Gimme, Gimme Nevergets

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.[1]

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. 


[1] 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.

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29 responses to “Gimme, Gimme Nevergets

  1. A gift imposes the obligation on the recipient, and if the recipient doesn’t want to return the favour they can either reject the gift (offending the giver), or accept the gift but not reciprocate (offending the giver).

    There is a type of person who will compulsively give gifts, expecting something in return (and being indignant behind the recipient’s back when this is not done). I am not such a person. By reciprocating (with a thank-you card or another gift), I’d only be leading them on and encouraging them to give me more gifts and suggesting I would reciprocate in future cases. Best to nip it in the bud at the first gift and reject, or accept but not reciprocate. You offend them, but not after building up any expectations.

    Favours are another thing, which I almost always return. These are not spontaneous; they’re usually in response to a request from the recipient, which carries with it an implicit agreement that it will be reciprocated.

    I will give away stuff I found for free. I make it clear that they are doing me a favour by clearing something unwanted from my apartment, and I am returning this favour by giving them this item. I also make it clear that I got it for nothing and gave it away for nothing. In both cases, the transactions have a zero balance and create no obligations for either party.

    – RG>

  2. Do we have the same nephews? They drive Mom and me crazy. Ane we’re all even facebook friends. They could just do a facebook quickie “thanks for the Christmas/birthday/graduation gift”
    But nothing. Hope it wasn’t lost in the mail.

    I sent thank-you cards for my wedding, baby shower and graduation gifts, but never send them for anything else. I do wax on enthusiastically to the giver next time that I talk to or see them about whatever I got for Christmas or my birthday.

    My MIL sends us thank-you cards for just coming by to visit. They are very sweet, but seem to just make us feel guilty for not visiting more often.

    Some months after my father died Mom told me I should have sent thank-you cards to folks that had sent flowers to the memorial service. At that point I had no idea who had sent the flowers. I was bereft and rather mad (in the old Lewis Carroll sense) at that point and had hardly considered the memorial service a social event. Besides, my brother was the one that decided on the memorial service (Dad had always said he wanted an Irish type wake) so I didn’t see why I should feel guilty about that.

    In general though, common courtesies are very important and they put the “civil” in “civilization.”

  3. Ha! You know I actually agree with everything you say here. I do! My problem with the thank you card is that some people get very upset. My kids always phone people to thank them when they get gifts. Me and my husband thanked everyone when we got married with special little cards. And I really did think that I had written a thank you card to everyone who I received a gift for both my babies. Yes, it’s only polite to say thanks. Absolutely.

    However, a person who I’ve always wondered why she is so cool with me, apparently told someone recently that she was miffed because she had never received a card from me after she had given my (now 12 year old) baby a gift. She is still pissed off at this. I don’t remember the gift. Hell I don’t remember much about that time. And I do object to the pettiness of this.

    Always say thanks- but does the medium matter? And if someone forgets, is it really that terrible?
    (I note with interest however, that this self same person is yet to send her cards out after the birth of her first child some four months ago….)

    Oh and now I read Geewits comment and there’s another social nightmare to look forward to- funeral thank yous! Who knew? I’m off to live in a cave and seal off all contact with society.

  4. I’m convinced thank-you cards are a habit women have invented in the past 200 years, so they can lord it over us men and make us look bad). 😉

    Sure, giving thank-you cards is the nice thing to do. But I agree with Missy M.

    When you give a gift, it should be unconditional, with no conditions and no strings attached. Yes, it would be nice to be thanked. But you shouldn’t expect something in return.

    If the giftee isn’t grateful, it’s up to you how to decide how to deal with it.

    Like the year my screaming free-range nephew had a tantrum and didn’t want me to play with him, with the Hotwheel track I gave him for Christmas.

    Well, Uncle Friar was NOT amused.

    Needless to say, the next few holidays and birthdays after that, the gifts weren’t quite so spectacular.

  5. Reminds me I need to mail the note to my grandfather…

    I think it depends on the occasion. If it’s a kids birthday party, then no I don’t expect a card. But a wedding or a shower where gifts are de rigueur expected (and if significant money was expended to be there — travel) I expect some sort of written recognition. Email may be acceptable depending on the situation.

