DEAR MISS MANNERS: I am happily engaged to be married soon. I would like my wedding and reception to be a true celebration with friends and family who love us and wish us well, but I have a very limited budget.
To that end, I have resorted to a buffet-style luncheon to be eaten on paper products rather than china and silver. I will use traditionally worded, plain ivory invitations; however, they will be printed, not engraved, and will not include that superfluous bit of tissue or (you will be happy to hear) those monstrous response cards. I will have only one attendant, and family and friends are helping prepare the food, cakes and decorations. When you have recovered consciousness, perhaps you could reassure me that I am not a disgrace to well-mannered brides everywhere.
My distress, which is quite acute, stems from my feeling suddenly that etiquette is the purview of the well-off, of which I am not a member. As a well-mannered Southern girl, I desperately want my ceremony and festivities to be proper and feel that perhaps I am operating outside those bounds. Please help.
GENTLE READER: The proper thing for you to is to help Miss Manners up off the floor first. She fell into a faint all right, but not over the idea that you are violating etiquette by not having a big vulgar expensive extravaganza of a wedding.
What sent her crashing -- her smelling salts, please; there's a dear -- is your notion that etiquette is some sort of luxury cultivated by the rich. You must have met very few of them.
Etiquette has nothing to do with gaggles of chorus-line bridesmaids, groan-producing dinners, endless revelries and the other over-done ingredients of the debt-ridden wedding. The simplest weddings are, in fact, the most likely to be proper.
For example, engraved invitations are merely the traditional substitute for handwritten ones. Rather than printing imitations of engraving, the more charming, not to mention cheaper, alternative is to write them out by hand.
The greatest improprieties occur when bridal couples ignore the comforts and convenience of their guests in their efforts to aggrandize themselves. (When you hear the announcement, "After all, it's our wedding," you may be sure that a plan of that nature is underway.)
Miss Manners trusts that your friends and relatives volunteered to help with the cooking, rather than being assigned to do so. And when she suggests firm plates and flatware, she is not hoping for a commission from the sale of china and silver -- any reasonably attractive ceramic and metal will do -- but rather thinking of how nasty it is to eat from paper.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: I have been invited to a Sunday brunch hosted by my lady friend's parents. What is the proper gift for a mature male to bring as an expression of appreciation? They do not drink alcohol, nor do I know anything personal about them. I do not want to ask my lady friend, as I want it to surprise her also.
GENTLE READER: Flowers. Miss Manners considers it more flattering to be assumed to appreciate beauty than to be in need of a drink.