Next month we have two weddings in our family. Needless to say, there has been a lot of talk about wedding stuff of late. So it wasn’t quite out of the blue when my wife mentioned the other day that we’d never gotten a thank you note for a wedding gift we’d given earlier in the year.
I needed to be reminded of both the wedding and the gift and took her word for it that we hadn’t gotten a thank you.
Because of our geographical remoteness we miss a lot of weddings and end up mailing the gift. “Maybe they didn’t get the gift,” I opined. My wife decided to get to the bottom of things and made a phone call that ran something like, “Just checking to make sure you got our gift.”
The answer surprised us.
“Yes. We got it. And thanks, really liked it.”
Call me old fashioned, but I think a handwritten thank you note is sort of nice. And although I guess that a verbal thank you is the ultimate personal touch, when you have to basically initiate it yourself it falls kind of flat. Even an e-mail would have been preferable.
At least we didn’t get a broadcast Tweet:
The bride and groom say thx 2 all u orsum ppl 4 all the gr8 gifts!
My wife and I had an interesting chat about what’s going on. Admittedly we don’t know the bride and groom all that well (we’re friends of the parents) but based on the rather scrupulous attention they seemed to have paid to all the other traditional aspects of the wedding (e.g., fancy invitations, registry, about a million wedding and honeymoon pictures on Picassa) we would have thought that thank you notes would be part of the package. Are they too busy? Did they forget? Were they mad at us for not coming to the wedding and just sending a gift? Or is etiquette sort of passé?
We raised the subject with some friends at a party and the response was basically I can top that!
One lady told the story about how she had sent a substantial gift certificate to her grandson in Australia for his twenty first birthday. About a month later, having heard nothing from the grandson, she called her daughter to see if he had mentioned receiving the gift. The daughter gave what now seems to be the standard reply, “Oh yeah, he got it. Thanks, Mom – that was very generous of you.”
Our friend inquired why the grandson could not have called to thank her and the daughter replied, “Oh come on Mom, he’s so busy. I’m thanking you now aren’t I?”
Most of the other guests had similar stories about recipients being “too busy” to say thank you. It sounds like this kind of behaviour is being normalized. Not acknowledging and thanking someone for a gift or a favour is no longer considered rude.
I think the term “too busy” is now actually code for “I don’t feel like it.” And the real root cause is a combination of not wanting to be bothered to take the time and the fact that, let’s face it, etiquette is pretty much a thing of the past. I did a little research and apparently the only place where thank you letters are still extant is after a job interview. And then only if you really want the job.
As disturbing as living in a busy, uncivil society is to me, I think I am more bothered by the underlying logic/philosophy of a thank you note free world. Because it means that (1) if you don’t want to do something you just say you’re too busy and it’s OK and (2) things like wedding/birthday/graduation gifts are so meaninglessly mundane people aren’t even thankful for them. It’s like the attitude is, “My job is to get married/graduate/have a birthday. Your job is to give me stuff.”
I’m not sure how we got to this point. I would love to embark on a rant about how technology is the root cause. After all, it’s not exactly unprecedented for people to merrily schmooze their virtual friends and attend to their Farmville holdings while ignoring their real friends (and lives).
But I think the demise of thank you notes, and etiquette in general goes farther back than the advent of social networking. It is not that everyone is rude and impolite, it’s just that most people today are clueless about etiquette. The world is full of super models but no well mannered role models for people to emulate.
A few years ago there were people who were known for their manner and class. Audrey Hepburn, Jackie O, Fred Astair, and David Niven were a few of them. But I’m fairly hard pressed to come up with a name for a currently living celebrity who embodies those traits. Maybe the Queen, but that’s her job, and anyway, she has a staff to do all that for her.
But I think the main reason it’s hard to name a public figure known for their politeness is because if they existed we wouldn’t know about them. The media aren’t interested.
Reality TV shows (too numerous to name, but Jersey Shore comes to mind) glorify bad behaviour. And I don’t know how good a chef Gordon Ramsey is—his reputation is his manners as far as I can tell and we seem to be geared up to reward him for abusing people. We have some friends who work in the restaurant business and they say that in the past couple of years, professional kitchens are increasingly stressful as Ramsey-esque behaviour has become the norm.
And shows like Survivor teach that you win by tearing down the competition, not by excelling yourself. The caring, polite person is portrayed as a loser. So is it any wonder people today are clueless about good manners.
Maybe I’m just have a gloomy outlook because of my recent discovery about King Arthur and our lack of modern heroes. But I’m not expecting many thank you notes from now on!