- 8 years ago
I am also a huge stickler for proper etiquette, which is a field of communication that overlaps with the domain of proper hospitality (to whit, making sure guests are well hosted), but includes much more. Etiquette isn’t only about making other people comfortable, nor just about not offending other people. It is also about making a good impression, and about setting standards of beauty, elegance and graciousness in social interactions — which in practice means etiquette also overlaps with the domains of style and fashion.
Etiquette is complex. And most girls get their introduction to formal social etiquette by arranging their wedding celebration, which is rather like taking full-immersion advanced university French as your first-ever foreign language class. Wedding websites and magazines and etiquette books try to help you out with simplified rules. But those rules are nearly always over-simplifications. This rule is one of the over-simplifications.
The basic principles behind this rule are: it is more polite to pay personal attention to others than to hand their care over to machines or hired servants, that what’s easiest for you should never take precedence over what is gracious to your guests, and that every lady of good society should have basic social skills. These principles were established before the industrial revolution, let alone before the twentieth century, at a time when beautiful handwriting was one of those basic social skills and the ink-jet printer was undreamt-of. Indeed, etiquette had to struggle with the notion of how to incorporate mass-printing of any sort, even invitations — which are most “properly” hand-written in their entirety! I’ve actually done that for affaires up to a hudred guests, but it isn’t really a reasonable expectation, and certainly not for 300+ guests!
So, along came hired secretaries who helped with the hand-writing, whch etiquette grudgingly accepted only as long as they were “ladies” themselves whose handwriting was indistinguishable from the hostess. Then along came copper-plate engraving, which etiquette grudgingly accepted because it has a crisp elegant look not achieved by ordinary printing presses –mbut only as long as the invitations were properly personalized with elegant hand-written write-in lines or inner envelopes (there was considerable argument in the nineteenth century about which of the two was correct). Then along came the TYPEWRITER.
Now, understand that typewriters are not just an old-fashiioned ink-jet printer. First, until the 1980s the vast majority of people had no clue how to type: that was the role of “typists” who sat in long rows in companies copying out hand-written or short-hand originals into formal letters or documents. Typewriters created an inelegant font that varied in colour depending on how old the ribbon and platen were, and how hard the typist struck the individual keys. A type-written envelope was markedly less elegant than pretty ladylike script, and it advertised loudly “this was done by a hireling”. It is for those reasons that etiquette mavens of the twentieth century banned typewritten social correspondence.
Etiquette mavens of the twenty-first century who are extendng that rule to computer-printed social correspondence are oversimplifying without thinking about the basic principles, and hence they are giving wrong advice. Listening to them, you would think that chicken-scratched envelopes written with a blobby pink gel-pen were “proper”. Or that hiring a calligrapher trumps patiently and meticulously feeding envelopes one by one into a printer. Neither of which is true if you take the basic principles into account.
As for the specifics discussed in this thread:
- The unassailable standard is BOTH invitations and envelopes written in meticulous script by the hostess herself in black india ink (and then either hand-delivered by a footman, or enclosed in a second post-office-compliant envelope also handd-addressed). Since modern schools are dropping orthography from the curriculum completely and have barely bothered with it in the last several years anyway (that is why we have so many ladies with execrable handwriting — it isn’t taught and if taught it isn’t practiced whereas “keyboarding” is both taught and practiced), and since etiquette opened the door to mechanically-produced correspondence when it ruled in favour of engraving,and since engraving is obsolescent there being only two companies I can find supplying that service, then …
- It is only consistent and gracious to accept other forms of mechanicallu-produced correspondence that are consistent with the principles of 1) personal attention, 2) graciousness to the guests over ease to the hostess, and 3) an expectation of basic social skills.
- Hiring a calligrapher is NOT superior to hand-writing, nor even to printing at home on your cantakerous printer, because it replaces the hostess’s personal attention with the paid services of a hireling. It is beautiful and gracious, so it is acceptable, but it is by no means better than the hostess’s own work.
- Clear labels, white labels, big labels, wrap-around labels, direct printing on envelopes: all that really matters is have you made a gracious stylish choice that endows your guests with a moment of beauty and elegance when they open their mailbox, in a manner that doesn’t require you to compromise the care and respect you owe your guests.
- Since the highest standard (handwriting everything) is also the lowest-cost, and since discussing money in society is considered vulgar, “it’s cheaper” is the kind of reasoning you should keep to your self. Similarly “I couldn’t be bothered … ” and “if my guests take offense, screw them” (or similar sentiments) are bad etiquette regardless of what decision that reasoning leads to.
- Twenty-first century social skills include the ability to maintain an up-to-date contacts-list (preferably cloud-based so that you can access it from iPhone as well as lap-top and don’t lose it when your hard drve crashes), the ability to export that into a list format for mail-merge, and enough face-book savvy not to leak inappropriate wedding details into the public domain. If you have those skills, and can’t write cursive to save your life, by all means use your entirely appropriate modern communication skills.
Just don’t use a typewriter! Don’t use the cheap labels that smudge and look grubby and can’t be read because of the smudges. Try not to marginalize grandmas and their best friends since differences in social style transcend age stereotypes. And don’t pass judgement on people who are at least sending invitations and thank-you notes at all.