  6. Grouchy – You’re a laugh riot. But speaking of reciprocating, one thing I dislike about gift giving is when it’s gift-exchanging. Like Christmas. I find that so silly. “Here, I spent $50 on something for you; now give me the thing you spent $50 on for me”. I’d much rather give a gift when it’s not expected, therefore removing any obligation for a reciprocal gift. But it’s all part of the social dance. Like Geewits said, it’s the “civil” in civilzation.

    Geewits – I think the funeral thing is optional. No one expects close family members to be in a position to observe social nicities in that situation. However, I found it gave me something concrete to do after all the hoopla was over, though lord knows what I wrote in those cards or if any of them got to the right people. The nephews’ parents ought to be smacked for not teaching their kids some manners, though.

    Sean – Apparently not. I’ve noticed a serious decline in manners/courtesy in the last 20 years — and not just from kids.

    MisssyM – No, no. You can’t just come here and agree with everything after I went and disagreed with what you said. That’s not at all how a discussion functions. And your miffed friend, I’m sure has sent out her thank-you cards, but just has not sent one to you as payback. Payback is also quite a social faux pas, however, because one must always rise above and deport oneself according to the rules of etiquette regardless of how badly used one has been in the past.

    Friar – Yes, I’m sure women invented the thank-you card ritual because women have always striven to add beauty and refinement to the human condition — not to make men look bad, but to elevate them (and themselves) a bit from their barbarian roots. Anyway, so a gift is unconditional except that the recipient had better be grateful for it and demonstrate that gratitude by immediately making full use of that gift with you in attendance?? That seems like an even thicker string to attach to a gift than the expectation of a simple thank-you. I, on the other hand, don’t care what someone does with the gift I give him/her. Sure it would be nice if they actually liked it, but if not, then it’s my fault for not choosing well. I’m only asking for an acknowledgment that they received the gift and a wee thanks to me for giving it.

    Nat – Right, I don’t expect a card per se either. The wedding thing, I think thank you cards were mandatory given how the rest of the event was conducted. For every day gifts, just a verbal or email or even FB thanks is fine. Oh, and how about this — a woman at work, when on Friday afternoon you say to her, “Have a nice weekend!” She says, “thank you, I will”. ??? How odd is that? Everyone else says, “Thanks, you too.” right??

  7. I’m all for thank yous and thank you notes when appropriate and actually find I get and send more of them now there’s email. I don’t know if it’s only in my circle, but it has become a habit when invited to dinner or a party or whatever to send a thank you email the next day – which I think was how things were done eons ago, ‘cept with snail mail. I never did it before email (other than to thank them when leaving) but it has become par for the course now.

    But if someone (Like MisssyM’s “friend”) is miffed for years because they didn’t get a thank you for a gift, they have serious issues that need taking care of.

  8. I believe in thank yous, I always send them and I expect a thank you when I give a gift (any kind of thank you whether it’s a phone call, in person, written or email it doesn’t matter).

    I’ve noticed that fewer thank you notes are being sent out. My children are young and it’s very rare that thank yous are sent out after birthday parties they attend, it’s something that bothers me. Parents go to great lengths to throw a big bday party for a five, six, seven year old, invite lots of guests, receive lots of presents and then don’t have their child send out thank yous? What is that teaching them? I’ve always made my children send out thank you notes even if they simply coloured on them and I wrote them, it’s important to acknowledge another persons generosity and kindness not only for the gift but for attending your event!

    While we are at it, I am equally as bothered that fewer people are saying ‘Mrs/Mr’ or ‘Sir/Maam’.

  9. Regarding the Hotwheel Track. I dont’ care if they liked it or not. With kids these days, it’s hit and miss.

    And besides, the kid was actually quite pleased with it, and let me set it up for him, right away.

    But then I had the audacity to send a car down the track while he was playing with the lap counter.

    And this touched off a tantrum. Apparently, Uncle Friar is to look, but not touch.

    And of course, instead of telling the little urchin to chill out, and learn to share, Mommy came to his defense, and I was the villain.

    Hmph. So much for bonding with my nephew.

    I think I gave him books the next time.

  10. I agree tat the thank you for a personaly given gift i enough and no note need follow. At the formalized wedding though the couple have almost certainly got a batch of thank you notes along with the high zoot invitations so there is really no excuse for not proffering a thank you.
    As for general politeness it may in fact be on the decline but then recently I have noticed a quite irritating phenomenon. Young boys and pretty girls are now starting to hold doors open for me and saying you go first sir. Egads, what has happened? I will never understand the younguns.

