Among the many chores that get added to a new mom’s already lengthy list is that of writing thank-you notes for gifts and meals from friends, neighbors, and family.
Many people are put off by writing thank-you notes, as attested to by the dearth of thank-you notes the Cap’n and I have received since buying all the baby, bnei mitzvah, and wedding gifts we have given others. I try to be modern and do not take offense at this lapse in etiquette, since I suspect the handwritten note has gone the way of the Surrey (with a fringe on top) in the era of computers. I readily accept an email or a phone call in lieu of a handwritten thank-you. One thing I hate, though, is a pre-printed thank-you note. (I received one of these after writing a heartfelt note to a man I hardly knew who had lost his father. I would rather have waited five years for two hand-scrawled lines on the back of a shopping list than received the pre-fab card that arrived.)
But not to acknowledge a gift or a gesture of kindness in any form is just bad manners. According to Haragamam (HaRav HaGaon Miss Manners), even a hangover is not an excuse. (In her Guide to Excruciatingly Correct Behavior, she writes, “Actually, during a hangover is an excellent time for a nice, quiet activity such as writing thank-you notes, if one can stand the sound of the pen’s scratching on the paper.”) I once worked with a man who admitted to me that he and his wife still hadn’t written their wedding thank-yous, and they had just passed their third anniversary. To this I say, It’s never too late. If he and his wife were finally to write those thank-yous and mail them out, their recipients might be baffled or even amused, but I can guarantee that their belated gratitude would be accepted.
Excuses abound for not expressing gratitude in writing: “I don’t know what to say,” “I don’t even know this person,” “I returned/exchanged/gave away the gift,” “I don’t have her/his address.” The resourceful recipient can always find a solution to these problems: say “Thank you for the lovely [name of gift]”; write “Dear [name of person]”; thank the person for their gift and don’t mention what you did with it; get the person’s address from someone who knows it. It’s not that complicated!
The most important thing to remember when planning a simcha is that time must be factored in afterwards to write notes of thanks. It takes some time and effort (not to mention money) to choose a gift for someone. It takes less than five minutes to write a thank-you note. I’m not a mathematician, but by my calculations the recipient still comes out on top time-wise. If someone who cares about you (or has known your mother since the third grade) takes the time to select and buy a gift, it’s appropriate to spend a few minutes thanking them for their kindness.
I hope the thank-you note will come back into fashion soon, if for no other reason than to wipe the shocked look off people’s faces when I hand them a thank-you note and get them to stop coming over to my house and saying silly things like, “Thank you for that sweet note.” I saw a neighbor in the pharmacy yesterday who made me a delicious tuna noodle casserole last week (the first I’ve had since my mother made them for me) who said, “You really didn’t have to write me that sweet thank-you note.” I replied, in my broadest Southern drawl, “Actually, I did. My mama told me I do.”