RSVP in the Modern World



“Whether it is online, over the phone, or by old-fashioned snail mail, the RSVP remains a critically important part of good manners.”  ~~Daniel Post Senning, Emily Post’s Manners in a Digital World: Living Well Online

What Does RSVP Mean?

invitation-32378_1280Répondez, s’il vous plaît is French for “Respond, if you please,” or “please reply.” Confusion abounds about the meaning of RSVP. Does it mean reply only if I’m coming, or “if I please”? Is it just to let the host know how many folks I’m bringing with me? Is it considered necessary only with formal events like weddings? Judith Martin, “Miss Manners,” suggests reducing confusion by ditching the French abbreviation and simply asking “Please respond.”

The custom of putting RSVP on invitations began about 1845, and around 1900 it came to be considered rude. It hinted that you did not trust people to respond on their own, without prompting. Sometime in the late 1960s, the RSVP request returned. When responses slowed again, hosts started adding a “respond by” date to give the invitee a deadline. Lately we see “Regrets only” on invitations—you only call if you cannot attend—but this has proved no more helpful than a standard RSVP.

What to do about an RSVP

table settingLack of replies creates havoc for hosts, who must plan food, drink, seating and more. A rough idea—at least—of the number of guests to expect is imperative.

How much time before you answer? Answer at once! At the least, get back to the host before a week has passed. This is the respectful, kind and considerate way to treat someone who has requested your company. A prompt reply:

  • Means you are less likely to forget to respond.
  • Helps your host plan the event.

If you truly don’t know whether you can attend, thank the host for the invitation and let him or her know you have to resolve a situation before you can say “yes.”

  • Do not change your “yes” answer to “no” unless you have a strong reason, such as illness or unexpected business conflict.
  • If you hold off answering in hopes of getting a better offer, you don’t deserve to be a guest!

Generally, reply to an invitation in the manner it was sent to you: formal by mail gets a posted response, call in your RSVP to a telephone invite, respond electronically to an e-mailed invitation

“RSVPs can be counter-productive, too, in the stress they can cause for both the host and the guest.” ~~Facebook comment

Why do We Stress Over RSVP?

  • Hosts can suffer financially if invited guests do not reply. (How much champagne should I buy? How much chicken satay and tzatziki do I order?).
  • Hosts may endure social anxiety. (What if I give a party, and nobody comes?).
  • Invitees may feel anxious as they face a whole string of actions to take: check with the spouse, the boss, the babysitter. Can I make a kennel reservation for Fido? Do I have the right clothes? Can I cover expenses the event will necessitate? An instant “yes” is sometimes not possible.

Why RSVP is Ignored in the Age of the Internet

social-media-580301_1280Social media has blurred the idea of a definite yes or no.

  • Often, invitations simply fall to the bottom of hundreds of received e-mails over the course of a few days. We lose track.
  • An e-mail does not stand out. The invitation is camouflaged by spam, ads, blogs, notes from friends and associates—no wonder it is often dropped from our personal memory.
  • The colorful photos and frenetic addition of information on Facebook almost assures that an invite will be lost in a sea of stuff. Facebook flattens and equalizes messages, so, an invitation will seem no more important than a vacation photo sent by your Aunty Alice.
  • yes no maybeThe “maybe” option: What is this? It tells your host nothing that will help with preparing for a gathering. It encourages stalling.
  • An e-invitation has a built-in procrastination factor, because the recipient knows a reminder will be sent later.

What not to do with an RSVP

  • Don’t bother to RSVP, then show up anyway.
  • Say “yes” when you know you can’t attend. You’ll hurt someone’s feelings worse by not showing up than by telling them “no” upfront and on time. “Yes” is not the same as Facebook’s “Like.”
  • Ask for special food choices and then don’t show up.
  • Bring extra, uninvited people with you, unless they were specifically invited (your invitation reads “and guest,” or “bring the children along”).
  • Lie about why you can’t come when you say “no” because you have a different party to attend. Facebook, Twitter and Instagram will get you. It’s OK just to say you have a prior commitment.

How Can a Host Encourage RSVPs?

