Electronic thank yous

I’m going to make a bold statement here and contradict the etiquette mavens of this world by saying something shocking:

It’s all right to say thank you for a gift by email or telephone.

Especially if that makes the difference between saying ‘thank you’ promptly, and possibly not saying getting around to saying it at all. People are busy with kids, jobs, commitments; time is precious; not everyone has stationery or postage stamps at the ready.

But make it a good thank-you. A mundane, thanks-it-was-great, simply won’t do. Be enthusiastic. Tell them what you love about their gift. Make it lively enough and they won’t even notice the lack of a handwritten note.

One exception: weddings or other important gift occasions. If anyone has sprung for a ‘special occasion present’ for you, they deserve the courtesy of a written thank you.

Due to the ubiquity of electronic channels, I actually think some people are starting to expect their thank yous to arrive more quickly these days. Here’s a telling story: Last year I received a gift from a cousin, popped a thank you card to him in the mail the following day, and got a phone call from him that very evening, asking: had I received the gift? Yes indeed, I said, adding that (thank heavens!) a thank-you card was already winging its way to him. “Oh, I wasn’t ringing to be thanked,” he said, “I just wanted to be sure you’d received it.”

I had to bite my tongue from pointing out that, as he’d sent the parcel by special delivery, he could have used the tracking number and called the freephone service to find out whether it had been delivered. I guess he thought because he hadn’t heard from me within two days of the parcel’s delivery, that I probably wasn’t going to acknowledge his gift at all – and it obviously didn’t occur to him that someone would send their thanks by post. That’s how much expectations have moved within the last decade or so.


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