Sunday, June 15, 2014

Wedding Guest Treatment 101

I despise the chicken dance.

[The stuff of nightmares right here.]
This really has little with how I feel about weddings but I think it needs to be said. I hate it. I understand its purpose -- everybody knows it, everybody can dance to it, and by all means, a fairly large part of the population seems to enjoy it. However, it's about five minutes too long. Moreover, I think that after 50-some weddings, of which only six or seven did not have dances following dinner, and probably 75% of which played that song, I'm allowed to hate it.

But this chicken dance issue of mine plays to a certain problem that tends to run rampant through weddings, one that has made me say repeatedly that with every wedding I attend my own theoretical wedding gets smaller. [It's gotten so small now that it doesn't even include a groom!]

Brides and grooms of the world (particularly the US) -- stop torturing your guests!

There are a lot of ways that this happens, but they boil down to two big problems.
1. You make them wait for long periods of time (in this case, we'll define that as "more than twenty minutes") without anything to do.
2. You cause massive group discomfort and awkwardness.

Often, the two are entirely intertwined. The catch is that both are almost entirely avoidable.

There's a lot we can discuss here and I'm gong to try to hit the high points. Please don't mistake my intentions -- you can't please everyone. There will always be someone who won't enjoy themselves, because humans are cranky, finicky creatures. I'm here to talk you through the things that will cause the most trouble with the largest chunk of the population.

Both problems boil down to one big thing ... and it's the kind of thing that could get me in trouble with wedding gurus. (Somewhere, David Tutera is suddenly irritated and he doesn't know why.) The thing is, as soon as you decide to invite all of your friends and family to come celebrate with you, your big day is no longer all about you.

You heard me. Your wedding? It's not all about you.

It certainly started that way. After all, this gathering wouldn't be happening in the first place if it wasn't for the fact that you and that special someone decided to make a lifelong commitment and throw a big party to recognize said commitment. It's a pretty big deal.

For that reason, I would say that yes, the ceremony is all yours. It's about you and your spouse and everyone else is a spectator. This isn't the case for the reception. The second you decided to throw that party, you made the unwitting agreement to keep those party-goers entertained and happy.

So as a veteran wedding guest, here's what I suggest.

Stay on schedule. I cannot emphasize this one enough. If you have a start time, start then. If you have a designated picture time, do it then. If you're always late, tell yourself things will start half an hour sooner and pick an on-time friend to bully you into it. I'm serious. Do not make your guests wait around because you happen to not be a timely person. It's rude and you don't want people remembering your wedding for all the waiting around they had to do.

Fill the in-between time. I'm a huge supporter of pre-wedding photos. [For a couple of reasons, not the least of which is that it gives the couple a chance to have some alone time instead of having to share the big moment with everyone -- then you can get your cry out and he doesn't have to try to see over everyone else's heads.] If you don't do your photos before or want to do some of them after, make sure there's something to entertain your guests. Snacks, a cocktail hour, music, tours of the local brewery, board games, whatever -- don't make them go hang out awkwardly in a half-empty reception room waiting around for things to start happening.

"Bored at a wedding." Too many choices
on a Google image search.
Curb the programming. I get it. Really. You want to show every part of your love story, which may or may not include a slideshow set to music and a table of pictures and toasts from all of the important people. Oh, and special dances, full speeches by a couple of people, and of course the cake cutting. A lot of couples want to do it all and it seems like the best way to do it is rapid-fire, but ... really, things can get broken down a bit. A slide show can run in the background (believe me when I say most people will wander past it), toasts can be split up or shortened so that people's attention doesn't have time to wander, and the special dances ... Well, aside from the specific ones (the couple and the parents), it can start to feel like you're leaving the guests out while you guys party if you do too many. Prioritize, break things up a little, and keep some of it fairly short. On a related note...

Be careful about passing the microphone. Remember that "massive group discomfort" thing? Nothing makes that escalate more quickly than a well-intentioned but rambling guest with a microphone. Or a drunken attendant. Or unintentional karaoke. Whether you have a DJ, a band, or a friend with an iPod, someone will have emcee duties for these kinds of things. That person should be kind but incredibly firm and have a time limit for each and every microphone-requiring part of the evening. (Professionals know this. Tell them your limits.)

Also, there is always a This Guy.
Not everyone wants to participate. Don't get me wrong. I think anyone who decides to join in will automatically enjoy the reception just a little bit more. But that "massive group discomfort" thing happens to include the chicken dance, the electric slide, the macarena, the YMCA, the cha-cha slide, the Cotton-Eyed Joe, and all of those others that I've forgotten but will almost immediately elicit a groan with the opening chords. They're good for getting people out but shouldn't be abused -- pick a couple and go with it. No one wants to feel like they've been bullied into participating.

Similarly, remember that the later the night gets, the more likely your creepy uncle will abuse the open bar and try to get way too close to all of the female guests during these things. He's slightly less likely to do that if he doesn't get a "big group song!" opportunity late in the evening.

Be nice. Your guests came from all over the place for this. Don't go starting arguments, don't chew out members of your wedding party, and try to enjoy yourself. It's a big day. You want good memories. So do your guests.


Okay. I'll end my rant here.

There are a lot of etiquette sites out there and plenty of advice to be given -- truth be told, I've only touched on the issues I've witnessed firsthand. Go looking if you'd like to find more (and feel free to comment if you've run into something in your own experience). In defense of couples everywhere, I'll say I've only ever been genuinely uncomfortable at a couple of the weddings I've attended in the last decade. Most of you have done a really good job of taking care of your guests -- but when something goes wrong, it seems to go terribly wrong. Maybe this will help. Maybe it won't.

But if something I've said here gets one bride to pay attention and make everything start on time, my work here is done.


Andi said...

There is a picture in my wedding photos of my husband literally dragging me onto the dance floor for the chicken dance as I tried to escape. He insisted we have it. Of course, since he booked the DJ I didn't really have a chance to change that.

Gwenelle said...

Good thing my husband & I did the courthouse thing! I likely would've been one of those behind schedule on everything! lol