It is really not hard to be a wedding guest. A glass of champagne, a sentimental tear if you can manage it, a warm word, another glass of champagne, a sometimes startling look at the other friends and relatives of someone you thought you knew well, a slice of cake and that's about it.

Why, then, have bridal couples and their guests conspired to pretend it is so difficult?Why do wedding hosts feel they are obliged to perform the guests' tiny share of simple duties as well as their own large and complex share? Why has it become so common for them to provide the responses to their own invitations and to choose their own wedding presents that many guests are flabbergasted when they don't?

Miss Manners would hate to think it is because the guests are lazy and the hosts unscrupulous. Even less would she like to think that the hosts don't believe their guests capable of being civil and that the guests don't care enough to try.

If either were true, she would advise a serious revision of the guest list. She prefers to think that the hosts are just so frantic when doing wedding-related tasks that they can't stop themselves, and the guests are afraid it would derail them to get in the way.

Even Miss Manners would demur if she felt this state of affairs made everyone happy. But hosts complain bitterly that their guests won't respond even when there is nothing to do but mail back a pre-written response, and guests complain just as bitterly that their hosts are exploiting them financially by announcing what they want to be given.

Miss Manners promises that they would all be better off with the guests' taking back their traditional tasks while the hosts worried about more important things, such as whether the cake or the marriage is going to collapse.

Here's what the guest has to do, in case everyone has forgotten by now. Not only is it a short list, but one can elect to do the first and skip all the others.

1. Answer the invitation, for goodness' sake.

These people want you at a major event in their lives. It's not too much to expect you to supply your own white paper, envelope and stamp to tell them yes or no. If someone asked you to go to the movies, would you answer only with silence?

All right, perhaps the form for responding to a formal invitation is not obvious, although it does follow the form of the invitation. A third person invitation ("Dr. Ginger Thorne and Mr. and Mrs. Mosely Skipper-Griffin/ request the pleasure of your company/ at the marriage of their daughter...") requires a third-person reply ("Ms. Jasmine Rumplestone and Mr. Jason Brickton/ accept with pleasure/ the kind invitation of /Dr. Thorne and Mr. and Mrs. Skipper-Griffin/ for Saturday, the eighth of June/ at seven o'clock/Church of the Inspiration").

By changing the second line to "regret that they are unable to accept," you free yourself from any obligation other than wishing the couple well (congratulating the bridegroom and giving your best wishes to the bride).

By accepting, you bind yourself to attending on the terms stated, which means that you cannot try to renegotiate, for example to bring another person or to order your meal.

2. Figure out for yourself what you would like -- and can afford --to give them that they might like to have.

If the answer is a resounding "Nothing!" it is a sign that you don't care about the people who are getting married. Either there is not enough friendship to justify your going to the wedding and you should decline, or it's a relative and you not only have to go but to fake caring.

In either case, if you don't know their taste or what they already have, you can ask someone who does. Or buy something that is conventional or easily exchangeable. Then send it, rather than bringing it to the wedding, where it is a nuisance at best and could easily get lost.

3. Show up on time, suitably dressed, with the right attitude.

As a serious commitment, accepting a wedding invitation is second only to accepting a marriage proposal. A wedding is not a drop-by-if-you-feel-like-it-at-the-time sort of occasion.

On time actually means slightly earlier, as you should be seated and through coughing when the ceremony starts. Weddings vary in formality but always require serious clothing within the chosen category, even if that means your best bathing suit for a beach wedding.

Except for those morally compelled to make public objections to the marriage, the guests should be silent during the ceremony but chatty during subsequent festivities -- which is to say that they should mix with the other guests and try to have a good time.

That's it. Is it really so hard?

Dear Miss Manners: Is it considered correct etiquette to order a hot cup of water with lemon at a restaurant to substitute for coffee or tea? I am rebutted by my family constantly when I do this; however, I do not enjoy the other drinks.

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Gentle Reader: Exactly who does your family figure is the victim of this supposed rudeness? The teapot?

Miss Manners supposes they are worried about the feelings of the restaurant owners, which they presume to be anguish over missing the profit they would make on coffee.

They really need not trouble themselves. If you were dining on water, rolls and ketchup, it is true that you should not be occupying restaurant space. But any reputable restaurateur expects to provide ordinary water, cold or hot, and would not want you to leave with a bad taste in your mouth.

Judith Martin is the author of "Miss Manners Rescues Civilization" (Crown). Judith Martin Dist. by United Feature Syndicate Inc.

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