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Snarky in the suburbs: In the world of thank-you etiquette, my mother is the lead teacher

The Kansas City Star

Have you written all your holiday thank-you notes yet?

Well, according to my mother, you better get on it. In fact, she would say you are coming awfully close to committing good manners suicide. Hello, Christmas was almost a month ago.

I can’t be the only one with a mother who is very passionate about the thank-you note. In fact, I think if you have a mom who hails from the South you were probably raised with what I call the “thank-you note threatdown.” This is when you get informed about a whole list of dire punishments coming your way if you don’t get your thank-yous done.

You see, for my mother, the thank-you note is more than a letter of gratitude. It’s the definitive statement on your upbringing. A mediocre thank-you note means many things about your family and none of it good.

My mother would say the top three things a so-so thank-you note indicates are:

1) You lack decent home training. This means your parents failed in their responsibility to teach you the most common of courtesies. It also means (according to my mom) you were probably raised that drinking beer out of can is acceptable, napkins are optional, RSVP means just show up if you feel like it and flip-flops at a wedding are “cute.”

2) Your character is flawed. If you never learned to write an adequate thank-you note, it’s a good guess you’re probably going to serve time, at the very least, in the county jail if not the state penitentiary.

3) Your family tree is suspect and inbreeding is a distinct possibility. I’ll never forget the time my mother received what she thought was a sub-standard thank-you note for a wedding present and her comment was “Well, you know that family has some cousins who married each other, so that explains a lot.”

I’m not exaggerating one bit when I tell you that my mother and her friends discuss the quality of the thank-you notes they receive — from the stationery (FYI, do not use a card that has “thank you for the wedding gift” preprinted on it. It could send any woman over 75 into cardiac arrest) to the penmanship. (Cursive lives, my friend, and its home is the thank-you note.)

About now you might be wondering what my mother considers a decent thank-you note. Let’s just say it’s not for slackers. To begin with, an acceptable thank-you note has four paragraphs. The first one is only for thanking the giver. It’s considered tacky to mention the gift in the first paragraph. You must build up to the gift. My mother believes the gift is secondary. What the note is really doing is acknowledging the giver’s thoughtfulness in thinking of you.

The second paragraph is where it’s OK to express your gratitude for the gift and how much you will enjoy using it, etc. The third paragraph is where you share a unique tidbit about how much the gift-giver means to you and the fourth and final (thank God) paragraph is where you wrap it all up and do another “thanks again” shout out.

But wait, there’s more. Those thank-you notes have to be written in a timely manner. You don’t get married and think you have months to get that chore done. Oh no, gift gets opened, thank-you note gets written. After I got married, my mother used to call me at work every day and badger me on the status of my thank yous. My co-workers didn’t believe my “sweet” mother could be that big of an etiquette bully, so one day I put her on speakerphone and I had colleagues stunned and speechless. You don’t mess with Texas or my mom.

All of this has made me a nervous wreck when my children write their Christmas thank-you notes to my parents. I don’t know where I went wrong, but for the life of me they can’t get the hang of the four paragraphs. They want to “21st century it” and go four sentences. No, no and no! This is our family legacy on the line. I will not be the one that lowers the standard. I fear a four-sentence thank you is the gateway drug to a total abandonment of any and all social graces. What’s next, texting a smiley face emoji as your expression of gratitude?

As I’m stressing out my son looks up at me and says, “Relax, Mom. It’s just a thank-you note, not the Magna Carta.”

What he doesn’t understand, and perhaps never will, is that for my mother this is her Magna Carta. A well-written thank-you note is her way of letting the world know she’s doing her part to make sure manners still matter.

Freelancer Sherry Kuehl of Leawood writes Snarky in the Suburbs in 913 each week. You can follow her on Facebook at Snarky in the Suburbs, on Twitter at @snarkynsuburbs and read her blog at She’s also written a book, “Snarky in the Suburbs Back to School.”

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