For years the thank you note was the lynchpin of the etiquette industry, but with modern technology demanding instant communications, it seems that sending a traditional letter could actually be viewed by some as bad etiquette.
In a recent article for T Magazine, Alexandra Jacobs points out that thank you cards can be seen as fussy in today’s world. Cards can take a few days to land in someone’s mailboxes, by which time they may have written you off as an ingrate with bad manners because you didn’t call or email with a simple “thanks.”
Some also cite the practice of writing thank you notes as an outdated, pretentious practice that only women are expected to maintain. Why bust out the Montblanc and monogrammed stationery when you can thank someone in person, or by text?
Personally, I think it depends on the situation. Not every encounter calls for a formal thank you card. For instance, a dinner party thrown by good friends can be honored with a bottle of wine and a phone call or text (assuming they use texting) the next day thanking them for a wonderful evening.
On the other hand, more formal occasions, such as a baby shower, wedding or charitable work, should call for a personal thank you card. Many times I’ve sent a gift and haven’t heard a peep from the recipient, which makes you wonder if they were rude, or didn’t receive the gift. I like to keep a stash of cards and stamps handy at home so I can quickly dash off a note and pop it in the mail right away. Don’t leave it too long—more than a week and the other person may feel slighted.
Of course, you needn’t send a card every time you get a gift. The above scenario refers to situations in which the presents are typically presented en masse and may perhaps be opened later. If, say, a pal sends flowers for your birthday, it’s better to call them up and thank them. No card necessary.
For job interviews, I do thinking sending a thank you card is a savvy move. If the card is thoughtful and has a nice print, the employer is likely to remember it and maybe even tack it up on their wall, which keeps you in their thoughts. But because hiring decisions can sometimes be made within days, I recommend having the card with you so that you can fill it out and put it in the mail as soon as you leave the interview. That way the interviewer will receive it the next day.
And don’t overlook creative ways to thank someone. For big favors, such as a week’s lodging in a friend’s house, a simple thank you—verbal or written on a Hallmark card—may not be enough. Jacobs recalls a friend who once thanked his hosts by tacking a funny autographed photo of himself—he was an actor appearing in the Fruit of the Loom commercials”—in one of their photo frames. Of course, leaving a photo of yourself behind may not be your friends’ idea of a gift (unless your name is George Clooney), but a tasteful fruit basket or gift certificate to a beloved restaurant should do.
On a related note, check out this article by the Wall Street Journal on online invitation services. Etiquette expert Lizzie Post decries the use of Evite, which lets people see the guest list, as it encourages people to base their response on who else is attending. What do you think?