Help me determine the proper way to send thank you cards...
May 20, 2011 8:45 AM   Subscribe

What is the proper etiquette for Thank You Cards?

I've never known the proper etiquette for thank you cards and being newly engaged-I would like to make sure I handle them properly.

I've had some situations where I thought it was improper-but perhaps it's the norm?

Situation 1: My cousin got married in January (2010) and I gave her a really nice gift in June (2010). Granted-I gave her a gift 6 months after she got married but I never got a thank you from her. Are TY cards not sent after a certain amount of time? (Say-if anyone gives gifts within 3 months then cards are sent and everyone else doesn't get thanked?)

Situation 2: My friend had a bridal shower and sent everyone a thank you emai. It seemed a bit inpersonal to me (considering I gave her an expensive gift!!) but I dont know if that's just the way it's done now

For my situation-we haven't had our formal engagement party yet but one person was nice enough to buy us an engagement present the week of the engagement (about a month ago). I was going to send her a thank you card after our party but now I'm starting to think that maybe that was a mistake and we should have sent her something right away (we did call and thank her right away)

Overall, I'm hoping to get a handle on the proper social norms!
Are there different rules for engagement gifts vs. wedding gifts vs. shower gifts? Does it depend on when we got it? Do we send formal cards for engagement gifts and informal emails for shower gifts? ..etc.

Any tips or suggestions would be helpful.

posted by duddes02 to Society & Culture (26 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Situation 1: She should have sent a note.

Situation 2: She should have sent notes.

Your situation: You should send a note now.
posted by amarynth at 8:50 AM on May 20, 2011 [4 favorites]

You are trying to define the rules by examining the rule-breakers. This is a backwards way to go about things. The consensus I got on the wedding etiquette boards was that you write your thank-you notes for gifts given prior to the event right away (so the person knows you got the gift), and you write your thank-you notes for the gifts given after the event as soon as possible (so the person knows you got the gift). There's no "expiration" for thank-yous; if you got a gift, you should write a thank-you. If it really takes you a year, better late than never (but a year? Come on. It's not that hard. I knocked mine out in one day).
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 8:50 AM on May 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

Don't worry about what other people do, and certainly don't use them as your guide. Treat yourself to a Miss Manners book ... they're a fun read as well as a good resource.

Buy some nice blank-on-the-inside cards (nothing that says "THANK YOU!" on the front) and dash off a few lines as gifts come in. You'll be perfectly proper. It's not too late to send a card for the engagement gift, and it will be appreciated.
posted by cyndigo at 8:51 AM on May 20, 2011

tl;dr: Thank you notes are always appropriate.

longer version:
1. There is no time frame. You should always be thanked regardless of when you gave the gift.

2. A thank you email... well, it's better than nothing, I supposed. Thank you cards are more appropriate.

your situation? Send the thank you note ASAP. Otherwise what? you have to kind of pretend you didn't get it? (I know you called right away, which - good on you!)

From a practical point of view, I think the etiquette is great because it's there so the sender (if a gift has been mailed or whatever) can know that you have received it. The number of times that I have mailed off a gift and then debated on whether to (rudely, IMO!) call a month later because I'm stressed that the recipient never got it is way too high.
posted by gaspode at 8:52 AM on May 20, 2011

My rule of thumb for myself (and my kids) is that we don't use the item until we write the Thank You note.

Don't wait. Write a note.
posted by TooFewShoes at 8:52 AM on May 20, 2011 [11 favorites]

If you want some cold hard rules to throw at wrong-doers, Emily Post knows what's up. Also concerning engagement gifts.
posted by sally onion at 8:54 AM on May 20, 2011

I think there's a weird idea that you have a year to give a gift for a wedding and similarly a year after a wedding to write the thank you notes. I don't think it's ever too late to buy someone a present or thank someone for something but sooner is certainly better. And people will call or email within days of sending a gift to be sure you received it so sending a prompt note may prevent awkward phone calls.

A thank you email doesn't really sound appropriate but it's better than nothing. Some people are really formal about thank yous - I have an aunt who gets really miffed if she doesn't receive one whereas my in-laws thought it weird that I sent them a card after they gave me Christmas presents when I started seeing their son.

If in doubt, send a note.

And also, this is besides the point but don't be one of those people like my aunt who gets cranky if she doesn't receive a thank you. Life's too short. If you're going to be upset if you send a gift but don't receive a thank you, do everyone a favor and don't bother sending a gift. Just my two cents, YMMV.
posted by kat518 at 8:56 AM on May 20, 2011

Response by poster: Wow, thanks. Looks like I have to write a few cards ASAP.
posted by duddes02 at 8:58 AM on May 20, 2011

Best answer: 1. It's never too late to send you a thank you note, unless the sender or recipient is dead.

