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R.S.V.P. Means Respondez S'il Vous Plait - When, How, and Why, The Etiquette of the Reply
R.S.V.P. What Does it Mean?
From the very elaborate to the very simple, invitations come in all shapes, sizes and forms. Some of them are nothing more than pre-printed postcards from Hallmark or American Greetings, while others are printed in gold-leaf or hand-scripted in calligraphy.
Just like me, you've probably been both sending and receiving them for the majority of your life, and whether it was scrawled in red crayon along the bottom of your best-friend's seventh birthday invitation, tucked inside of its own pre-stamped, self-addressed envelope inside your cousin's wedding invitation last week, or delivered verbally, and merely implied, it is the one constant that all invitations, regardless of the event type, theme, or method of delivery, have in common. I am reasonably sure that by now you have of course concluded that I am talking about the familiar four letter acronym R.S.V.P, which is commonly found on or in most invitations, and is usually accompanied by a who or how or where you are supposed to do so, by a requested date; but do you know what those four letters mean?
R.S.V.P. is the acronym for the French phrase, Rèspondez S'il Vous Plaît, whose direct translation, respond if you please, is more commonly translated to the modern, please respond; which when appearing on or within an invitation, is a direct request for the prospective guest to notify the host or hostess whether or not they will be attending the event.
A Baby Shower, A Barbecue, and A Water Fight
I once threw a co-ed baby shower to which the couple had a guest list of approximately seventy-five people. To allow myself enough time to finalize all the little details and to give a final headcount to the caterer and the bakery, the invitations, which were sent out the appropriate six weeks before hand, specifically requested that everyone respond by the given date, which was one week prior to the day of the shower. When that day came and then passed, not one of the people on the guest list had responded. (This is excluding the family members, most of whom responded only after I spent an entire Sunday afternoon making phone calls.)
The following a day, after making the afore mentioned phone calls, and still having a lot of errands to run, I checked the couple's baby registry and seeing that a great many of the gift suggestions had been bought, I assumed that even though the requested R.S.V.P. date had come and gone, at least some of the invited guests would be calling in the next day or two, and on Monday morning, I nervously bit my nails as I called the bakery and the caterer and confirmed the head count for seventy-five guests. By Wednesday of that week we were three days out and still, not one of the invited guests had responded.
By Thursday afternoon, with less than forty-eight hours to go until the party, and with a full sheet cake and food, beverages, and party favors for more than seventy-five people due to begin arriving on my doorstep I of course did what any good hostess would do; I panicked, and began inviting my own friends and even a couple of business associaties over for an impromptu barbeque and baby shower.
The day of the shower dawned sunny and bright and probably the hottest April day on record for the state of Tennessee. The guests began arriving at one o'clock, and they kept right on arriving, and arriving, and arriving, until by three o'clock in the afternoon, with nearly all of the originally invited seventy-five guests, plus all of those I had invited at the last minute in attendance, I had to send my husband and a few others out for additional provisions.
By four o'clock that afternoon, the gifts had all been opened, the games had all been played, and most of the food and the beverages, and an entire sheet cake had been devoured. I was just about to congratulate myself on having somehow managed to pull this whole thing off, when I heard screaming coming from the patio. The screaming turned out to be coming from the mother-to-be, who had been sitting on my patio talking with a few of the guests when one of my husband's friends, (who had been in the later group of invitees), deciding that what this party really needed was a water fight, had climbed up on my roof so that he could take better aim at my husband with a super-soaker, and had instead managed to soak the guest of honor.
Needless to say, if the original seventy-five guests had taken that moment or two from their lives to R.S.V.P., this would never have happened.
How To Respond?
Traditionally, all invitations required a written response, but that was of course in the days before there were telephones or the Internet. Today, how you respond, may very well depend upon the type of invitation, and the manner in which it was delivered.
Formal invitations are most commonly used for very special celebrations such as weddings; bar mitzvah, and fiftieth wedding anniversaries. They are usually received about six to eight weeks ahead of the event, and almost always include a response card inside of a self-addressed pre-stamped envelope.
In the case of the formal invitation you should fill out the card as requested and mail it back to the host or hostess.
