The telltale signs are back: big, formal envelopes in mailboxes and big, blank stares on women carrying bridal magazines that have more pages than War and Peace. As every guy in a relationship more than two hours old can tell you, these signs indicate that the 2005 wedding season is well under way. So as a public service, the Institute of Drinking Studies is offering Dr. Etiquette's Wedding Reception Survival Guide (which may need an update after the Latin Representative's impending nuptials):
Q: If it doesn't say on the invitation, how do I find out -- in a tactful manner -- where the wedding couple is registered?
Dr. Etiquette: You can safely assume that a gift from any store that sells bathroom and kitchen gear, not excluding plungers shaped like a cat or deodorized trash cans, is appropriate. We here at the Institute are more concerned over a particularly crucial piece of information that's almost always omitted from the twenty pages of paper in a standard invite. So our first question to a hopeful couple is always: "Is there an open bar?"
Q: God forbid, but if there isn't, should we still attend that wedding?
Dr. Etiquette: Yes, but only if the groom promises that "We bought [a ratio of 1 per 35 guests, or better] kegs."
Q: I am not included in the actual wedding party, so I have no excuse to wear a tuxedo that would increase my chances of having an illicit encounter with a bridesmaid tenfold. As consolation, what can I do before and immediately after the wedding while thirteen miles of film are taken of the happy couple and extended family?
Dr. Etiquette: It is the groom's responsibility to ensure that the route between the church (if any of your group can still enter one) and the reception includes at least one liquor store and a bar where you can go in formal attire without getting beaten up. Our official recommendation is a maximum of two drinks prior to the ceremony, the better to stave off the unfortunate but totally understandable urge to reveal something painfully embarrassing about the groom when the minister asks if anyone knows any reason why the two should not be joined together. If you can't resist this temptation, you should stay at the bar for the entire service, because otherwise you'll never be allowed into the reception.
Q: Is it true that you recently shared beers with most of the groom's immediate family at the post-wedding shoot?
Dr. Etiquette: We were simply reaping the benefits of the excellent planning of the night before, when we left coolers in select vehicles to ensure that no matter which car was where, there would always be beer in the parking lot. We have little doubt that once the bride has returned from Mexico, we will receive a semi-disgusted call asking why we are seen drinking with her in-laws in at least five pictures that cost good money.
Q: Why is booze so prevalent at weddings?
Dr. Etiquette: That is an unfair generalization: Typically, booze is only prevalent at fun weddings. Some view it as a nicety to loosen people up and spark conversation. But experienced wedding-goers know that alcohol was created by God so that everyone who attends the reception will have an excuse the next morning for transgressions that might include hooking up with the maid of honor in a hallway around the corner from the reception -- but in plain view of several older family members who came a thousand miles to enjoy a G-rated celebration. Alcohol also keeps the slate clean between the two joyous families, despite the fact that the mothers had to be separated after the groom's mom made a snide comment about not having an open bar.
Q: Is it really a wedding if they don't play "The Chicken Dance"?
Dr. Etiquette: We didn't think so until we attended a recent wedding where the band was too good to stoop so low, and instead substituted that stripper song from The Full Monty that got everybody, including the minister, on the dance floor -- which is the purpose of "The Chicken Dance," anyway.
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Q: As a guy, I am unsure of my role in planning my upcoming wedding. How can I best help out?
Dr. Etiquette: As the groom, your only job is to be on time for the big day. That means you need to start planning your safety-net system months in advance, as you will otherwise be incapable of rising at any time on the day of your wedding, having stayed up all night drinking tequila straight from the bottle and enjoying your last hours of being single by trying to make yourself throw up.
Q: I understand this, but my wedding is this Saturday. I need tips on what I can do now!
Dr. Etiquette: Since you're a guy, we assume that you've already taken the most important step: arranging to see an advance screening of Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, which opens tonight. Tomorrow night is obviously out, and unless you get your bride really liquored up and have no problem sleeping in the garage rather than going on the honeymoon, Saturday is probably out, too -- unless you beg. After all, she may have been planning this wedding since she was a little girl, but you've been looking forward to the last chapter of Star Wars since you and your dad saw the first one in June 1977 and your life goal became to perfect Darth Vader's voice while imitating the cool breathing. Just make sure your wife-to-be understands: If you mess up her big day, she'll make Darth look like an Ewok.