- 7 years ago
There actually is such a thing as standard etiquette. You aren’t likely to find it on the internet with a careless google search or on a commercial site, any more than you are actually likely to find, say, reputable medical advice with a simple search. And you CERTAINLY are not going to find a consensus on the internet — on anything!
So, the fact that you have found contradictory advice on the internet, or in popular magazines, doesn’t prove that there are no standards. What it proves is that you have to look elsewhere for your authoritative standards. And where you look, is to the First Household of whatever nation you inhabit. In keeping with the ancient proverb “as in the King’s house, so in the country” the protocol practiced at Rideau Hall, or Windsor Castle, or the White House, is the gold standard for etiquette in your country. You can find those standards in the protocol manuals used by your respective state department, or in the consular service protocol guides; and if you know how to filter out the service-specific details in the protocol guides used in the armed forces.
It may be surprising to folk who have seen how diverse local customs can be, but standard etiquette is remarkably similar from one nation to another. This is because smoothing the interactions between people with different local customs is precisely why standard etiquette has developed, and nowhere are smooth interactions so essential as between national leaders and ambassadors. Equally surprising to those who first encounter etiquette in the context of some very formal occasion like a wedding, standard etiquette addresses informal behaviour every bit as much as it does formal behaviour.
Does this mean that anyone who follows local customs instead of Peggy Post’s advice, is guilty of “bad etiquette”? Not at all. First, Peggy Post is hardly an arbiter of proper etiquette and — from her columns — appears to be somewhat unfamiliar with standard etiquette. But moreso because etiquette actually endorses that within any particular cultural subgroup, the customs of that subgroup are completely proper. The role of standard etiquette is to provide a bridge between different classes, different nations, different ethnicities and different cultures. The sophisticated socialite knows her own cultural norms and behaves according to them when within her own cultural group; learns the cultural norms of other cultural groups in which she may be invitied to participate and behaves according to those norms when in those groups; and knows the standard etiquette which she follows whenever in a strange cultural group or in a cross-cultural gathering and finds acceptable from strangers who are visiting within her cultural group.
A consideration with weddings is that they are equally often specific to a local cultural sub-group, AND cross-cultural. Even if all your extended family are perfectly fine with “X”, which is how they have always done it; you are marrying into a different extended family. Sometimes, as when you both have the same strong ethnic background, you can assume that you have the same non-standard cultural expectations, and any outside guests can just cope — as long as you are accepting of their resorting to standard etiquette. But, sometimes what your family thinks is normal is going to appall your new family-in-law, and in those cases you will want to consider sticking to standard protocol. In that case, you’ll want to know what the standard etiquette actually is.
Too often, I read some well-intentioned girl with good instincts saying “I have decided to flout etiqutte and do blah blah blah instead” — and ends up describing something that is absolutely correct! How sad that she has to feel guilty about doing the right thing, or has to second-guess her instincts. Of course, there are often those occasions when someone advises that “etiquette says” something else, when it actually says no such thing and the mistaken advice would make the original Mrs Post spin in her grave. The good part, though, is that so many of those well-intentioned people are here and on other boards, researching and learning as much as they can.