2. You send a thank you note immediately on receiving a gift. I'm serious. The date on the note should be the day you received it. My Christmas thank-you letters are all dated Christmas Day.

3. A handwritten note is the right format and is what you send for
a) all gifts opened with the sender not present;
b) large gifts opened in the presence of the giver;
c) being seriously entertained like invited over for dinner as a guest, that is, where you don't contribute part of the meal yourself;
d) serious favours like writing a letter of recommendation.

4. It's not tasteful to buy a card with the words "Thank You" on it and use that. You're supposed to write the words "thank you" yourself, in your own hand.
4a) If the "thank you" card is just a wrapper for your own handwritten note, of course, that's different. In terms of sentiment, it's just as good as a note on paper. In terms of style, though, it's still not as stylish as a note on paper. Also, it is not formal, which may or may not matter depending on the occasion and your relationship to the giver.

5. An emailed thanks for a shower gift is actually more than etiquette requires, since shower gifts are supposed to be small and by definition are opened in the giver's presence, and responded to with a warmly spoken thank-you. It never hurts to go beyond that, of course. But unless you left the price tag on your gift, the recipient couldn't have known how expensive it was, nor should she.

6. Where wedding gifts are concerned, the couple gets time off for their honeymoon, but as soon as they get back they are expected to break out the writing paper, stat. No excuses. If guests could get their fingers out to provide the gift, they can get their fingers out to write the notes. Ideally, you'd write a thank-you note for a wedding gift as soon as you get it, but that's not always feasible.

7. If a gift is received in the mail, you must immediately notify the sender that you received it, and then write the note which they will get a couple of days later. Notifying receipt, and writing the thank-you note, are two separate tasks.

8. You need a sheet of plain paper, over 100gsm in weight, which ideally should be post quarto size although that's hard to find. The paper should be white or cream with a matching envelope, and the paper should be folded into thirds. If you have to fold it more than twice to get it into the envelope, the envelope is too small.

9. Use a cartridge pen rather than a ball point, and use black or blue-black ink. If the cartridge pen comes with blue cartridges, throw them out.

10. When you put 9. and 10. into practice, you'll know why I told you to do them. Nice, isn't it?

11. As for giving a gift 6 months after a wedding - in general, you should really pony up the gift in time for the wedding, but that's not always doable, especially if you're pulling together something special. You have up to a year to give the gift, even though you should try to get it in on time. It is not true that the couple has a year to send the thanks.

12. When you write your note, you say something like: "Dear [giver], I/we were so thrilled to receive your [adjective][noun]. We look forward to [verb]ing it and enjoying [properties of gift] for [time period]/it will look [adjective] in [place/situation/etc]." You state your thanks, name the gift, talk about how happy you were to get it and how you'll use it in the future, and sign off. Don't combine the thank-you with other topics; thanks merit a letter all on their own.
12b. If you actively hate the gift, focus on the giver's generosity rather than the gift itself. It will look great in Goodwill's window, but Auntie Mabel will never know that, nor does she need to.

If some bastard doesn't thank you for a gift, you are allowed to just check if they received it or not. Sometimes these things don't reach their targets, and the chance that they just didn't get it is not worth the bad feeling that miscommunication could create.

However, I found myself having to follow up so many times that it started to feel demeaning, even though in theory it's a perfectly reasonable thing to do. So now, wherever possible, I send things Special Delivery, such that it's signed for and its location is tracked. That way, I know who actually receives the gifts I send them.

And based on whether or not they bother to thank me, I know who's going to get a gift from me, ever again. The proper response to not being thanked for gifts you know were received is not to ask whether the recipient liked them or not - that would be intrusive and rude - but to be sensitive to the obvious cues this person is giving you that they don't like receiving gifts from you.
posted by tel3path at 9:11 AM on May 20, 2011 [23 favorites]

No one is going to think twice if you send the thank you card too soon.
posted by SpaceWarp13 at 9:15 AM on May 20, 2011

They should be hand-written and sent as quickly as possible, though people cut new brides and new mothers some slack on time, since they're a) busy and b) have a ton of notes to write!

It's never too late to send a note, though if you let it to months and months it does cross into "a little embarrassing."

But kat's right, do thank-you notes properly because it's gracious and it's nice to the gift-givers. Don't worry about whether other people send them to you. (When my goddaughter facebook messages me that she got my gift, I consider it good enough -- at least I know it got there!)

