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Dear Uncle Henry,

It is the summer, all my friends are getting married and I’m starting to get a swathe of wedding invitations and they all have RSVP on them. I know that it means to reply to the invitation, but what and how am I supposed to do it?

Your help would be appreciated,

Tony, UK



Dear Tony,

Thank you for your question. I remember those days well. In fact, I have been through a couple of phases of wedding invitations in my life. Though invitations of all sorts require a response, so let me give you a few handy tips to replying to invitations for any situation.

RSVP, is the initialisation of the French Phrase ‘répondez s’il vous plaît’, which translated into English simply means ‘Please Respond’. You may wonder why the phrase is in French, well, during the 17th and 18th centuries the French courts were the height of sophistication and French was considered the language of European nobility. The exact origins of the phrase are lost in time and myth, but it was probably there to remind busy courtiers and socialites of the time to respond to a social gathering before the spaces filled up. That is no different today.

First things first, whether it is a formal written invitation or an informal emailed one (more common these days) do the courtesy to respond promptly, even if the invitation  is sent out way in advance. For example I received an invitation to a party for a dear friend’s 70th birthday for 2 years time this week, I dropped him a note to say I would be attending and jokingly said I hope he was around to attend too! So, aside from witty banter, respond quickly and if you need to check with others do that as soon as you can.  On formal invitations there is generally a date that you have respond by, try not to be the chap that leaves it to the last minute and puts your host/hostess in a panic.

For formal written invitations, one should respond with a formal written reply, either on headed paper or card. It should be written, preferably handwritten, in the third person and with the full and correct titles of all of the Hosts in your reply. If you are accepting make sure that is clear and that you are gracious in your acceptance. If you are declining, make a small effort to be charming and explain your reason for not being able to attend.

For emailed invitations to events, you should observe the same etiquette as a written invitation, as I frequently state that email is just mail in electronic form so you should treat it as you would any other letter.

If you are close to the people in question and then by all means phone and accept their invitation BUT do also send a written response too. It will remind them that you have accepted and be probably easier to tally.

Put the date in your diary immediately, so as you remember too and, depending on the event, get the gift or proper attire out of the cupboard in enough time, so you are not rushing around to get that suit repaired on the Friday before a Saturday Wedding!

As for truly informal invitations, such as Facebook invites or invitations to dinner and so forth, gone are the days that they would also require formal written invitations. The first rule of replying swiftly holds true, the rest is subject to your friendship to the host and the informality of the invitation.

One final piece of advice, your host has taken the time to invite you to their event, make sure your take the time to respond to them appropriately. Once you have accepted an invitation, make your absolute best effort to turn up, and if, having accepted, you are then unable to attend, make sure you tell your host before the event. Worse than not responding at all is accepting an invite then not turning up!

Toodle Pip!

Uncle Henry

If you have a question for Uncle Henry email or #askhenry on Twitter @ThePGentlemen

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