23 January 2018

Traditions That Need to Go Out of Style: Thank You Notes

Thank you notes. Were they foisted upon us by greeting card companies, or is there someone else I should blame?

I have nothing against thank you notes themselves, just the social compunction to write them. Most of the time, I still dutifully snail mail my "thank you's" when somebody gives me a gift. I guess it's a holdover from my more traditional days. But if this point of etiquette were to join those that have already fallen by the wayside, you won't hear a word of complaint from me. I don't think I myself have ever given somebody a gift and then been offended when I didn't get a thank you note, but I know plenty of people who have. And I'm wondering, why? It's really not that big a deal. If you're the giver, you're (hopefully) giving because it's more blessed to give than to receive, not to get a thank you. (You already know my views on feeling entitled to appreciation!) Not to mention -- if you're against telling lies -- how do you say thank you for a gift you hate, or already have three of, or are planning to return or give away? Awkward...

There's been somewhat of a trend in recent years toward digital thank you's -- ecards and whatnot -- but lots of people are still of the opinion that if you don't put a stamp on your expression of gratitude and mail it, then it doesn't really mean anything. Of course, I don't see the sense in this. In my opinion, it's not worth the time and postage to write and mail something that's just going to get glanced at and then tossed out immediately. It's not like the other person is going to keep it in their scrapbook forever or something. Well, maybe they will; who knows. People are strange.

The thank you note tradition is old and tired and suffers fatally from lack of originality, unless you're willing to invest some serious craftiness and/or brain power in being creative. Most of us, needless to say, are not. After you've said the obligatory "Dear (Their Name), thank you for the _______. It was so thoughtful of you", there just isn't that much left to say. This goes double if you don't know the person very well (Hello, wedding thank you notes!). By the way, if I had the wedding thank you note fiasco scenario to do over again, I would follow this piece of oh-so refreshingly commonsense advice by Bailey Steger. Why doesn't this occur to more of us, more often? Seriously.

(Helpful hint: Buy the smallest thank you note cards you can find. The recipients will think you just like cute, tiny cards, but you'll know it's really so you won't have to try to fill up vast stretches of white space with gratitude platitudes.)

A better alternative to the thank you note, I think, is to actually let the giver see you using and enjoying your gift, if possible. (Of course, if they live far away and they send you something by mail, a quick email or text to let them know of its safe arrival is probably courteous.) Even better, make them something. I personally have painted pictures for people who have given me paints and paintbrushes, or made desserts for people who have given me baking supplies. Stuff like that. But only if you have the time and you're so inclined. I think what makes an expression of gratitude "mean something" is when it comes from the heart -- not whether or not it goes through the Post Office!

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