Thursday, April 29, 2010

The Roughest 4-Letter Word

Hey! Elastica--"Party Games" (mp3)
Photons--"Where Were You Last Night" (mp3)

Imagine a word that is so foul, so virulent, that it leaves otherwise socially-engaged people stunned and silent. Or at least silent. Because when they see this word, many people don't know to respond. So they don't. It is almost like they are frozen, or in a trance, helpless to do even the smallest thing.

That word is......................................RSVP.

Heck, it's not even a word, really, especially if I'd put the periods in there where they're supposed to be. In fact, it's a bunch of French words. As I learned it, it is the acronym for "Respondez, s'il vous plait." Answer, if you please.

Except, it doesn't really mean that. It means, politely, "Please let me know if you are coming." It is how the host knows how much food to prepare, how much wine to order, how many seats to set at the table, how much dishware to rent. If we're talking about something major, like a wedding reception, those RSVPs become the head count that the caterer will use to determine the cost of the reception. And the caterer doesn't care whether people show or not, said they were coming but don't, didn't say that they were coming, but do.

People in the modern world are not good with the RSVP. And I don't really know why. I don't know if they mean to, then forget. I don't know if they don't know that they are supposed to. And I'm certainly not going to claim that this is another example of a society in decline and rave on about the good old days when people had manners.

And, I promise you, this is not a thinly-veiled attack on anyone reading this blog or not. It's not personal at all; it's pervasive. Ask the headmaster's secretary, ask the group of lawyers who throw the Christmas party downtown every year, the person running a book group, ask anyone who regularly entertains, large or small. It's just plain hard to get people to deal with the R-word. And not just socially. In the business setting, too.

Anyone proper will tell you that its cousin, "Regrets only," is not only improper, it's weak sauce. Especially in today's world. Because if people aren't going to RSVP, which would give a host an exact count of the number of people coming to an event, then putting "Regrets only" down at the bottom of an invite isn't going to tell a host a thing. Hosting has become a guessing game, which leaves the host with either too much or not enough, needless expense or social embarrassment.

Recently, I invited 55 people to a gathering for a retiring faculty member. I've only heard back from half. The event is a little over a week away.

I hesitate mentioning that, because it makes it sound like I have an ax to grind, that the only reason for this post is my frustration about next weekend. I promise you that is not the case. As a veteran party-giver, I have long since learned how to adapt to this situation, so can we use the situation as fodder for discussion?

At what point, in the time remaining, does an RSVP lose its value? I mean, if you call the day of the event and say that you're coming, does that help with the planning at all? If you haven't RSVP'ed at all, would the host rather that you came or didn't come? And if it's your party, how willing should you be to "beat the bushes?" Ask too many people "Hey, are you going to be able to come to...." and it sounds/feels like you're desperate.

Personally, I'd rather you came than didn't. If I invited you, that would mean I want you to come, above all considerations. But, sure, I'd rather know.

Once, I lost my composure, and I have regretted it ever since. I list it among the dark days when I know that I embarrassed myself, and no amount of self-rationalization can get me past it. It happened one time when a couple showed up to a party and we didn't know that they were coming because we never heard back from them. Usually, I try to maintain a graceful composure; this time, with an edge to my voice, I blurted out, "Oh, we didn't know you were coming." Well, when you say that kind of shitty thing, you put your guests on the defensive, force them to explain or apologize, something no guests should ever have to do.

Totally unnecessary, Bob. Totally unnecessary. So it isn't like I don't have some manner issues of my own.


Daisy said...

I just can't let this post about properly responding go responseless. Not RSVPing is like not writing a thank you note after receiving a gift. It's just plain ol' rude!

Bob said...

Hilarious, Daisy. I figured no one would respond to this one. Thanks.

troutking said...

I think this rude behavior stems from the anti-all-things-French crusade the Bushies launched after the France tried to keep us out of a disasterous war in Iraq. So, the key is to get rid of RSVP and substitute something more American. TMIYCONYIB---Tell me if you're coming or not you inconsiderate bastards. Don't forget to serve the Freedom Fries.