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The Art of Thank You: Etiquette from Days Past

Once upon a time, in a land far away, people would say “thank you” after receiving gifts….

There is an old-fuddy-duddy that lives inside me, and just to appease her, I recently looked up “modern etiquette.” As it turns out, modern etiquette is very much the same as old-fashioned etiquette. The differences arise around issues that were not present in, say, 1922, when Emily Post’s book, Etiquette in Society, in Business, in Politics, and at Home, was first published. Online Facebook or Twitter etiquette, cell phone etiquette, dating etiquette, etc. are new territories. Even “women in the workplace” is not exactly covered in the old books.

Emily Post

Aside from these aspects, manners are still the same. For example, if someone gives you a gift, you say “Thank you.”

How you say thank you is up to you. In 2007, Oprah (and she is the boss on this stuff) had a few experts weigh in on the topic of saying thanks. Here, three experts give their view on electronic thank you’s, like sending a FB message, e-mail, or instant-message. In this day and age, when people connect online so often, it is my opinion that digital “thank you’s” are completely appropriate. The experts agree—IF the person you are thanking spends a lot of time online. I think it is also appropriate to consider the generation of the person you are thanking. Even though Great Aunt Agnes is pretty hip to electronics, she might still be expecting a thank you in the mail.

All three experts seem to agree that while an e-mail is fine, a handwritten note is great. Why be ordinary when you you can go the extra mile to show someone you appreciate their thoughtfulness?

Here are my rules for proper thank you’s (keeping in mind that sending a thank-you–of any kind–is the important thing):

If you got a gift in the mail, respond immediately. Let them know you got it, please. I actually did send a necklace to a friend for her bridal shower since I couldn’t fly in for the occasion. I didn’t double check the address (my bad) and sent it to her old address. She never got it, I never knew, etc… Now, every time I send something in the mail I think, “Did she get it?” If you don’t send it right away, you will forget. Emily Post says no more than a week should go by before you send your thank-you.

Respond in kind. If you receive an electronic invite to the party/event, you can expect to receive an electronic thank you. The e-nature of the invite dictates the informal thank-you response. Taking a picture of you with the gift (or your child) and sending it along with a FB message or e-mail is a nice touch.

If, however, you send out a paper invitation, you need to send out a paper thank you. Having a flashy invitation should not be more important than showing gratitude to people for their attendance and gift (besides, now is your chance to send an equally cute/clever thank-you). A paper invitation and postage tells people that stationary, propriety, creativeness, personal correspondence, etc. are important to you. You cannot fall short on thanking them in the same way.

Weddings require a paper thank-you, always. People spend money on your wedding: dressing appropriately, driving/flying to the event, gift, time, open bar, tips for bartenders or valet, wedding dollar dance, hiring a sitter, etc. NOT sending a proper thank you is tacky and in poor taste. I have never been to a wedding where I received an electronic invite–all have been fancy paper invitations–but I have been to some where I haven’t been thanked for my gift (even by e-mail). This leaves me wondering, “Did they not get my gift? I spent good money on it. It’s what they asked for and I put it on the table.” Not good. Once, I was thanked in a Christmas card, a year later, for sending a gift when I could not go to the wedding. The thank you came a year later, but at least I knew the gift had been received.

I think I will do a post on wedding etiquette. It needs to be addressed….

Sending a thank-you for someone’s time or thoughtfulness is a classy move. Trying to get that job, a promotion, someone unexpectedly picked up the tab at dinner, that lady in the office brought in doughnuts? Send a note, one way or the other, thanking a person for spending time with you or doing something thoughtful. It doesn’t have to be elaborate but it will be remembered when the time is right.

Returning to etiquette makes things less complicated. Having a protocol to follow, while seeming stuffy, is actually relieving. It takes the guessing out of life and it makes things simple. As a lover of giving gifts, I take it personally when I don’t hear from a person. I would always prefer to see the reaction in person. I really do make a huge effort to find something I think the person would love, the perfect gift. If I never hear from the person, I feel like I made a mistake. There have to be other people out there like me in this manner. Why not avoid hurt feelings? Saying thank you does just that.

book give away

Even if time has gotten away from you, and you feel like it has been too long, send the thank-you anyway…

Enter our Giveaway!!  Win your very own hardback copy of the book, The Art of the Handwritten Note: A Guide to Reclaiming Civilized Communication by Margaret Shepherd, and beautiful stationary, courtesy of the Oxford Exchange.

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  1. Theresa /

    Worst thank you gaff: forgetting to thank interviewers after a job interview.

    • Jennette Cronk /

      Good one, Theresa!! It is really important to follow up after an interview.


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