We Irish pride ourselves on being ‘great craic’. Unfortunately, this fun-loving attitude doesn’t excuse our poorer qualities when it comes to social engagements. Yes, we may be great fun at the party, but trying to get us to commit to turning up to said party can be a feat in itself.
This nation of ours can be a tricky bunch to nail down when it comes to RSVPs. We all have experience of organising a party and fretting that our own friends won’t even turn up, because a) they’re too busy having fun elsewhere, or b) they’re just not bothered.
Maybe that paints a rather grim picture of Irish friendships, but this fear isn’t unfounded – what about the friend or friends who will send multiple texts on the day of the party, perhaps even from the comfort of the pub, pushing out their arrival time to later and later into the night, only to never show up? Or the friends who never respond to your invite in the first place?
And spare a thought also for our unwitting foreign friends who take our promises to turn up at face value?
Tina Koumarianos, who is the resident etiquette expert on RTÉ Radio 1’s The John Murray Show, rightly takes us to task on this one: “Frankly I think it’s rude to anyone who has good manners, foreign or otherwise. To me it smacks of – I’ll wait to see if anything better comes up and if not, then I’ll turn up.
“This attitude is akin to people asking who else will be there before committing to attending an event. In other words, if there is no one of real interest or of networking value, then they can’t be bothered to turn up. This is so difficult for the person organising the event with relation to catering and numbers.”
Ok, so in our defence, we have all found ourselves in situations when we’ve had to cancel on a friend last-minute for genuine reasons, but in a general sense, Koumarianos is right – not being able to rely on your guests to turn up when they have said they will is a social panic we can all do without.
So why are we so bad at this RSVP business? Are we collectively suffering from the Fear of Missing Out (FOMO) syndrome?
Do we over-commit to things, and then not knowing how to say no to people’s invitations, string them along until the point that it’s too late to turn up?
Or is it another manifestation of our linguistic proclivity for saying the opposite of what we really mean, where ‘I wouldn’t miss it for the world’ actually means ‘no’?
The strange thing about this commitment phobia is that it doesn’t seem to travel with us – it appears to only affect us on this very island we call home.
@katiegoodwin_ don't think I can walk I'm running really late as per usual! you home for lunch?— Deirdre Stapleton (@dd_stapleton) January 6, 2014
Having lived in Australia for several years, it was often commented upon amongst my group of Irish friends there how easy it was to organise social events with a group of Irish Down Under because they would commit to coming on an outing and keep to their promise, in other words, the complete opposite of our experiences back home.
Running a little late, but sure be grand— LVKE (@UCanCallMeLuke) September 3, 2013
Dublin man Neil Ryan, who has lived in Sydney since 2007, thinks this is because you find yourself starting from scratch in a new country.
“You arrive in Australia coming from an environment where you have a core network of friends, where if you don’t show up for something, sure it doesn’t matter, you’ll see them again next week, to a place where you might know one or two people and you have to start building up a network again.”
Belfast man, Maurice Reid, who also lives in Sydney, agrees:
“Growing up back home you develop natural relationships between school and college and take the friends you make at that stage for granted.
In Australia, you do not have that luxury as the new groups of people I have met during my time, and have been grateful for, only understand that if you agree to attend an organised event then they expect you to be there, it is the respectful thing to do.”
And that’s not even factoring the Irish attitude towards time-keeping, where a starting time is considered a more malleable concept, a suggestion if you will, rather than gospel.
My sister is running late. What a surprise, we're clearly both cut from the same cloth.— Kat (@KatLedder) August 12, 2013
Imagine trying to factor this into your planning for events on a daily basis? Kate Bowe of Kate Bowe PR, explains how her agency deals with RSVPs:
“Timings are always a factor when organising any event. If there are speeches and food being served, we would factor in 30-45 minutes for arrivals. We do a lot of evening film screenings – again we would always request people to show up 30 minutes before the start time, as you can’t delay when a film goes up.
“When it comes to RSVP’ing, people can be initially slow to commit, but because most invites are sent via email now, a gentle reminder before the close off point goes a long way!
“In terms of amount of invites to send out, a general rule of thumb is that if you want 100 people to turn up, you would send out invites to 300 people. Over subscription is a large factor in reaching capacity of a venue and ensuring a buzzy atmosphere.”
Ok, so we’re not exactly covering ourselves in RSVP glory in a professional sense either, but it seems that it is just comes with the territory, so people plan accordingly.
Running so late today just outta pure laziness— Sarah Sherlock (@sarahsherIock) August 9, 2013
And, of course, there is the argument that people don’t always want to go to every event they have been invited to, and nor should they have to.
Even so, there is still room for improvement when it comes to how we deal with responding to the invitations we do get.
As Sandi Toksvig, author of the book Peas and Queues – a guide to modern manners points out: “Manners are simply an expression of how we manage the tricky art of co-existing. A good starting point is to show kindness and consideration to others.”
Pair that with the vain notion that nobody wants to be known as a flake.
Have the write stuff
Make it easy for someone not to come. You don’t want anyone there who wishes they weren’t.
Don’t send invitations too early so that people can’t get out of it and don’t make them so open-ended that people feel trapped.
Your time is your own but the worst thing is to give a lot of excuses.
If you are going to turn someone down, do it quickly so that they can replace you with someone else.
The basic rule is accept speedily and in the same manner as the invitation was extended.
So if the invite was by email, reply in an email and so on.
For those of you who have kept to your promise and turned up the party, well done!
A handwritten letter or card is always most welcome if you have been to a private dinner or party in someone’s home – it shows real appreciation for having been invited.
For a larger gathering, an email to the person who invited you from the PR company would suffice.