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A guide to wedding guest etiquette

By Jon Watt
A guide to wedding guest etiquette
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Some say a wedding is all about the bride and groom, which is all well and good but it doesn't much help the guests. Yes, they too have a role and getting it right isn't easy. Sometimes it's the guests who really make or break a wedding reception for the happy couple. Their behaviour can be a source of enormous happiness or huge stress.

We've all been at a wedding where someone's committed a social faux pas that caused attention to be taken away from the newlyweds. It could be the guy who clears the dance floor doing the turtle or the girl who peppers the DJ with requests.

Weddings come in all shapes and sizes but there are some basic rules of etiquette for guests that apply across the board.

The engagement
Do: Send a congratulatory email or card on hearing of their engagement. These days you're more likely to hear about an engagement on Facebook, but that doesn't mean the etiquette has changed. It's still polite and, more to the point, they're your friends or family — you'll probably want to congratulate them!

Don't: Use this as an opportunity to angle for an invite by saying how much you and your plus-one looking forward to the 'big day'.

The invitation
Do: RSVP. Many people assume that because they know the couple well, they don't have to officially signal their intention to turn up, but this is not the case at all. Everyone but direct family should be sure to RSVP, else you stand a good chance of being forgotten in the final count and ending up eating the vegetarian option next to the deaf aunt.

Don't: Be offended if you've not been given a plus-one. With each guest costing about $130 a head (average wedding), you can understand why the happy couple may not want your two-week fling immortalised in all their photos.

The arrangements
Do: Book your hotel room as soon as possible after you get the invite, otherwise all the decent spots will have gone and you'll be sleeping on your mate's floor at a cheap hotel a fair hike away.

Don't: Phone the bride or groom for help. They've got enough on their hands just dealing with difficult in-laws and a seating plan more complex than a fiendish sudoku, without you calling up asking about train times or if they can put you next to an attractive, single woman.

The gift list
Do: Try and get a gift to them no later than three months after the wedding. Traditional etiquette suggests a year after the wedding is okay, but in today's world of internet orders and overnight delivery, newlyweds are understandably impatient. And when the great gift does arrive don't take it to the wedding — it tends to be a bit embarrassing when it's left behind because everyone's too drunk to remember to pick it up at the end of the evening.

Don't: Go off-list unless you know the couple very well. It might feel a bit boring to buy that set of towels they asked for, but the happy couple are likely to appreciate it more than some novelty gift that will end up being clutter in their lovely new home.

Arrival on the day
Do: Sit wherever the ushers tell you. The seats at the front are left free deliberately!

Don't: Be fooled into believing that wedding start times are like cinema showing times and you don't have to turn up for the trailers. Nothing's going to annoy the bride more than pulling up to find you and your mates rolling out of the pub opposite the venue.

The reception line
Do: Have something to say. Fortunately this formal greeting of the family on the way into the reception has largely gone out of fashion, but you may still come across it and if so then avoid the ignominy of being stuck for something to say and having to fall back on weather and traffic chat.

Don't: Hog too much of the bride and groom's time. This applies to the evening as a whole, but especially to this moment when others are waiting behind to get struck into the champers.

The reception
Do: Have something to eat before the service. It's invariably a long time from arrival at the service to the first canapé getting to you and it'll feel a whole lot longer after a few glasses of bubbly on an empty stomach.

Don't: Go too hard too early. Pace yourself. Most weddings are a marathon rather than a sprint and attacking the champagne mid-afternoon is likely to result in your passing out in the soup. Not good.

Speeches
Do: Be sure to stock up on wine and coffee before the after-dinner speeches begin. Even if they keep to just the traditional three speeches, you're still likely to be sitting there for an hour and it's thirsty work pretending to laugh (especially if the bride also decides to say a few words).

Don't: Barrack the father of the bride (FOB). It's generally considered very poor form to interrupt the FOB's speech however long, rambling and over-emotional it and he become. In fact it's safest not to barrack anyone's speech unless you're still in a condition to operate heavy machinery. If you're drunk, you're not as funny as you may think.

Dancing and departure
Do: Wait until the bride or best man give the signal before invading the floor during the first dance. Most grooms are desperate to get people on the floor with them during the first dance to distract from their inept foot shuffling, but brides tend to enjoy their time in the limelight. It's a tricky bit of timing but then that's why the best man is given the grand title.

Don't: Mine-sweep for wine at the end of play and try and smuggle it back to your hotel. It tends to look like you were only there for the free booze...

Thank you letter
Do: Send one within a month of the wedding. Who you send it to depends on who hosted and paid for the wedding. Usually it's the parents of the bride, but if the couple themselves funded the function, then address it to them instead. If you're unsure then it's usually safest to send something to both.

Don't: Mention what could have gone better. So, no: "What a lovely wedding, shame about the thunderstorm and the marquee collapsing". Stick to platitudes and a funny story if you can remember one!

Above all, if you're ever unsure what the wedding etiquette is, then imagine it was your wedding. So, that pretty much rules out any behaviour you've seen in Wedding Crashers then...

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