Casual Written Invitation
The casual written invitation is they type of invitation most often received for birthday parties, baby or bridal showers, and housewarmings. Usually pre-printed with spaces provided for the date, time, and place of the party, they may or may not have a pre-printed R.S.V.P. space. If the R.S.V.P. space is not provided, the host or hostess will quite often add the request for a reply themselves. Casual written invitations will usually request that the guest R.S.V.P. to a phone number provided on the invitation.
A casual written invitation should be replied to by making the requested phone call to the host or hostess.
In today's modern and fast-paced world, you are more and more likely to receive an invitation by email or through a social network such as Facebook. When receiving your invitation through these channels it is easy to overlook the etiquette of responding, but even when you do receive the invitation in this manner it is still the right thing to do.
Facebook is an easy way for the host or hostess to not only invite everyone in their social circle to a n event, but it is also an easy way for them to track their responses, and all you have to do is click on a button that says either, Joining, or Not Attending. Facebook also provides a third option that you may use if you are unsure at the time if you will be able to attend. By clicking the Maybe Attending button, you are letting your host or hostess know that you would like to attend, but are unsure at this time of your schedule. If you use this option at the time of receipt, you should remember to return to the invitation as soon as you are able to confirm your schedule, and change your reply to the appropriate attending or not attending.
When you receive an invitation through your email, you can also reply instantly. When replying to an invitation that is sent by email, it is wise to include the word Reply, or the acronym R.S.V.P. in the subject line to help the host or hostess, who may get hundreds of emails a day, to recognize your reply from other email or have it mistakenly sent to the trash as spam. If you are planning to attend the proposed event, it only takes a moment to send an email reply, which might read something like;
Dear Susan, Thank you for the invitation to Jim's fortieth birthday party. Mary and I are looking forward to attending and to seeing you and Jim on the 18th.
Even if you are not planning, or you cannot attend, you should still send a reply. In the case of not being able to attend your reply might say something like;
Dear Susan, Thank you for the invitation to Jim's fortieth birthday party. Mary and I are sorry that we will not be able to attend, but we look forward to seeing you and Jim in the near future.
Though it is not necessarily required, both the email invitation and the social networking invitation can be followed up with a phone call to the host or hostess confirming your attendance.
Spoken or Telephoned Invitations
The spoken or telephoned invitation is the type of invitation most often received from a close friend or family member, and it is made for very casual events such as a family barbecue or dinner gathering.
Even if you have already acknowledged the invitation at the time of its delivery, you should still telephone the host or hostess the day before or even the day of the event to confirm that you will be attending.
Invitations by Email or Social Networking Site
When to Respond and Why.
Most invitations come with what I like to call an R.S.V.P. expiration date, which means that most of them come with a request to reply by a certain date. The date that is given is usually a week to two weeks prior to the event, and is there so that the host or hostess can get a final head count and can confirm plans with a caterer or can do their own shopping with the assurance that they will have the right amount of food, beverages, and party favors for their guests. Many guests will see that date next to the requested R.S.V.P. and mistake it as being a date to reply on rather than a guideline to reply by. It doesn't matter how your have received your invitation, or if you will or will not be attending the event, you should always reply immediately, (within the first twenty-four to forty-eight hours), or at least as soon as possible.
If you are in a situation where you are have a scheduling conflict or are unsure whether or not you will be able to attend, you should still contact the host or hostess and alert them to your situation, and then contact them again when your schedule becomes more clear.
Why You Should Respond
Most hosts and hostesses put a lot of consideration into the planning of a special event. In many cases there are caterers and bakery orders, and other additional costs to be considered. Replying to an invitation, even if it is to express your regrets, helps your host or hostess to plan their event more effectively. Nothing is worse for a host or hostess than to have put the time and effort into meticulously planning an affair, and to then find out that they do not have enough of everything to go around because they didn't have an accurate head count.
Replying to the invitation in a timely manners shows your host or hostess that you are appreciative of their hard work, and that you are excited about attending their special celebration, and that you are happy to have been included.
Replying immediately also keeps you from being the errant guest, who meant to reply, but procrastinated and through procrastination, forgot to send your R.S.V.P.
Last but not least, when you receive an invitation you should reply because it is the polite thing to do.
-Kristen Burns-Darling © August 2012 (all rights reserved)