Our society has become advanced beyond measure. New technology is being created before we can develop rules for using it. Who would have thought 20 years ago that e-mail would become a common form of personal communication? Or that fax machines would practically become obsolete?
Etiquette, very simply, is about being polite in social situations. But when a society changes rapidly, sometimes the rules for politeness are ignored. One of the basic rules for being polite is to respond to invitations that request a response, or an RSVP. Yet these days, the RSVP seems to have become a lost art.
RSVP stands for the French phrase "réspondez s'il vous plaît," which is often translated in the United States as "please respond" or "please reply." Some invitations specify "regrets only." Hosts might want to avoid the latter for the simple reason that some people may make up their mind at the last minute, and your party for 12 could turn into one for 20, with not enough food and drink for everyone. The exception would be a large cocktail party where the exact number would not be critical to your count.
Invitations that specify RSVP should be responded to within one week. If you don't know whether a babysitter will be available or if your husband's business trip will be postponed, call anyway and at least let your host know of your quandary. And if you have accepted, but at the last minute find yourself unable to attend an event, call your host immediately and follow up with a note of apology.
If a host has taken the time to send you an invitation, even if it's an e-vite, you should respond as requested, either by telephone, e-mail or post. Formal invitations should be replied to by handwritten note on your social stationery, preferably in ecru or white. The ink color used should be the same on both the outside and inside of your note.
Remember the golden rule we were taught as children: Do unto others as you would like others to do unto you. It's common courtesy to respond to an invitation so the host may plan for seating, catering and so on.
It's true that our society has become more and more "informal." But it's still important to be respectful of and thoughtful about others. Send in that response card, leave a voicemail or hit the response button on that e-vite before it's too late -- that is, before the host has to phone you and ask if you'll be attending! Save yourself embarrassment and let your good manners shine.
Good manners don't cost anything, but bad ones can affect a friendship and your place in your social group.
Lisa Mirza Grotts is a recognized etiquette expert, an on-air contributor, and the author of A Traveler's Passport to Etiquette. She is a former director of protocol for the city and county of San Francisco and the founder and CEO of The AML Group, certified etiquette and protocol consultants. Her clients range from Stanford Hospital to Cornell University and Levi Strauss. She has been quoted by Condé Nast Traveler, InStyle magazine and the Los Angeles Times. To learn more about Lisa, follow her on Twitter and www.Facebook.com/LisaGrotts.