  • save-the-date-914055_640Send a “Save the date” message. Then your RSVP will be, in truth, a reminder note.
  • Mail the invitation. It will have a better chance of being taken seriously. Including a postage-paid reply card will up your odds for a response.
  • Specify a cut-off date to RSVP. Make that date earlier than your true deadline for responses.
  • Do not offer a “maybe” response—it just prolongs the suspense.
  • Offer all of your addresses for a reply: e-mail, home, telephone.
  • Wait until after the RSVP deadline, and contact the non-responders with a gentle “Are you coming?” Let them know you are preparing food, seating, etc. Most folks will give you an answer at this point.

For more help in responding to all kinds of invitations and reducing RSVP stress, check out


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Thank You One and All

“I can no other answer make, but, thanks, and thanks.” ~William Shakespeare

We often don’t think about the power of “thank you.” It rolls off our tongues automatically, or we hear it without really registering the speaker and their intent. Saying thank you to others is a kindness that makes their gestures feel worthwhile to them.

Hearing “thank you” can mamother-and-son-thank youke us feel more valuable in this world, give extra meaning to the things we do for others—and even encourages our generosity, making us more likely to be helpful again.

Often, a person who neglects to thank others comes across as entitled. They act as if everyone owes them special favors, preferred treatment and excellent service.

When Should We Say Thank You?

It’s appropriate any time someone adds something to our lives or eases an uncomfortable situation. “Thank you” is always right when we receive:

  • Things: Presents, food, items we’ve dropped or are trying to reach.
  • Assistance: Opened doors, passed salt and pepper shakers, an explanation of offerings on a menu.
  • Kindness: Soothing words in an anxious situation, a chore taken quietly off our hands.
  • Advice: Words that help us avoid trouble and mistakes or make our work and creations better.
  • Criticism: Words that force us to take a good look at ourselves. Sometimes we need to be thankful for the honest, even painful, truth.

When Not to Say Thank You?

Avoid a thank you when it is dripping with sarcasm. When a child brings you a cookie but drops it before it reaches you: “Thanks a lot” will hurt more than you know. The same goes for treating employees as though an accident was a personal slight. Even if the person was truly careless, sarcasm may make them resentful rather than more careful the next time.

The Best Kinds of Thank You

In our digital age where we communicate by text and e-mail, an actual thank-you note stands out. The recipient knows you had to plan the prose, buy thank-you-391055_1280a stamp, address the envelope and get it to the post office. You’re telling this person how much their efforts meant to you.



I have a friend who enjoys the digital “thank you” texts she receives from her children. They never leave it at those two simple words, though. Included is aways a reminder that they love her.


A specific thank-you often has greater value than a general thank you. Saying “thanks” to the person who bags your groceries is kind. Saying, “Thank you for packing all of this into paper bags light enough for me to carry” truly acknowledges thoughtful service. The helpful bagger may make greater efforts the rest of the day to think about what customers want and need.


Thank You Brings Warmth to  a Remote-Communication World

Thank you is more important than ever in this era of messaging, emoticons, and Facebook friends. It makes a human connection between two people, and acknowledges they have shared a caring, human interaction.

If the only prayer you said in your whole life was, “thank you,” that would suffice. ~Meister Eckhart



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Finger-Food Follies

Spring is here, Summer is coming, and there will be barbecues! There will be weddings! And yes, there will be finger foods to accompany all the fun.

Finger foods pose a special etiquette challenge, because doing it “right” does not necessarily mean the same thing in every situation. An ear of corn at a beach cookout is not the same kind of finger food as a tiny quiche appetizer at a wedding reception. And what on earth happens when an ear of corn ends up on your plate at a formal dinner?

Here are a few guidelines to keep your manners correct and your shirt spotless when indulging in fabulous finger foods

Six Helpful Finger-Food Hints

         When a plate is available on which to put your choice of food, use it.dominoes-74226_640

  • This way you can leave your hands free to shake hands with other guests, or to talk with your hands and not have to wave around shrimp batons.
  • Put any dip on your plate, along with chips or veggies, and you can double-dip to your heart’s content. Do not double-dip when you have to share the dip bowl!
  • If you are using a plate and need to set your food down, you may find a table or window ledge where your plate can rest.

         If your food has seeds or pits, remove them from your mouth by the same method you put them in.

  • If you pop an olive into your mouth with your fingers, take the pit out with your fingers and put it at the edge of your plate. No plate? Wrap the pit in a napkin. You did remember to take a napkin?
  • If you are eating watermelon with a children-655542_1280fork, move the seeds from your mouth to the plate using the fork. If you are eating big slices at a picnic, organize a seed-spitting contest and add a little excitement to your finger food.


