Etiquette News Flash: Saying “thank you” never went out of style

by epi on September 15, 2011

Q: What ever happened to a good old-fashioned “thank you”?  My mother taught me as a young girl to always to say thank you. Either in person or over the phone. When I got older, I started sending thank you cards. Now that I’m a mother, I am teaching my daughter to do the same.  But I can’t tell you how many birthday parties she has attended where no thank you was ever recieved. Have we become so busy that we don’t have time to send or even say “thank you”? It’s not just the children, it’s also adults. She has never even gotten a thank you card from her school teachers she has given special gifts.  Am I just too old fashioned?

A: No, you are not old fashioned. The general rule is that when you give a gift and the recipient opens it in front of you and thanks you at that time, no follow-up thank you is required, except for wedding and shower gifts. If you have sent a gift, or if the gift is opened at another time, then the recipient should call or write to express his/her thanks.

{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

Andy September 15, 2011 at 10:06 am

Phew, one less thing for polite people to be outraged about! A thank you card isn’t required for every single gift one receives.

Is it me, or are most etiquette questions about how to control or react to others’ behavior, and not how to comport oneself? I’m the first to say that good manners and common courtesy are important (including sending thank you cards for appropriate occasions), but it seems that some are so militant about etiquette that they spend more time miffed about perceived slights than just enjoying life. If a teacher doesn’t send a thank you card when they’ve thanked your child in person, is it really such a big deal?

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Just Laura September 15, 2011 at 10:10 am

My mother is a 6th grade teacher, and while she is adamant about thank-you cards, she doesn’t send them to students when they give end-of-the-year gifts. The reason is that those gifts are thanking her for teaching the students (they either say things such as Thanks, Teacher! or have little cards reading something along those lines). A thank-you for a thank-you is a bit redundant.

…though my grandmother has always sent thank-yous for thank-yous in a never ending cycle (she’s funny like that). The Post Office loves her.

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Winifred Rosenburg September 15, 2011 at 10:22 am

I respectfully disagree. My mother is also a teacher, and she sends thank-you notes to every student who gives her a gift. (When I was younger, it was a ritual that my sister and I would “help” her open the presents while she made a list who gave her what so she could write thank-you notes when we were finished.) Gifts that aren’t opened in front of the giver require thanks regardless of the reason for the gift. If the person gave you a card or a thank-you note, written thanks would not be required, thus ending the cycle.

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Just Laura September 15, 2011 at 10:31 am

I’m sorry I didn’t explain better – all gifts are opened in front of the students, so that the students may be thanked immediately and in-person. Last I checked, other gifts (birthday, holiday gifts) are not allowed by the school as it could be perceived to have an influence on grading.

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Winifred Rosenburg September 15, 2011 at 10:38 am

I imagine it depends on the school, but in New York City gifts under a certain value are allowed. My mom usually gets holiday gifts. There’s no grading issue with her because she’s a resource room teacher so she doesn’t grade students.

Jodi Blackwood September 15, 2011 at 2:43 pm

In regards to teachers giving notes to students for their end of year gifts, while they may not be necessary, they are so loved by the kids. Typically, it is the younger ones who do the gifting, and to receive a “thank you, I’ve enjoyed having you in my class, I hope you have a wonderful summer” note from their teacher is something they treasure. It also sets a good example.

Andy, in response to your comment, I do agree with you, somewhat. My approach to etiquette is that it is about putting yourself out there in the best possible way, using courtesy and friendliness and treating others with respect, while still being yourself and having fun. While you can influence others, the only person you can control is yourself. How you react to comments, how you conduct yourself in difficult situations, and the manner in which you treat others are all things that you are going to be judged on, and even if you are not precise in your “etiquette”, I think the saying by Maya Angelou is something to keep in mind … “People may not remember what you said or did, but they will always remember how you made them feel.”

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Andy September 15, 2011 at 3:54 pm

Jodi, I’m sure kids would love to get a thank you card! That would definitely be thrilling. Sending one is never “wrong,” but it’s not always required, and it seems unfair to judge others based on a bar one has set high for oneself.

