Besides a few cards at birthdays and Christmas, one type of mail I still occasionally find in the letter box is an invitation, like this one to my daughter’s college orientation. Of course, invitations, like any mail, can also be sent electronically, but I enjoy so much more the chance to slit open an envelope and pull out a card.
Most invitations ask that we RSVP: répondez s’il vous plaît. That snippet of French flair has been added for centuries, a bow to the gallic-inspired etiquette that long ruled English and American polite society. The literal translation — respond if you please — should not be taken, well, literally. According to Emily Post, you should always respond, even if you don’t please, unless the more modern “regrets only” has been added.
Having managed events with head counts and caterers, I can tell you that making assumptions about people attending, not attending, replying, not replying, nowadays is fraught with peril! If only everyone were an adherent of Emily Post.
In the realm of invitations and etiquette, the one I most fantasized about receiving when I was a young(er) miss was an invitation to Almack’s. Mentioned frequently in the witty Regency novels of Georgette Heyer, Almack’s was an exclusive London club that enjoyed its heyday in the early 1800s. At their Wednesday night balls couples even danced the daring new waltz where men actually placed their arms around the waists of young ladies. Oh my!
Admission to Almack’s meant the difference between being part of society as a whole and Society with a capital “S.” A handful of women, the Lady Patronesses of Almack’s, determined who was in, and even worse, who was out, though scandal did not seem to stick to the Patronesses themselves. Patroness Sarah Villiers, Countess of Jersey, had a mother who eloped, a daughter who eloped, and a mother-in-law who had been a well-known mistress of King George IV when he was still the Prince of Wales. Sarah’s nickname was Silence because she talked so much. (Read more about Lady Sarah’s life here and the elopement of her daughter here.)
The closest I’ve come to an invitation to high society was to a garden party in Melbourne, Australia to benefit the Red Cross. Held at Government House and hosted by the Governor, the Honorable Sir Henry Winneke, the outdoor affair attracted a couple hundred guests who helped themselves liberally from the trays of champagne and sandwiches circling the lawn. No waltzing, but I enjoyed myself. And though I can’t remember now, I’m sure that I RSVP’d.