3          Some foods you can always eat with your fingers:

  • Chips, because to try to cut them with fork and knife will send pieces flying across the table (or your neighbor).
  • Crisp bacon, because trying to cut this will only shatter it into little pieces that are  next to impossible to scoop onto your fork. Limp bacon is always eaten with a fork to avoid greasy hands and chins.cheeseburger-522464_1280
  • Burgers and sandwiches should be cut in halves or quarters before picking them up and eating. Messy, falling-apart sandwiches should be eaten with a fork.

4          Guidelines for eating strawberries and shrimp, or any food that has a handle:

  • If shrimp is served with the tail on, go ahead and pick it up by the tail, dip it (or not), bite off the shrimp and place the tail back on your plate or into a napkin. Otherwise, shrimp is generally picked up and eaten with a fork.
  • If strawberries are served with the stem attached, pick them up by the stem, bitecream-2219_1280 off the fruit, and put the stem aside. If there is no stem, pick up and eat the berries using a spoon.
  • A toothpick is also a “handle” and can be treated the same as a shrimp tail or a strawberry stem.

5          Food served at a picnic or barbecue, such as fried chicken or ribs, may be picked up and eaten with the fingers. The same food is eaten with knife and fork in a more formal setting.


  • Eat picnic finger foods in small bites and use the napkin often.
  • Some picnic foods also have a useful handle, like the bone on the end of a sparerib or the stem of an ear of corn.
  • Which brings us to sweet corn: this is always finger food unless served in a formal setting, and we hope no one will put you in the position of dealing with it then!
    • To make eating the corn a little less messy, you can butter just a few rows at a time as you go along.
    • If you end up at a linen-covered table faced with an ear of corn, hold the ear vertically and slice off the kernels onto the plate. Ideally, your host will have done this ahead of time.

6          Finger vs. fork, you choose!

  • Pizza is an acceptable finger food on all occasions. If the pizza is overloaded with goodies or very thick (think Chicago deep-dish), common sense calls for a fork approach. If the pizza crust stability is a close call, you can fold it over and eat each piece like a taco.
  • Asparagus has been considered a finger food as long as the stalks were firm enough to pick up without drooping. Lately, opinion has swayed toward eating this vegetable with a knife and fork. This is always the safe option, especially when hollandaise is involved.
  • French fries usually are eaten in the same manner as the rest of the food on your plate.french-fries-250641_1280
    • If you are picking up a burger or a sandwich with your fingers, go ahead and eat your fries the same way.
    • If your fries accompany a steak or some nice fish, eat everything on the plate with your fork and knife.

When in Doubt

If you are ever in doubt about how to eat finger foods served on formal or casual occasions, the best course of action is to just look around you. Before you take that first morsel of food, watch to see what your host or hostess is doing. At a large gathering, observe how the rest of the guests handle finger food. Then relax, have some fabulous finger foods, and enjoy the day.



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Driving on a public road is a cooperative effort. Like any other social situation, it works smoothly when each of us remembers the etiquette of the road: to be kind, considerate and respectful of each other.

How many times do we drive home from shopping or commuting with tales to tell of traffic nightmares, close calls, and inconsiderate or distracted drivers who put everyone on the road near them at risk?

Rude road behavior is often both obnoxious and dangerous. It can also be illegal.

Following is my unofficial list of six rude behaviors that raise our risks on the road:

Number 6: Passing faux-pas

  • Drivers going slowly in the passing lane clog the normal flow of traffic and raise tempers of those who are stuck behind them.
  • Truck drivers may spend long minutes trying to pass each other at slow speeds, or while going uphill. This slows the flow of traffic and quickens our heart rate.

Use the passing lane only to pass, then pull back into the right lane.

Number 5: Weaving in and out of traffic

Unpredictable vehicles trying to get ahead usually gain only a few car lengths. They put everyone else on high alert trying to predict where they are headed, raising blood pressure all across the highway.

The Wisconsin Dept. of Transportation quotes a study showing “a 60% chance that [a weaving] motorist may be driving drunk or is under the influence of drugs.”

If you observe this type of driving behavior, notify the police or the State Patrol.


