Miss Manners on weeding out bad wedding habits

Miss Manners’ Guide to a Surprisingly Dignified Wedding

By Patricia Corrigan, Special to the Jewish Light

In the 32 years that Judith Martin has preached proper etiquette as Miss Manners, Martin has been asked countless questions about wedding “do’s” and “don’ts.” She has addressed the topic in her advice column, which runs in more than 200 newspapers worldwide, and in her books.

When the time came to update “Miss Manners on Weddings” (1999), Martin’s daughter, Jacobina, was engaged to be married. She promptly signed on as a co-author for “Miss Manners’ Guide to a Surprisingly Dignified Wedding” (W.W. Norton, $24.95), published in January. Dedicated to both authors’ husbands, the 295-page book is a combination of narrative and letters from readers on topics such as:


• wedding rudeness (personalizing everything)

• wedding porn (thick, expensive bridal magazines

• wedding extortion (deciding how guests should spend their money)

Martin, who lives in Washington, D.C. with her husband of 50 years, took time recently to talk about all things matrimonial.

Please explain the phrase “surprisingly dignified” in the title.

Dignity has gone by the wayside when it comes to weddings. People are doing bio- epics about themselves, taking the approach that “It’s our wedding and we can do whatever we want.” So often what they are doing is a lot of silly children’s birthday party things, not treating a wedding as a serious ceremony.

Please elaborate.

I am concerned about people who tell you about their love life in the course of the ceremony, or dictate – as almost every couple does now – what they want their guests to give them. That is panhandling. I’m trying to turn this around.

Please explain the genesis of this bad behavior.

The huge wedding industry – a billion dollar business. They have a great interest in telling you that you must do this or do that, and the things they are telling you are vulgar and unnecessary. On top of it all, industry cites etiquette as the reason, but they are just trying to get people to buy things.

Please give an example.

The wedding industry tells you that your wedding day must be the happiest day of your lives – so we have to assume that from then on, the entire marriage will be down hill.

Please discuss why wanting a perfect wedding day is unrealistic.

You don’t know how people will behave at weddings, or what will happen, especially if you plan a huge wedding, an event totally outside your experience.

Please enumerate the three “terrible ideas” you list in the book.

1. The Wedding as ‘My Day.’ You don’t need to show what you are all about as part of the ceremony. If people attending the wedding don’t know you, why are they invited?

2. The Wedding as Fund-Raiser. This is fueled by a “what can we get out of this” approach. Throughout the book, we talk about the blatant ways people ask for money.

3. The Wedding as Show Business. People are not accepting the traditions of society – or even the decencies toward guests and relatives – but instead are putting on three-day spectacles. A wedding is simply not the time for that.

Please talk about your experience as a mother of the bride.

I propagandized her early, so she has the same ideas about weddings as my husband and I.

Please talk a bit about the ceremony at your daughter’s wedding.

The ceremony was a traditional Jewish religious service. The bride and groom did not try to jazz it up or interject jokes or go on about how much they loved each other. Guests take that for granted, or they wouldn’t be at the wedding.

Please tell us about some of the choices she made.

She did not think of her wedding as theater, but as part of her private life. My daughter knows theater – she teaches comedy at Second City in Chicago. For example, she told her bridesmaids to wear dresses they liked. Also, my daughter asked her brother to be her person of honor.

Please explain – isn’t that against the rules?

I’m in charge of the rules! The rule is to have the person closest to you stand up for you at your wedding. The strict gender divide is leftover from an era when it was assumed that women had only women friends.

What do you plan to say at the Jewish Book Festival.

I’ll think of something!

Judith Martin (Miss Manners)

WHO: Author of “Miss Manners’ Guide to a Surprisingly Dignified Wedding”

WHEN: 10:30 a.m. Monday, Nov. 15