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Are thank-you notes a dying art? Readers, experts certainly hope not

A thank you card with holly and berries on a white fur background thank you card
A thank you card with holly and berries on a white fur background thank you card bigstock

Those friends and family you saw over the holidays, the ones who handpicked, wrapped and delivered gifts to you — have you thanked them properly?

We’re not talking about those two little words by text, phone call or email. We’re talking old-school, handwritten snail mail with their name and address in ink and a good ol’ stamp on the outside.

According to Janis Kliethermes, owner of Etiquette Kansas City, those thank-you notes should have been written before you even thought about taking down the tree.

But lately the problem isn’t how promptly they’re being written — it’s that they’re not being written at all.

Technology has turned what was once the norm into a tradition of the past.

“What has changed is a lot of people think it’s OK to email and text a thank-you,” Kliethermes said. “A handwritten thank-you note is still appropriate, and it goes a lot further these days.”

Weddings, baby showers, birthdays and job interviews all call for putting pen to paper as well, she said.

Kliethermes, who works with businesses on etiquette, was shocked to hear from a local human resources director that of the 100 applicants he interviewed for a job, only one sent a handwritten thank-you note.

“Whether it’s your boss, your client or your grandma, if you want to leave a lasting impression, take the time to write a handwritten note,” Kliethermes said. “It goes beyond a simple thank-you in person.”

Most gift givers still prefer a handwritten note: 56 percent who took The Star’s recent online poll on thank-you notes indicated so. But others simply want their gift to be acknowledged, no matter the delivery.

“Acknowledging gifts, and thanking people for them, is important, but I don’t see any reason it has to be a handwritten note,” said Ellen Kozisek of Kansas City, Kan. “And just saying thank you direct to someone seems more personal than sending a note.”

Such words would horrify the advice columnists who regularly appear in The Star.

Just last week, a reader asked Judith Martin, aka Miss Manners, if a thank-you was still expected for a gift.

“When gratitude is no longer required in response to generosity, Miss Manners will be sure to let you know,” Martin responded.

And here’s Jeanne Phillips, the columnist behind “Dear Abby,” on the topic:

“Not a day goes by that I don’t receive letters and emails from readers who are upset enough to write because they haven’t received a thank-you note for a birthday, graduation, wedding or holiday gift they sent,” Phillips wrote in a column.

“Some of the writers say they are so hurt and offended that they will stop giving gifts because they were left hanging, wondering if their gift was ever received. The problem may be that many parents no longer insist their children practice this courtesy, so the kids never learn how to do it.”

That was never a problem for Ramona Bradley of Columbia. She said she taught her kids to write thank-you notes when they were first learning to write. When they outgrew Santa Claus, she filled their stockings with blank thank-you notes for them to fill in. Her kids, now 31 and 29, are still following the tradition.

“I believe there is nothing that shows real appreciation as much as someone taking the time to hand write a thank-you note on paper or a card, addressing it, stamping it and putting it in the mail,” Bradley said.

Perhaps the problem is that people simply don’t know what to say.

“They think the note has to be a long, flowery composition when, in fact, short and to the point is more effective,” Phillips wrote.

Kansas City-based Hallmark makes it easy for those lost for words; the greeting card company devotes a page of its website to tips for crafting the perfect thank-you note:

“Phone calls, emails, text messages — they all get the job done. But a handwritten thank-you note says more: It tells our friends and family that we went out of our way to sit down and write just to them, because they’re worth it.”

Hallmark’s template: Greet them, express your thanks, add specific details to let them know you’re thinking of them.

In The Star’s poll, only 16 percent said that a text, email or phone call was an appropriate way to say thanks; 28 percent just wanted their gift acknowledged.

Regardless of what the gift-giver prefers, the fact remains that the thank-you lies in the hands of the recipient (or, let’s face it, their parents).

If you want to make a lasting impression or a heartfelt expression of gratitude, put down your phone, log off Facebook and get to writing.

“It will take you less time to write a thank-you note than it took them to pick out a gift,” Kliethermes said. “We’ve gotten lazy, and it’s the least a person can do.”

To reach Melissa Schupmann, call 816-234-4367 or send email to mschupmann@kcstar.com.

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