For big events, like weddings or new babies, where you'll be writing a lot of thank-you notes, I like to get pretty/fun/personalized stationery, it makes them more fun to write, which makes it less of a chore.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:16 AM on May 20, 2011

"Don't worry about whether other people send them to you." - yeah, sort of. If somebody flat-out ignores your gift, that's a definite insult, and you're not obligated to be bothered by it, but you're also not obligated not to be!

Basically, take any thanks in the spirit in which they seem to have been intended. You only pay attention to your own correct form.
posted by tel3path at 9:19 AM on May 20, 2011

>My rule of thumb for myself (and my kids) is that we don't use the item until we write the Thank You note.

Interesting, but how do you write about how much you're enjoying the gift if you haven't used it...?
posted by StarmanDXE at 9:52 AM on May 20, 2011

how do you write about how much you're enjoying the gift if you haven't used it?

My daughter's thank you notes go something like:
"I just got the American Girl doll and SHE IS BEAUTIFUL. Mom says I can't play with her until I write a thank you note, so this is the first note I'm writing because I CAN'T WAIT!!!!!! Thank you so much, Gramma!"

The "I can't wait to make my first homemade belgium waffles in our kitchen. What a thoughtful, generous gift" gives someone the sense of excitement that you'd get if they were there opening gifts with you. The "I made waffles and they were great" is about the object itself and not the excitement of the gift.
posted by Gucky at 10:10 AM on May 20, 2011 [3 favorites]

However, I found myself having to follow up so many times that it started to feel demeaning, even though in theory it's a perfectly reasonable thing to do.

Perhaps norms are different in Canada, but I can't ever see this being ok. If they're not gracious enough to respond that's one thing. Calling them on it would make you ungracious as well, in my eyes. It's like wrestling a pig.
posted by bonehead at 10:10 AM on May 20, 2011 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I have a few strategy suggestions for you. I kept a spreadsheet of who gave us which gifts, their addresses, and whether or not I'd sent a thank you note yet. It was really helpful.

It's hard to keep track of this stuff, especially because gifts start arriving as soon as you send invitations, and especially if you're returning to work or school immediately after your honeymoon. Do as much work ahead of time as you can--have the stationary ready, address envelopes, buy stamps, keep track of the gifts you get, and start writing thank you notes as soon as you can.

If you're having someone gather up the gifts people bring to your wedding, have that person do an inventory for you so that you can add it to your spreadsheet (or whatever you're using to keep track). My mom did this for me and it was so, so helpful.

In terms of actually writing, I think it's best to get the notes written rather than worry about whether you've used the thing or how to describe your enjoyment of it. I've both written and received notes along the lines of "Thank you so much for the XYZ! I can't wait to use it." I'm never offended by that wording, nor have I ever (to my knowledge) offended anyone by using it. If an object is really special or meaningful, of course you can go nuts explaining how much you appreciate it, but if it's a coffee maker and the best you can do is, "Thank you so much for the coffee maker. I am really enjoying it," that's totally fine.

Also, I think there's a little bit of sexist expectation that the bride will write thank you notes quickly following the wedding, and then she bears all the blame if wedding guests don't receive a prompt thank you note (or a note at all). I have never once heard someone criticize a groom like, "I sent him a really nice set of mixing bowls and he never sent me a thank you note." Maybe others have had that experience, but I've just noticed that it seems the expectation and blame rest on the bride. It doesn't have to: you can ask your husband to handle half the notes, or handle the notes to his family, etc.
posted by Meg_Murry at 10:34 AM on May 20, 2011

We sent my SIL and BIL a lovely baby set when their son was born. I spent 4 months wondering where the fuck my thank you note was. One day, bored, I logged into Facebook and found she had written me a thank you note ON FACEBOOK. I will never, ever get over that, ever.

The best way to save your sanity is as follows:

Every gift that comes in, pull the envelope or invoice with the return address on it, write what the gift was, and put it in a pile. Write thank you notes as soon as humanly possible. When the note for that gift is sent, move to the "done" pile.
posted by DarlingBri at 10:41 AM on May 20, 2011

tel3path is much stricter on the thank-you notes than I would be: only this kind of paper, write them the moment you get the gift, etc., really?

Thank yous are not so much about formulaic ritual to me as they are expressions of sincere gratitude.

The important thing is to write a personal thank you for gifts you receive. It doesn't matter what kind of paper you use or if you do it the day you get the present or a week later or a month later when you have actually had a chance to use and enjoy the gift--a heartfelt thank you is always appreciated.

