One of my Scottish blogger friends (and about-to-be-published author), Misssy M, wrote a blog post the other day ranting about the humble thank-you card. She says, in part:
Personally when I give a gift that’s it for me. Had a baby? There’s something nice for him/her. The End. Getting married? Thanks for the invite to the wedding, here’s a little something to show I appreciate the invite and to help you set up house (or a better equipped one than the one you’ve both been living in together for years anyway). Do I give a stuff if I get a card? It wouldn’t even cross my mind to be bothered about such a thing. If you’re offering a card, I’ll take it. If you’re not, then nae bother, because I wouldn’t notice.
She feels that “A gift should not engender an obligation”. I disagree.
I think we’re all under a certain amount of obligation to be polite, courteous and well mannered whenever we venture among our fellow human beings. Whether it’s surrendering your bus seat to an elderly woman or holding a door for a person laden with packages or saying please and thank you or eating things at a small dinner party that you don’t particularly like but will choke down anyway so as not to offend your hostess. These things are important.
Yes, manners and courtesy are a form of artifice. And, yes, you might feel like calling that dozy, slow-moving cashier some choice names, but instead you smile politely and thank her for taking your money.
Thank-yous for gifts are also in that category of “the polite/courteous thing to do”. No one gives a gift only to get a thank you card. They give a gift because they hope you might enjoy it. And though it may not occur to you, sometimes a gift is given mainly out of obligation — because someone has had a baby or is getting married and it’s the polite/courteous thing to do.
It’s little enough to say thank you or to write a note to acknowledge the gift and to thank the person for it. Gifting is not, I think, a one-way thing. It never has been and never should be. It’s a mutual exchange. Part of the joy of giving a gift is knowing you’ve pleased someone. If the receiver of the gift does not acknowledge the gift with a polite thank-you, they are not fulfilling their part of the accepted gift-giving ritual.
I do agree with MisssyM that if you give the gift in person and have received a verbal thank you, that should suffice. No card or follow-up phone call is required.
However, a while back I was invited to the wedding of the daughter of a good friend of mine. The invitation cards were very formal and high quality. The wedding was very formal. And it wasn’t a local wedding. So this meant traveling and staying overnight along with the usual new outfit expenses. I dropped the wedding gift on the big, designated gift table with all the other gifts and never heard another word about it. For all I know some other guest took it home.
MisssyM doesn’t understand why this should worry me. She feels that, “Thank you card sulks belong in the world of the petty.” So, I guess I’m petty, because I was a little miffed about never receiving a thank-you card. I think for some occasions – especially occasions when formal invitation cards were issued – I think a thank you card is the only proper way to express appreciation.
When I send my nephews a birthday gift, I don’t expect a thank you card, but it would be nice to get some sort of acknowledgement. Just a phone call to let me know the thing has arrived would suffice. Is that unreasonable?
Is it unreasonable for me to be irked when grown men push their way onto a bus ahead of older women or women with children? Is it unreasonable of me to expect a thank you when I hold a door for someone? Is it unreasonable of me to expect a thank you when I allow someone in line ahead of me? Is it too much to ask for one measly thanks when I feed a bunch of teenagers lounging around my place?
So, while these little courtesies may be old-fashioned and cumbersome and artificial, I think it elevates us just a teeny bit as civilized beings to hold on to them.
 This very topic was once discussed on an episode of Seinfeld. Jerry had been given front row tickets for some ball game with a half-promise of more tickets for the following Friday. The Friday tickets never materialize and George claimed it was because Jerry did not follow-up with a thank-you phone call. Jerry feels that’s ridiculous since he thanked the guy several times in person already.