  11. I have to agree with Missy. When I give a gift (or drop it on the gift table) that’s the end of it. If you like it, perfect. If you don’t then regift it. I walk away with no expectation. Why? Generally speaking, the majority of thank you cards seem to be written out of a sense of obligation. Occaassionally you will receive one that’s warm, appreciative, thoughful and SINCERE.
    I rarely (okay….never) send out thank you cards but I always let folks know that I appreciate anything they take the time to give me.
    I also insist that my 15 year old make thank you calls to anyone who sends him a gift. If it’s a gift card he let’s them know what he intends to purcahse with it. My hope is that he will apprecaite the thoughfulness and hopefully will raise his children the same way.
    I think there is a distinction between not being thoughtful and being rude. Someone jumping ahead of you on the bus or not saying thank you when you let them ahead of you in a line is simply rude. To not give up your bus seat to an old lady is not being thoughtful. (Double negative?)

  12. Oh, I’m a huge fan of the thank-you card. Huge. I really *do* appreciate getting invited to parties and dinners and getting bday presents, and I let that person know how much I appreciate it, immediately. That way maybe they’ll invite me back! Of course, not everyone can read my handwriting. I sent a card to my friend Mr. Dibble after his New Year’s Day party and he emailed his inamorata, and cc’d me:

    “Come to my hand this date is a missive from our dear friend Ellie, possibly a nice thank-you note for our swell party; alternatively a note threatening violence against the person or our cat. Your graphological expertise should clarify things. Until then, I will keep a close eye on Hannah.”

    He’s very cheeky, but you can tell he was glad to get my note. Um, I think.

    Finally, I think if it’s a gift-to-gift exchange, like Christmas, no thank you note is needed.

    The End.

  13. Meh.
    But I do agree with the Friar. Thank-you cards must have been the invention of a female of the species. My sister is big on cards for every freakin’ occasion and gets pissed at me if I don’t coerce my kids into sending back neat little notes whenever she send gifties.
    I figger an email is fine. Or an appreciative nod in her direction. That works too.
    And BTW, we men don’t necessarily want to be elevated “a bit from their barbarian roots”. We kinda like those roots – thank-you very much!
    Hey – I just thanked you. But in a sarcastic way! Should I follow this up with a card? Should you follow this up with a “you’re welcome”?
    It all becomes a vicious circle!

  14. I think it’s just plain rude not to send a thank you card for a wedding gift, especially if you came from out of town.

    I do agree that it can be quite the production though. Having just been married and seeing the effort that my wife put into keeping track of the gifts and sorting out who gave what and making sure the gift was mentioned in the response, I can understand the people who think it’s a bit much.

    Overall, I think people like receiving cards, so what’s the harm?”

  15. Jazz – Ya, I think that’s nice, too – to get a little email or FB note the day after a dinner or party saying thanks for a lovely evening. It might make no rational sense, but I appreciate knowing that people I invite to my home were pleased to be invited and/or at least are thoughtful enough to pretend they were pleased. (also, I’m pretty impressed that you have a “circle”.)

    Betsy Mae- I agree. There are definitely still occasions when a thank-you note/card is the only appropriate gesture. Most of the time a verbal thanks is okay, but after a party or other special event a special thank you is in order.

    Friar – Ah! So it wasn’t about gratitude for the gift, it was just about the kid being a little selfish with his toys and not letting you play. Ha ha.

    Dave – You must mingle with a better class of younguns than I do. I reckon everyone younger than me (unless they’re physically impaired in some way) should give me the right of way. I always give way to anyone I believe to be older than me — sometimes I deliberately give way to people who are probably my age but are trying really, really hard to look young. It’s fun because it gets their back up.

    Salayna – Of course thank you cards are sent out of obligation and many verbal thank yous are given out of obligation. That’s the whole point. As courteous civilized beings, we are obliged to follow certain social customs — because it just makes things nicer all around. And for the same reasons that you make your child do the thank you calls. If I know someone who’s given me or my child a gift would be really thrilled with a thank you card, I will sent a card. If I think they’d think I was weird if I sent a card, I just call them or send them a thank you email. And I think it’s rude not to be thoughtful enough to say thank you or to not give up your seat on a bus to an elderly person. Does that make sense?

