Three minutes ago, I received a text message which read: “Dear Friends and Family, please confirm your attendance for Bisi’s birthday celebration for adequate catering count. May 5th at the Marriot. Adults Only.” It was a group text so many numbers were listed.
A minute later, I received another text message which read: “Will attend with my husband and four children.” This text immediately got my goat, not because the writer whom I do not know clicked “reply all” when she should have just replied only to the person who sent the message (my tirade on this issue is saved for another day) but that she ignored the “Adults Only” clause of the invitation and has decided to bring her FOUR CHILDREN along! Further, she has the audacity to announce her intended disregard of the celebrant’s wishes in advance.
Arguably, Africans experience a clash of cultures when confronted with the ‘RSVP conundrum.’ There are several African protocols being flaunted when a celebrant requests that his/her guests respond to the invitation to indicate non/attendance. First, there is the African mindset that attendance is confirmed upon receipt of the invitation. In other words, the celebrant should assume attendance unless the invitee is otherwise engaged. Or put in simpler terms, “if you invite me, expect me to show up; don’t waste my time with an rsvp.”
Secondly, the African believes the invitation is open and therefore the invitee can extend it to whomever s/he chooses as is the case above. Or as was the case with Dr. Adetoye’s daughter’s wedding for which an invitee responded that he would bring 16 guests from Maryland. This invitee then proceeded to inform their mutual Parapo that Adetoye is giving his daughter in marriage and they should come support him; loaded his guests into a 16-seater van; and drove all night to reach Atlanta in time for the ceremony. As the Yorubas say, Ka rin ka po, yiye l’on y’eni. This open invitation phenomenon also covers the ‘party within the party’ phenomenon whereby a relative colonizes a table for his/her own guests at the party of another relative. S/he also selects their invitees aso ebi and caters for their needs separate from the celebrant’s provisions. A third element of the open invitation is timing. If you invite a person to your occasion, the timing should be open-ended enough to accommodate the invitee’s preferences not yours. In other words, if I cannot get to your birthday party until midnight, you should not write on your invitation that it ends at 11:00pm prompt!
Thirdly, the request to RSVP invokes the fear of commitment. As soon as the card arrives, the invitee struggles with indecision. S/he thinks, “I may have to work that day.” “I am not sure I will be chanced to attend.” “What if something better comes up and I have already committed to this one?” Thus, s/he makes the decision - “Well, if I am alive, the sun is shining, I don’t have to work, I have childcare, my friend is available to go with me, and I have the aso ebi colors, I may attend. Thus, the invitee never responds one way or another.
Fourthly, there is willful disobedience – I recently experienced this at a wedding I coordinated. The couple, wanting a medium-sized but intimate wedding (not the kind where everyone is in attendance and the din is so loud you can barely hear what’s going on up front), requested that all guests respond on their website by a certain date. Well, guess who didn’t respond? - At least 120 of my people! By the hour of the reception, I was frantic – we had set the hall to seat 350 people and the crowd outside was easily 400 and counting. Initially, I tried to proceed to seat ‘our guests’ in an orderly fashion starting with the family and moving on to those who had bothered to respond. Before I could say, “stop right there,” the crowd had rushed in, everyone struggling to grab a seat. Needless to say, there were many left standing, disgruntled, and disappointed; especially non-Nigerians.
The mindset of the willfully disobedient is – “who is Mr. or Mrs. Celebrant to request a response? Is s/he not happy that I am planning to attend the ceremony at all?” “Who invites “adults only” to a wedding? Do they not want to bear children of their own?” Given this mindset, the African proceeds to change the rules to suit their concept of what is right which of course includes bringing along their friends, parapo, and kids. And as they walk in with their celebrant-coordinated aso ebi, they hiss, “RSVP ko, RSVP ni, you must be joking!”