I love and respect the English language. I try to say what I mean and mean what I say. I want to wield my words accurately and honestly.
I can also be a rather socially awkward person.
The combination of these two factors means that greeting and congratulating my friends after a theater performance can cause me excruciating anxiety.
I wrote about the problem of knowing what to say -- and some solutions I've tried out -- in my Theater Pub column from May, "After the Show, the Drama Begins."
After I posted this piece, several friends told me on Facebook that they feel the same anxiety and thus, many of them just default to saying "Congratulations." Which is always a lovely thing to say, but if it's your default response, it will eventually become meaningless, won't it? Theater-makers spend so much time and effort trying to create meaning, trying to make you think or feel something new, the least we can do is offer a few unique and heartfelt words to them after the show...
Also, here's something funny I learned recently: according to the strictest rules of etiquette, it is improper to say "congratulations" to a bride, though you may say it to the groom. It all has to do with pesky old gender roles: the man should pursue the woman and propose to her, and it's undignified for a woman to aggressively pursue a man. " 'Congratulations' has the improper implication that the bride has won
something in snagging her groom and carries the unfortunate connotation
that the bride is social climbing. Congratulations should be extended to the groom, because the groom has accomplished something specific in obtaining his bride's hand in marriage," the explanation goes.
I'm a feminist, so I ought to find this utterly ridiculous, but for some reason I find it oddly charming. I like arcane rules, I collect old etiquette books, and while this little shibboleth is an outgrowth of the patriarchy, it seems like a relatively harmless one. I've attended two weddings in the last six months, and have another three weddings to attend before the year is out (yes, I am in my mid-to-late twenties, how did you guess?) and I have a feeling that I'll be keeping this protocol in mind...