And just as a gift should be graciously acknowledged, the giver should be gracious when a thank-you is not forthcoming. Asking once if the person actually received the gift is perfectly okay.

Any more than that and I feel you come across as someone who is more concerned with being patted on the back for doing the right thing than someone who recognizes the true spirit behind gift-giving and thoughtfully chose a gift with the specific recipient in mind in the first place.
posted by misha at 10:45 AM on May 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

If you plan to write thank you notes after your wedding shower (I didn't hear the rule that tel3path mentioned above), you can ask your maid of honor (or someone else like a sister or close friend) to sit with you while you open the presents and keep track of who sent what. My sister volunteered to do it at my wedding shower and believe me, it was super helpful.

Also by all means, feel free to ask your future husband to help out with thank you notes!

Something that became tricky/confusing for me was family gifts - a lot of my family members have kids so any gift would be "From Your Cousin X, Her Husband Y, Their Son A and Their Daughter B." I tried to list everyone on the appropriate cards but it was a little confusing.
posted by kat518 at 10:45 AM on May 20, 2011

(Okay, less when it was a cousin, her husband, and their two kids but more like when my aunt put that her gift was from her, my uncle, and all of their grandchildren. There are nine grandchildren with different last names so I thought if I put all of that on the address it would never make it to my aunt and uncle. Though I always liked it when I was little and my mother would put thank you notes she received on the refrigerator and they named my sisters, brother, and I. Sorry for the digression!)
posted by kat518 at 10:48 AM on May 20, 2011

Response by poster: @kat518-that got me thinking that maybe my cousin sent a thank you card to my parents and included me. I gave her a seperate gift but in our culture I'm not considered "real" person unless I"m married. Unmarried children (no matter what age!) always seems to get lumped with their parents. ooh, that makes me wants to ask her if she included me in another card (I wont, don't worry)
posted by duddes02 at 11:26 AM on May 20, 2011

"It doesn't have to: you can ask your husband to handle half the notes, or handle the notes to his family, etc."

You both can and should, IMHO ... but my husband and I actually went swapsies on the family notes -- I wrote them to his family, he wrote them to mine for our wedding presents. It made it more interesting, and a lot of people commented it was nice to get a note from the "new" member of the family. We'd sit down most evenings after dinner for an hour with the stationery and the list and write notes together, asking, "Wait, which one was Aunt Bertha? Why'd she give us a picture of a fish?" "Oh, when I was little, I loved looking at her aquarium ..." We learned lots of family stories that way, too.

(For any super-traditional folks who felt that it was entirely the brides' responsibility to do all notes and who'd feel slighted if I didn't write them, I just went ahead and did those. Annoying, but not worth starting a *thing* I have to hear about for 20 years.)

I keep virtually all handwritten correspondence I get, including formulaic thank-you notes, because just seeing someone's handwriting is nice when you go back through the box o' correspondence. When we went through my great-aunt's box of letters when she died, it was awesome to find seven decades of thank-you notes from relatives, often starting when they were five years old and continuing on until they were married ... really lovely.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 12:01 PM on May 20, 2011 [8 favorites]

Asking someone if they received a gift isn't "ungracious" or "wrestling with a pig", it's just asking for information. Although using Special Delivery obviates the need to do it. But I'm surprised that anyone would find that offensive.
posted by tel3path at 1:06 PM on May 20, 2011

Ah! When I said "keep following up" I meant "follow up one time each with 100 different people", not "follow up 100 times with one person".

I just got tired of having exchanges like this:

I: "I sent you something last month and I wanted to check if you received it?"

THEY: [crickets...]


THEY: Yeah, we did.
I: [crickets]
THEY: [crickets]

THEY: Yes, and I was debating whether to say anything or not. The colour doesn't suit me and there was a thread hanging from the hem.
I: Oh, well, I can still return it - oh, wait. The returns period is only 28 days.
THEY: [crickets]

I didn't want any more exchanges like that so I now never send any gift without a tracking number.
posted by tel3path at 1:24 PM on May 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

You can't go wrong by over-thanking.

You shouldn't try to under-thank.
posted by oreofuchi at 5:31 PM on May 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

My rule of thumb for myself (and my kids) is that we don't use the item until we write the Thank You note.

What if the gift sucks and the kid doesn't want to use it? (This would have been my argument with regard to thank-yous for many a gift from strange relatives as a kid).

tel3path's advice is very good, although I'm not as anal about #8 and 9 - I love blue ink and also notecards (mine are monogrammed, they don't say "thank you" on them, and I think they are sufficiently tasteful...?)
posted by naoko at 9:13 PM on May 20, 2011

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