Writing Thank You Notes
Writing thank you notes isn't difficult, but it takes some thought. Here's a good basic guide to the when, why and how of thank you notes.
Thank you notes often seem to be a dying art; it seems fewer and fewer people send them all the time. Perhaps part of the problem is confusion over the circumstances under which they should be sent, or simply a fear of not being able to write a good one. The best rule of thumb for when to send a thank you note is: When in doubt, send one. No one ever went wrong expressing gratitude.
In general, all gifts require a note. However if you and your friends have all agreed that formal thanks aren’t necessary, then sending a note is more of a gesture of special thanks rather than an obligation. In this circumstance you’d send a note if a friend gave you something you’d wanted all your life, or something that cost a great deal, or perhaps something of his/her own that you had admired. In other words, a thank you note would be a very good idea if your friend had given you something quite special. Another reason to send a note to a good friend is if the gift was delivered to you by a third party – by mail or other delivery service, or through another friend. In this case a note not only says thanks, it acknowledges receipt, which is the very least you should do.
With the exception of going out on dates, if you’ve been taken out for a meal or event, then a note is required. If you’ve been entertained at someone’s home, at a party or for a meal, a note really should be sent the next day. People go to considerable trouble to put together parties, and their efforts should be acknowledged. If someone has performed a service for you without pay – perhaps they took care of your house while you were on vacation, drove you to work while your car was in the shop, took your husband to the emergency room, or took care of your children while you went to the hospital, then by all means write a note to express your gratitude. People who go beyond the call of duty should be acknowledged.
The how of a good thank you note is a little more difficult to explain. It’s best to begin with a quick recap of what you’re thanking this person for: “I want to thank you for the beautiful scarf you sent for my birthday.” “I am so grateful to you for helping us during our emergency.” “Your dinner party last night was so beautiful, I think I’ll always remember it.” Express your thanks simply and directly.
Next you may want to take a line or two to say how much you appreciate this person: “You’ve been such a good friend to me/us.” “You always pick the most perfect gifts.” “You have a talent for entertaining.” It’s not necessary to lay it on too thickly here, but it’s nice to let this person know that your relationship with them goes beyond the thing they gave you, or did for you. In the case of someone you barely know, of course, this isn’t possible, so you’ll have to come up with some other graceful way of expressing appreciation for the person as well as for the gift/service. Some variation on “It was awfully kind of you to invite/remember me.” usually works.
Unless you’re including your thanks in a more general letter to your friend, it’s best to keep the note short and sweet. You can close in a number of ways. You can make a suggestion that you’re prepared to reciprocate: “I hope I’ll have the opportunity to return your hospitality soon.” “If you ever need my help, just ask.” Or you can wish the recipient well. This last is particularly appropriate during the holidays when you can add something like this: “I wish you and yours all the best in the coming year.” “Blessings of the season to you and your family.”
Whatever you do, never belittle the gift or service in any way! No one wants to read: “Thanks so much for the candy, but I’m on a diet so I gave it away.” “I think the chicken salad made me sick because there was too much mayo in it.” “The scarf just isn’t my color, but my sister really liked it so I gave it to her.” Keep that sort of thing to yourself unless you want to come across as callous or whiny.
The exception here is if the item is wrong in some way, if it’s damaged or the wrong size, or there’s some other problem with it that can be remedied by the giver, or about which the giver should know. In this case, as soon as you’ve said your thanks, tackle the problem: “Unfortunately the sweater is a little large on me; if you still have the receipt, can I ask you to exchange it for the next smaller size?” “The flowers arrived completely wilted, and despite a good deal of attention, they never revived. I felt you should know how the florist dealt with your order.” After which, be sure to let the giver know that you appreciate the thought behind the gift.
Above all, be comfortable with what you write. If you’re not, the note will sound forced, or worse, it will sound false. At the worst, if it’s someone you barely know, and you got a gift you hated, you can always fall back on a variation of the following: “Thanks so much for remembering me so generously with the reindeer-shaped fruitcake. Wherever did you find it? How thoughtful of you to send it, and how unusual it is! All the best in the coming year.”
Remember, as with gift giving, it’s the thought that counts. If you don’t think enough of your friends to thank them or even to acknowledge receipt of a gift or service, then at least think that much of yourself. If you don’t thank people for what they’ve done for you, you end up looking ungrateful or foolish.