Why RSVP Is Dying

by Quentin Schultze

I hate to admit it to myself after years of denial, but RSVP is nearly dead. Why?

I’ve always been an RSVP fan. I appreciate it when someone invites me to an event and provides a way for me to indicate whether or not I expect to attend. When I get an invitation without an RSVP, I’m lost. If I can’t attend, I usually send a note of regrets anyway, partly as habit and partly to gently encourage others to consider adding an RSVP to their invitations.

But among my college students and twenty-something graduates, RSVP is broken. Most inviters don’t use it. When they do, most invitees don’t respond.

After asking a lot of mentees and advisees why, I discovered a gold nugget. Here’s the scoop:

Parents aren’t spending much time on social etiquette with their children. It’s that simple. Young adults are clueless about even some of the best and most essential social traditions. When they are going to be wed, younger adults do think seriously about RSVP, but they don’t carry over that thinking to other social events.

I’m co-authoring a book about interpersonal (person-to-person) communication. I now realize that the two of us have to address the issue of the lack of cross-generational guidance in communication. The age of “social media” is also an era of widespread social ignorance about more formal communication situations.

I think our message in the book needs to be that when it comes to RSVP there is more than either hanging out together or getting married.

This is merely one of the many communication-related ironies of our day.

Long live RSVP. At least in our memories.

Thanks for listening.

—Quentin

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Bob Banning March 15, 2013 at 6:14 am

Quin, isn’t it interesting how your observations relate to the actual meaning of the expression “RSVP”? The letters stand for the French sentence “Repondez, s’il vous plait.” (Sorry, I don’t know how to get the accent marks into a blog comment.) That French sentence literally requests, “Respond, if it pleases you.” I suspect that the original purpose of putting a request in this form was to do the addressee the courtesy of acknowledging his or her freedom as a human being. But those who do not respond to an invitation that ends with “RSVP” are essentially (even if unconsciously) taking the phrase literally and saying, “It does not please me to respond; therefore, I won’t.”

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