Thankfully, Notes of Appreciation Never Go Out of Style

It may be one of the only aspects of civilized life that hasn’t changed much in more than a century: the thank you note.

Most etiquette experts (though not all) insist that the best way to say thank you is the same way Emily Post would have: with pen and paper.

For those with long lists of people to thank – such as the season’s crop of  graduates and newlyweds – the practice of writing a note, addressing an envelope, affixing a stamp and finding a mailbox seems as antiquated as driving a Model T – and so much more cumbersome than email, instant messaging or texting.

But experts say that a handwritten note adds a personal touch that electronic messages cannot match.

Thomas P. Farley, a manners and lifestyle expert in New York and editor of Modern Manners: The Thinking Person’s Guide to Social Graces, says the old-fashioned quality of a handwritten note is “part of its charm. It’s got your handwriting on it. It’s a piece of paper you have actually touched. It feels like a part of them that they are sharing.”

A good thank you note is a “keepsake” that you might hang on your refrigerator for a few days or weeks, says Lizzie Post, spokeswoman for the Emily Post Institute in Burlington, Vt.

“Did you ever print out an email and put it on your fridge?” she asks.

William Hanson, Britain’s 19-year-old expert on etiquette, writes in an email that if a relative has attended your graduation, “emails are too informal to express sincere thanks. Using an informal medium to … thank someone is demoralizing and plain rude.”

While most etiquette experts are unflinching about the need for handwritten notes, Rachel Weingarten, the author of Career and Corporate Cool, says that, in general, recipients should reflect the tone of the event in their thank you note. So, if the event involved an engraved invitation with calligraphy, you want a more formal handwritten note.

However, she says, for some events, a well-written email is OK. There is also an argument that it is more environmentally sound, although Weingarten acknowledges that this argument might be “laziness masked as something else.”

An older relative who enjoys talking on the phone might really appreciate a call instead of a note, says Weingarten, “but don’t sound like you’re dying to get off the phone.”

The laziest thank you Weingarten has heard of was from the granddaughter who wrote “Thank you, Nana” as she endorsed the back of her grandmother’s check.

“If I was her grandmother, she’s out of the will,” Weingarten says. “Her mother thought it was so industrious.”

In general, Weingarten said, a wedding is “an old-fashioned institution” and, therefore, merits an old-fashioned handwritten thank you note.

However, brides no longer have to write all those notes but can hand the groom’s relatives and friends to him.

“He’ll be able to write a more personal note because he knows certain people,” Farley says. “It’s a starter lesson for the splitting of responsibility.”

A few other tips:
– Farley suggests buying notecards in advance so you can start writing them right away.
– Post says all you need in a thank you are three good sentences, beginning perhaps with a line saying: “It was so lovely to see you” at whatever the event was. The gift should be mentioned, with a line about how you will use it.
– If the gift is a check, don’t refer to the amount in your note. Just thank the givers for their “generous gift” and add a line about how you might put it to use.
– If you absolutely can’t get a written thank you note into the mail, then do what you can. Farley says phone calls trump an email, unless the email is “gorgeously” written. But the phone call should be substantial – at least a 10-minute conversation.
– If you feel the need to thank someone immediately, send an email or make a phone call, most experts say, but follow up with a handwritten note.

Filed under:

Leave a Reply