    Ellie – It’s so nice to hear people are still sending hand written thank yous. And yes, if someone invites you to their home and feeds and entertains you, it’s unforgiveable not to acknowledge that the next day with a thank you of some sort. Hardly anyone does it anymore though.

    Trashee – Yes, very amusing. The thank-you should be commensurate with the gift or gesture or event. If you’re out with your buddies and one guy buys a round, do you just suck it back, wait for someone else to buy your next drink, or do you say “thanks” and/or buy the next round? It doesn’t have to be a big production, but there are certain social expectations involved in almost all our social interaction. I expect you to say “sorry” if you bump into me or step on my foot — not give me a dirty look for being in your way. And, I think you men would be in a sorry state if women hadn’t been working their asses off all these many, many centuries to elevate you. You’d all still be living in caves, eating raw muskrat and bathing in your own urine.

    Schmutzie – Why THANK YOU! And thank you to whoever tossed the blogpost into the ring.

    Justin – Usually the bridesmaids are supposed to be keeping track of the gift thing. Their job is to collect all the cards that come with the gift and write down exactly what was in the gift that person gave. Then, after the honeymoon, the bride and groom should sit down and write personalized little notes thanking each person for whichever gift they gave. This is even easier if the couple was registered and had a list of demands, gift-wise. The registry keeps track of who bought what.

  16. I have rarely in my life sent a thank you card, I can’t even manage to do holiday cards, birthday cards or anything else card wise. I am not a big gift sender either and I am okay that people do not gift me back, just what on this earth do any of us really need? I do however think people should have some basic manners. I say please and thank-you to everyone I come in contact with everyday. I say excuse me if I walk in front of someone looking at something. I give the friendly hand wave when someone allows me in front of them in traffic. I have found that younger people show more manners than the older generation, what the hell is up with that? Last night at the library some 30 something guy let the door slam in my face when I had an arm full of books, I was rescued by a kid that couldn’t have been 17 who jumped up from a nearby bench where he and his friends were talking to open the door for me and asked if I needed further help. I thanked him, told him his mother raised him right or he was just turning out well all on his own. He laughed and said you are welcome and went back to his friends. I don’t get people, how hard is it to hold a door? To say excuse me and thank you? These of course are the same people that complain about bad the world has gotten. Asshats.

  17. Never had muskrat before. As a rule, I only eat varmints when absolutely necessary.

    But hey, if it werent’ for us men, we’d still be living in thatch huts, and deciding whether to colonize the New World.

    But then again, if women weren’t around to moderate things, we’d be a smoking radioactive crater, right now.

  18. XUP – http://dilbert.com/strips/comic/2009-12-25/

    Betsy Mae – I’ve lately avoided trying to use Mr/Mrs/Sir/Maam because names are no longer as predictable (foreign or ambiguous) for people I haven’t met, and some women (including my late mother) get very angry if you incorrectly choose between Mrs/Ms. Similarly, some Ph.D.’s sternly suggest that they are “Dr.” Such-and-such if you choose the wrong salutation (again, my mother did this).

    Incidentally, the fifth anniversary of my first Wikipedia edit is coming up next month, and I’ll be expecting gifts from everybody who has commented on this post. Cash bar, no free parking available.

    – RG>

  19. It’s all about respect (which is allied with honesty). You can try to teach respect to others and sometimes the message sticks. But it seems to me that some people are either naturally respectful or not. It’s the same as picking up your dog shit. I pick it up because I have respect for the people who come after me AND I have respect for the planet as a whole and think of the dog shit as litter or garbage that would not be there if it weren’t for me. I don’t pick up bear shit because I didn’t have anything to do with the bear being there. (Sorry, but I was thinking “do bears shit in the woods” etc. I’m also on a dog shit rant these days, as you can tell.)

  20. >>Gifting is not, I think, a one-way thing.

    I disagree, partly.

    When someone gives me a gift, I tend to feel obligated. Because of this, I actually don’t really like getting gifts except from the people closest to me that seem to give gifts the way I do. If someone outside that circle gives me a gift, I know they mean well, but I have to assume they’re imposing some kind of obligation on me.

    When I give a gift, I give it from the heart. There is no obligation, it is yours to use or not as you see fit. I expect nothing in return except continued friendship.

