it comes to confirming or declining invitations to events:  poor RSVP, it is becoming a lost art.

RSVP (Répondez s’il vous plaît), translates to “please respond” or “respond if you’d please”. Directly translated from French - word for word - it means “respond if it pleases you”. Although most party hosts (especially if you’ve been one) expect and prefer invited guests to accept or decline an invitation, avoiding the uncertainty of planning and what quite often results in an awkward follow-up phone call.

Barbara Cartland - one of the preeminent doyennes of old school etiquette - wrote in her Etiquette Handbook: A Guide to Good Behaviour from the Boudoir to the Boardroom that “most dinner parties are arranged over the telephone.”

Even in 1962, when the book was originally published, Cartland wrote about how many people sent reminders to their guests or followed up invitations with a telephone call.

So, it seems that not too much has changed – just the mediums in which we communicate.

“I think invitations by email or [social networks like] Facebook are very one dimensional,” says Emma Woolley from Smythson. “There is an inbuilt etiquette to having to respond, in writing, to a paper invitation received in the post.  Emails don’t have as much resonance either, you forget to write the event into your diary, you don’t feel there is much pressure to commit to the event.”

Hopefully not all hope is lost, and it is - in fact - simply a case of guests who take their cue from hosts or hostesses: an informal invite lends itself to a loosey goosey response.

Emma Wooley believes there is a backlash against the recent trend for invitation and RSVP by email and text: “It adds to the sense of occasion, you are more likely to turn up to a party if you receive an invitation in the post.”

In any case - if invited by telephone, hand-written card, or even via a modern method like social networks - it still means that a guest should have the courtesy to let the host/ess know if he or she is able or unable to attend. It’s polite, and the only thing to do.


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