While perusing the internet last week, I encountered a discussion about thank-you notes (on the inimitable Reddit). It was a suggestion that parents teach kids to write thank-you notes for their gifts, to foster a spirit of gratefulness when the kids are small.
It seemed pretty facile to me: write thank you notes, it’s polite. Easy enough, right?
And yet the responses to this suggestion were overwhelmingly “NOPE.”
Commenters went on and on about how it was just teaching kids to lie, how it was an out-of-date custom, how it’s just a form of parental extortion (write the note OR ELSE!), how nobody likes receiving those annoying formulaic notes anyhow, and can’t you just tell someone you liked their gift? Or, better yet, just keep sending presents and don’t you worry about whether or not I even liked it. Gimmie.
I was raised in a write-your-note-or-else house, and I’ve been pretty well indoctrinated. When I met my now-husband’s parents for the second time, they commented on how I’d written them thank-you notes…and how it made them feel guilty for not doing them. After writing the heap of notes for my wedding gifts, I’ve even developed a bit of a reputation as a writer of “great thank-you notes” (gee, exactly what I want to be known for).
So I fall pretty hard on the thank-you-note-writing side of the line.
I found myself wondering: am I making everyone uncomfortable by sending these notes, these notes I have been writing because I was taught that it was just the done thing, that I was a rude and ungrateful brat if I didn’t?
I took a poll of some friends and got a mixed bag: definitely for some occasions a note is welcome, getting mail that isn’t a bill is a nice thing, and a few “oops, I totally should have written that one.”
I admit one of the prime reasons I write thank-you notes is because I love getting mail. Physical mail, I heart you. I’m always thrilled to get something interested, something unexpected. It’s like mini-Christmas, every day of the year. (I seriously have a Birchbox just because I like to get the mail…)
I guess I agree with some of the complaints in the no-thank-you side: I think it’s weird when I get hand-written, formulaic thank-you notes from my mom via post office when I see her every week. And I think writing thank-you notes after a funeral gift is ridiculous and unfairly burdensome on the mourning, who have enough going on. I hate getting the literal fill-in-the-blank notes from little kids–or worse, the really-you’re-too-old-for-this teens (“Dear M.E., Thank you for the _____ I really loved it! Signed, Annoying Teenager”).
But all in all, I’m in favor of the thank-you note. Particularly because I don’t have much opportunity to see many of my friends and family right now; we live pretty far apart and see each other maybe once a year. The note is a way of saying “hey, you’re sweet to remember me! I got your gift! Also, I miss you.”
If it makes me outdated to like that, I guess I’m just going to have to be a bit musty, I suppose.
Where do you fall on thank-you notes: lovely courtesy or forced false gratitude?