    To me, imposing an obligation on the recipient is just evil, even if the giver is not consciously intending to do so. Ditto for imposing an obligation on the gift giver – I loathe the idea that because someone sends me an invitation (wedding, baby, birthday, graduation, whatever) I am obligated to respond with a gift. If I wanted to give someone a gift, I’d do it without being asked or reminded. That’s also part of the reason I hate Christmas with passion.

    In effect, I agree with the Scottish blogger (perhaps because my ancestry is Scottish?): a gift should not engender obligation. Unfortunately it does with most people and that really detracts from the spirit of gift giving.

    I just gave away 28 store-bought DVDs from my collection. I expect nothing in return, but perhaps a smile from the people who took them and will watch them.

  21. Trashee – Okay then..

    Cedar – Ya, I’ve noticed a lot of old men who are really rude and push their way onto buses and into seats and ahead of people through doors. It’s like once they lose their wives they lose all civility, too.

    Friar – Yes, we each have our strengths and our weaknesses and once upon a time (not since the advent of Christianity) we each had our roles according to those strengths and weaknesses. Then we got really messed up and then in an attempt to correct that we got completely muddled and now, we can’t work effectively anymore individually or together.

    Grouchy – Ya, it’s best if we just address each other as “hey you”

    Julia – Oh! I’d like to hear your entire dog shit rant. Do you want to do a guest post since you never blog on your own blog anymore? That would be fun.

    Squid – Yes, that’s all very sensible, in theory. But manners, courtesy, politeness, etiquette, et al are not necessarily about what is true philosophically or what makes you, personally feel good. Stuff like thank you cards are, as I said, a social artifice. Of course, morally, a gift should come with no strings attached, but in reality, in our culture, there is a certain ritual involved with gift-giving and receiving. There are socio-cultural expectations. Let’s take this gift you say you give from the heart. Something you have chosen with care and thought and hopes of bringing joy to the giftee. And you actually believe that once you’ve given that gift, that’s all that matters? If the recipient gives you a weird look and pitches the thing into the nearest trash can in front of you, that’s okay with you? You wouldn’t be hurt, confused, maybe a little angry/affronted?? Of course you would. There is an expectation that at the very least, if the person was not happy with the gift, they were kind about rejecting it. Of course, not all gifts are that important. Many gifts are given out of a sense of obligation (Christmas, birthdays, shower, wedding, etc…for people you don’t know all that well). In any case gift-giving is never a simple one way transaction. By the way, when you say you “expect nothing in return except continued friendship” when you give a gift – that’s a much bigger expectation than a simple thank you.

  22. I’m with you – but I do understand why thank yous do not happen some times. I swan in with a cheque to our local food bank before Christmas and I can see the resentment (rich bitch!) in their eyes. It must be hard to keep having to say thank you.
    And a lot of kids just don’t get it. we have cut off one relative because after a letter reminding her that we asked her to let us know when the gift arrived, she still didn’t answer. Tough on her.

  23. thanks for the reminder. thank you notes will be written this weekend (i’m a firm believer). i will also sheepishly mail out my christmas cards at the same time.

  24. I went to many Italian weddings while growing up. We gave money to the bride and groom, got a “favour” (bonboniere) in return and that was it. However, when I got married I sent thank you cards to Italians and non-Italians.

    For children’s birthday parties, the loot bag is the thank you. It says thank you for coming and thank you for your gift. I only send thank you cards if the peson was not there to give the gift, etc.

    I’m all for good manners. I’m always telling The Pea that what makes you beautiful is good manners. If you acknowledge the gift in person (child’s birthday gift) then I don’t think a thank you card is necessary. Teachers have enough to do — handing out the invites for the birthday party and then handing out thank you cards is too much. My two cents.

  25. Mary – Your food bank example is interesting. And you’re right, I wouldn’t expect people in that situation to be constantly bowing and scraping their thanks. A relative, however, should at least acknowledge the arrival of a gift.

    Meanie – I think you can save the Xmas cards until next year now. Who wants to get a Xmas card in the middle of January? The thank you cards will be cool to get though!

    Stefania – I never considered that the teachers would have to hand out the thank you notes. I somehow assumed they’d be mailed or dropped off at the house. And yes, loot bags and wedding favours are small tokens of thanks from the host for attending the party, but I still think a thank you for inviting me is in order.

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