How Not to Be an A-hole When…

… Receiving a Gift (Thank You Note Edition)

Perhaps I sound like a crank but I wonder if you could share your thoughts on gifts and thank yous. One more than one occasion, I have happily sent friends and friends of friends gifts for engagements and/or weddings. I had no expectation of being invited to the wedding, I was delighted to join in celebrating the news with them. Sadly, their lack of a thank you or acknowledgment of the gift resulted in my having to ask them if they did in fact ever receive it. I not only found this awkward, but it hurt my feelings and coloured my sense of them.

(For the record, I always either use their registry or send cash/donation as per their wishes. No large crystal fruit bowl unless they want it…)

With email, texts and a world of apps, is a timely thank you asking too much?

No, it is not asking too much. Acknowledging a gift is not an additional act of kindness; not letting the gift-giver know it has been received is generally not cool.

I will readily admit that I am old-fashioned in this regard; only a few people I know send physical thank you notes as often as I do. In addition to sending them upon receipt of a gift, I like to send them when I’ve been to a friend’s house for dinner or brunch, which admittedly isn’t required but is always appreciated.

When we’re talking about a gift that you have no knowledge that the other party has received, a thank you note is a must. Traditional etiquette experts usually suggest that if you are present when the recipient opens the gift, then a verbal thank you is sufficient. I still like to send one once I’ve had a chance to enjoy the gift and share how I plan to use it (especially if it’s a gift certificate). But that falls more in the “kind” realm than in the “not be an asshole” realm, so I’m not going to say it’s something everyone should do.

For those who aren’t in the habit of sending notes it can seem to be a bit of a time suck, but it’s really not that hard to do — it takes maybe seven or eight minutes (including writing the note and addressing the envelope), plus whatever time is necessary to drop it in the mailbox. Yes, there is the upfront step of purchasing a box of thank you notes (available at every drug store ever), and the additional step of ordering some stamps (a task that can be easily accomplished online, at least in the U.S.), so I suppose that first thank you note might involve a few extra minutes. But once someone has taken the first step, the rest is simple.

For those who balk at the idea of a paper note, there is, as you mention, an even easier way: write the sender an email. This is also a good option for those for whom funds are tight and thank you notes are a luxury item. It will take a little bit less time than a physical note and is generally less formal, so I’d recommend that anyone choosing this method take extra time to spell-check it and maybe read it aloud so it makes sense. An added perk of the email thank you note is the option of attaching a photo of the recipient enjoying the gift.

As for texts and apps, if possible I’d use those solely to let someone know that something has arrived. For example, I’ll text my mother when my birthday card or gift arrives in the mail so she can know it made it on time, and then send a proper thank you note after I’ve opened it.*

You did mention that part of your interest in this is that you don’t know if the gift has been received, so the above suggestion might help with that. And while I know that there are some ways that we can likely find out if a gift has been received — seeing a check clear on your bank statement, looking at the tracking number — that still relieves the recipient of acknowledging the consideration you took in sending it.

I suppose that someone could be reading this and argue that a required thank you note is meaningless because it should be heartfelt and thoughtful. The way I see it is someone showed me generosity, and I want to express my thanks to that person.

I understand that if you are raised writing notes it can be easy to feel put off by those who seem to be thoughtless, but I’d like to point you to my previous post: people are often not so much thoughtless or selfish as they are oblivious.I was raised writing thank you notes, and I genuinely enjoy coming up with ways to show my appreciation, but many people weren’t, or think that they just aren’t necessary. I don’t think that makes them assholes, but I do wish they’d reconsider.

So, readers, if you’re on the fence, or haven’t done this in years: please just send the thank you note.**


*I don’t send a thank you note when I receive a card. There are limits.

** And please don’t buy into the idea that you have a year from the wedding to send those thank you notes. If anything, those should go out quickly, as often people have spent some serious money to get the bride(s) and/or groom(s) something special, and even traveled a distance to celebrate in person. Please don’t leave them wondering if you received that place setting.

(One last thing – if someone is going through a crisis or emergency or any sudden life change, thank you notes are understandably not a priority. Don’t expect anything – at least not any time soon – if you drop off a lasagna or provide child care.)

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1 Comment

  1. Dave

    May 8, 2017 at 6:32 pm

    I find sending paper thank you to donors to my charity, is not only appreciated but it sets me apart from the other places they donate.

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