Did you know that the abbreviation R.S.V.P. is derived from the French phrase “répondez s’il vous plait”? This, in English terms means “request for responses”. Yes? No? I’ll confess and say I had no idea! I have been under the false impression that it literally meant “RESERVE PLACE”, which sort of-kind of makes sense since I have always seen marked chairs at events with those four letters.
It took me a while to finish reading Joyce Meyer’s book Change Your Words-Change Your Life. Let’s just say my interaction with the material wasn’t all that easy. Anyway, I did pick up a lot of lessons and things to think about like Meyer’s stern caution on the importance of keeping one’s word: “If you RSVP for a party, be sure you either go, or call and cancel your reservation if you cannot go. [They] are ordering food based on your commitment.”
That’s if one RSVPs in the first place, Ms. Meyer! See, there is no such thing as RSVP-ing in African culture, and only the modern and upwardly mobile ascribe to such. In my culture, you don’t get invited to an event- you just show up and mingle.
However, this is not to suggest that we don’t get the occasional sparkly and frilly wedding invite with the magic letters and someone’s number at the bottom. We do! While I have no recollection of either of my folks formally declining or accepting any of them, I do know that some of the nicer invitations have enjoyed extended stays displayed on the wall-unit in the lounge.
How can we forget the little controversy that occurred over Bishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu almost not attending Tata Mandela’s funeral service? His foundation announced just the day before the service that Tutu would not attend as he was “not invited” but the confusion was later cleared and he was able to attend.
It was hardly surprising that something of that nature happened since the practice of inviting people to funerals is foreign to a lot of us. Despite this, everyone in my household concurred that without the strictly-by-invitation (or accreditation, if you will) measure in place, Mr Mandela’s funeral would have been a logistical mess.
BUT numbers are a big thing in my culture. The number of people that show up at one’s event (especially funerals) is an indicator of the level of “morale support” given by others and, conversely, how much the deceased or their family gave of themselves to others.
It is for this very reason that if you don’t have numbers on your side…shame! When a member of our extended family passed on years ago, his grieving mother left us gobsmacked when she -even in mourning- almost gleefully quipped, “A le bone batho ba ba neng ba le ko lesong?!”(Did you see the number of people at the service?!) She saw that? Did it even matter? Phew!
With the new-age bunch of kids, there is a growing trend towards curbing the number of people attending a particular event by having the event on location. Let’s face it, if you have an event ko Kasi everyone will pitch!
So, this presents a definite shift from instances where the community is involved in the preparations to make way for events coordinators and small, intimate affairs. It also eliminates those cringe-worthy situations where only “VIPs” (whatever that means) hog the chairs and J.C le Roux’s in the marquees while the rest of the masses bake in the sun.
We still operate largely in a word of mouth realm and perhaps learning to RSVP (and honour the invite) is really the last thing on our to-do list. Let’s not forget that the First World people have yet to master it as well. This, clearly, might take a while. If you still think that RSVP-ing is useless, you might want to consider that it may just be your saving grace the next time you decide to turn up for an event at the last minute. Either that or contend with the embarrassment of not finding your name on the guestlist.