AML in Print

RSVP neglect is more rude than violators seem to think

By Sue Hutchison
Mercury News

While the rudeness police have spent several years bemoaning the appalling manners of rogue cell phone users, another form of etiquette abuse has been growing like a cancer. If you've thrown a party or -- heaven help you -- planned a wedding recently, you probably know what I'm referring to.

Yes, the lost practice of the RSVP.

Some time at the close of the 20th century it became common for people to receive written invitations and then assume that their plans to attend -- or not -- would be telepathically communicated to the host. Forget about returning the enclosed stamped and addressed response card. Don't bother picking up the phone. Just say nothing.

Over the years, RSVP rudeness has been compounded by those who receive solo invitations to a formal party but decide to bring a date or other friends. They don't seem to understand it's also not polite to bring an uninvited guest and stick the host with the bill.

Uncivilized society

All of this was once considered behavior typical of those who were raised by wolves and did not understand that the French acronym for ''repondez s'il vous plai^t'' means ''reply if you please'' -- and reply only for those invited. But now the RSVP problem is creating a more uncivilized society.

''It's a form of rudeness that's epidemic,'' said Sue Fox, head of Etiquette Survival based in Los Gatos. ''And it can really take a toll on relationships.''

Fox's daughter-in-law, Anne Fox, said she was not surprised when a few bachelors did not RSVP to her wedding three years ago, but she was stunned when one of her closest friends didn't RSVP until the last minute and didn't show up. She said, ''Our friendship still is not the same.''

Bachelors often are blamed for not grasping the nuances of RSVPing because they are less likely to have women in their lives to act as social secretaries. So, perhaps a single guy doesn't realize that when caterers are charging as much as $100 a head even for heads who don't show up, a no-RSVP is tantamount to fining the host for being foolish enough to invite such a vulgarian. No-shows and uninvited wedding guests often start the happy couple out in life an extra $1,000 or so in debt.

It's not just men

I'm sorry to say I know of more than a few women who are just as clueless as any etiquette-impaired bachelor when it comes to RSVPing. I have listened to one or two lambaste people who have not responded to their invitations even when I happen to know that they themselves are serial non-RSVPers.

Lisa Mirza Grotts, who runs an etiquette firm in San Francisco called The AML Group, was dismayed to find that some of her own friends had to be tracked down to RSVP to her wedding four years ago. ''Really, how difficult is it to check a box and drop a card in the mail?'' she asked. ''People can at least send an e-mail or pick up the phone a few weeks before the event.''

Those who are asked to reply even to simple e-mail invitations to their child's class picnic may not think they need to RSVP. But how is the Mother of the Day supposed to know how many pans of brownies to bake and whether or not she'll need another gallon of Snapple?

It's time to renounce the culture of rudeness that reigned in the '80s and '90s. Taking back the RSVP is ground zero. As Mirza Grotts put it, ''This starts with the parents. Remember that your mother said you must RSVP, and teach your children the same!''

Let the social healing begin.