My comment wasn’t only referring to this particular question; I’ve noticed that a lot of the questions are people upset with or wanting to change others’ behavior, and sounding like they just want to be right. While the hard feelings usually sound completely justified (but not always, as in this case), I feel that some people wield etiquette like a hammer, looking down on others who blundered but probably meant no offense, or who, unfortunately, just don’t know better. None of us is perfect, and I’m sure there are situations we all could have handled better, but it seems so pointless to beat people up about it (figuratively), or dwell on it. I like your philosophy, and your quote pretty much sums it up.

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Winifred Rosenburg September 15, 2011 at 4:29 pm

On the plus side, if one knows all the rules, one never has to worry about accidentally offending someone. People might get offended anyway, but then the person can be comforted by the fact that etiquette agrees he or she didn’t do anything wrong and not dwell on it.

Without rules, there’s a lot of guesswork and one person might guess something should be done while another guesses it shouldn’t, leading to hurt feelings. Obviously, none of us is perfect and mistakes will happen, but etiquette also teaches us how to remedy our mistakes.

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Jodi Blackwood September 15, 2011 at 4:42 pm

Thanks, Andy.

I understand what you are referring to, which is why I emphasize that good “etiquette” pertains to one’s own actions, and a part of etiquette is making others feel comfortable, especially in your presence. If this means tolerating someone’s lack of knowledge or slip of the “rules”, then so be it. The world will not end, things will move on, and you have the choice to fret about it or let it go.

Our lives are about choices … what kind of an impression do you want to make on others, and how do you wish to be remembered?

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Vanna Keiler September 17, 2011 at 12:25 pm

Excellent response Jodi! I think you summed up the essence of what EPI and other etiquette training programs try to convey: not judgment of others but rather using scenarios (and real-life situations) as reflection for self-evaluation and improvement. I believe etiquette and advice columns differ in this respect: the former tend to focus on a universal answer regardless of the details of the social issue, and the latter specifically addresses a person’s personal dilemma, and what that advice columnist would do herself/himself should he/she have been faced with the same situation.

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Jodi Blackwood September 18, 2011 at 1:40 pm

Thank you, Vanna — I appreciate your kind words!

I like your differentiation between etiquette and advice columns. I guess I combine the two. Our society — our world — is not what it used to be, when the rules of etiquette were of such vital importance, and I think when a question regarding a specific problem or situation is asked, it is important to consider the specifics, rather than apply a blanket response. Sometimes we all just don’t fit under that blanket!

Cindy Post Senning September 18, 2011 at 9:32 pm

What a thoughtful discussion. Thank you all for your comments about etiquette and advice. Allow me to jump in. When I talk with kids (which I do often) I like to focus on an equation: Etiquette = principles + manners. The are all essential to the equation or else the equal sign doesn’t work. Both the fundamentals (the principles) and the specifics (the manners) are essential components of etiquette. The principles are timeless and universal; the manners change over time and from culture to culture but are always grounded in the principles. The manners are what we use to live out the principles in all our relationships. They may change over time but are necessary regardless of the time or place. That is why there isn’t always a specific easy answer! In any case, I do appreciate your thoughts and your willingness to engage in the discussion!

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Shannon September 19, 2011 at 3:44 pm

Just a thought. Kids today get SO many gifts all the time that they are not learning to appreciate or be grateful. Having them send thank you notes is a great way to teach them these skills, along with writing skills and perhaps getting them off of the computer or video games for a while. I don’t have children but have been helping my nieces and nephews write cards to people at very early ages. We cut out pictures and if they can’t write yet then I ask them what they want me to say. They become treasures for the receiver. I personally feel that not having to send out thank you notes is just another way Americans have become lazy. It does not take that much time and means a lot to the person who picked out a thoughtful gift.

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Vic October 21, 2011 at 10:57 am

My Aunt, Taught me that every act of kindness that took more than 10 minutes required a Thank You. And a written Thank You. If, someone did something for you, then you needed to take the time, something we all have, to write and Thank them for what ever it is they did. Still do this 55 years later. And told by many friends I’m the only one who takes the TIME to Thank them for what they do. With E-mail Thank You cards now it is easier then ever to Thank someone. Friends without E-mail get a card in the mail.

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