 Number 4: Improper Merging seattle-washington-interchange-593530-l

  • Drivers who merge onto the Interstate highway create problems when they do not adjust their speed to fit in with other vehicles in the near lane.
  • Drivers already on the highway make merging difficult when they refuse to speed up or slow down for a merging vehicle.

Be considerate of other drivers: adjust your speed to the flow of traffic when merging onto the highway, and slow down to make room for a vehicle entering the highway.

 Number 3: Tailgating Tailgating

Tailgating is a major cause of car crashes and is often indicative of a rude, aggressive driver.

Take a deep breath–slow down and let these people pass, or move onto the shoulder to let them go by if you must.

Number 2: Not Signaling Turns

Not signaling puts fellow travelers on hyper-alert and raises hostility, much like tailgating. It is a failure to communicate.

Signal every time you turn a corner, enter or leave the road, pass another vehicle, or change lanes. And don’t forget to turn the signal off when you’re finished!

Number 1: Using a Mobile Phone while Driving

oregondot-odot-driving-3511431-lThis is perhaps the most dangerous of all rude driving habits. Using a cellphone leads to distraction, which means we have stopped interacting with other drivers and are no longer cooperating to keep the road safe.

Turn your phone off in the car, or pull over and park when making a call. Remember, even hands-free conversations can distract you from the road!

Summer is nearly upon us, and more families will be on the highways and byways. Remember, lives depend on our ability to communicate our intentions to other drivers. Kindness, consideration and respect for our fellow humans will go a long way to make driving safer and less stressful for everyone.


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Playing Nice at the Gym

water-630789__180I was working out in a small gym with several other people when one of them scolded me for leaving my water bottle on a treadmill. We were doing circuits—alternating 10 minutes on the treadmill, 15 minutes on the floor for strength training. What had I done wrong? It seemed a good time to study up on gym etiquette.

My gym gurus—trainers and other physical fitness professionals who work out regularly—said that the bad manners that annoy them most at the gym arise from people creating distractions.

If you seriously strive to maintain and improve your health, muscle strength and stamina, you may consider interruptions rude. It’s good to to be left undisturbed in your own zone!

Here are a few suggestions about being kind, considerate, and respectful at the gym:

Avoid Being a Distraction: Respect others’ concentration on their workout

  • Visual
    • Folks who “dress up” for the gym and wander around looking for flirting opportunities.
    • Revealing clothing on either sex.
    • Dirty clothes.
  • Sound
    • Carrying on conversations next to a person working out.
    • Chatting on a mobile phone anywhere in the gym.
    • Playing music from a source that others can hear—and no sing-alongs!
    • Loud grunting—sometimes it happens, but it shouldn’t be a constant workout accompaniment.
    • Clanging equipment that startles people and throws them off. Weights falling on the floor can be loud and jarring, so don’t lift more than you can put back down safely (and quietly).
    • Talking to someone wearing headphones who is obviously not seeking conversation.
  • Odor
    • Those who do not use deodorant.
    • Clothes smelling of cigars and cigarettes.
    • Perfume, which can cause allergic reactions in some.

Kindergarten Rules: Kindness, consideration and respect at the gym

  • Respect everyone’s space.

    • Crowding folks is intrusive. Collisions can be dangerous, so keep an eye out for those nearby. It’s rude to wander into the outside track lane inkettle-bell-592905__180front of a fast runner or to come between a mirror and the person using it.
    • Leaving weights, bags, water bottles, or anything else on the floor may cause someone to trip over them.
    • Hovering over a person on a machine is intrusive and can interrupt a workout.
  • Contain the germs
    • Wipe down machines with a towel.
    • Use disinfectant spray if necessary because MRSA and staph infections are real possibilities, not to mention the common cold germs lingering everywhere hands touch the machine.
  • Play nice: take turns, share equipment
  • Make sure everything is in its designated place
    • Clean up and pick up after yourself.
    • Especially remember to put weights back in their proper racks.
  • Does your gym post The Rules? Yes? Read them.cycling-79618__180

And finally, why was it rude of me to abandon my water bottle? Answer: There is no such thing as dibs at the gym, and leaving your towel or water bottle on a machine looks like you are “saving” it for your future use (even if, honestly, you just forgot to take that bottle along with you).

(Thanks to the pros at Revolution in Glen Ellyn for their informed input!)


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