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The ultimate wedding survival guide
by Jeanne Tai

We've outlined the dos and don'ts for the champagne-soaked season in this guide. The bride will be blushing, but not at your gaffes.

Our panel of experts:

- Agnes Koh, director and founder of etiquette firm Etiquette & Image International
- Tan Jiahui, founder of online wedding portal Wedding Tweets
- Vernetta Lopez, founder of wedding planning firm Eternally Yours

Most politically correct way to decline a wedding invitation

  • Give at least two weeks' notice
  • If you're close to the couple, call to say you're unable to make it. Acceptable reasons include a grandmother's death anniversary, or fasting for a medical examination
  • Offer to meet the couple separately to hear about their wedding preparations or simply to wish them well
  • It will be a nice gesture if you give a hongbao. If not, a congratulatory card would be a thoughtful touch

Loosen up those purse strings. Hosting a wedding dinner is pricier these days so don't stint on those red packets.

How much to give:

  • Budget $120 to $150 for a five-star hotel dinner, and around $100 for a four-star hotel. It's the minimum a couple needs to collect from each guest in order to break even
  • Give about 20 per cent more, if the bride or groom is a close family member or friend
  • When in doubt, call the venue to ask about their rates. Wedding Tweets also gives a price breakdown of popular hotels
  • Lunch receptions are usually about 10 to 20 per cent cheaper than weekend dinner rates
  • Give cash only

What if the groom's your ex-boyfriend?

If you're still friends, there's no harm in going, says Vernetta. At the event, be friendly and don't be insecure or overly boisterous. Never talk about the past.

It's best not to sneak in an uninvited plus-one, but if you must, Vernetta suggests gently checking with the couple. "Throw in a compelling reason like 'My mum can't be left alone at home,' " she adds.

The fail-safe wedding outfit:

Unless you're helping out at the wedding (say, if you're the maid-of-honour), Agnes says you don't need to wear a floor-length evening gown.

  • For a church wedding or afternoon solemnisation: knee-length (or slightly longer) dresses in satin or chiffon, paired with heels.
  • For the evening, a cocktail dress that ends at the knee or slightly below.
  • Pink, purple, burgundy and cream are good colours to wear, says Agnes.
  • Black is now acceptable, but avoid white.

Brilliant, you're seated next to complete strangers. Here's how to break the silence.

Best icebreakers at the dinner table

  • Honesty: Introduce yourself and confess that you don't know anyone here. Ask everyone else how they know the couple.
  • Be helpful: Before going to get a drink from the bar, you can ask if the others want anything.
  • Schmooze. Build rapport by complimenting someone else's outfit or appearance
  • "I love your dress, where is it from?"

The (other) finer points of wedding etiquette:

  • Always RSVP and make any special dietary requests at least two weeks before the wedding.
  • Colour-themed weddings are now on-trend, says Jiahui. It's polite to respect any themed dress code.
  • If you're unsure of what to wear to an outdoor wedding (think the beach or a garden), bring a change of clothes, Agnes says. Always come in formal attire if there's a solemnisation, regardless of the venue.
  • For weddings at unconventional locations (like the poolside or the zoo), which don't have standard venue rates, it's safe to give a hongbao of between $80 and $100.
  • If you're attending the wedding of someone of another race or religion, ask the couple beforehand if there are special cultural sensitivities to be aware of.

If you're seated next to a family with children...

  • Don't engage the parents in a lengthy conversation as they'll usually be preoccupied with their young charges, says Agnes.
  • Show polite (and flattering) interest by smiling indulgently at their kids' antics and interject with comments like "Oh, he's so cute" or "How old is she?"

Fending off a drunk male guest...

  • Ignore him to avoid making a scene, says Jiahui. "If he's getting out of line, ask the best man, maid-of-honour or wedding planner if you can change seats," she adds. Don't make a fuss in front of the couple, as it could spoil their night.

"So when's your turn to get hitched?"

Our panel's best comebacks to the dreaded question:

  • "I'm working on it, thanks for asking!"
  • "I'll invite you when the time comes!"
  • "I have no man. Any to recommend?"
  • "I forgot to get married - thanks for reminding me!" (works if you're over 40)

How to make an early exit

If you must leave early, inform the couple beforehand - you could say you have an appointment early the next morning and need to head home to rest.

Vernetta suggests staying for at least the sixth course in a Chinese dinner, and the main course at a Western-style banquet.

Leave discreetly when the lights are dimmed (like during a video screening), says Jiahui. You don't want other guests to spot you and take that as a cue to leave.


Get a copy of the January 2012 issue of Her World, Singapore’s No. 1 women’s magazine. Her World is published by SPH Magazines and is available at all newsstands now. Check out more stories at Her World online,


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