Email etiquette desired
January 24, 2004 11:29 PM   Subscribe

Does American real-life, i.e. (in this case) geek etiquette (as opposed to the mainstream standard), require that all e-mails, however perfunctory or informative, be answered? [More inside.]

In Latin countries, most letters aren't answered and nobody raises an eyebrow. Letters, like e-mails and phone messages, are regarded cavalierly, almost as one-offs. I know this is not at all the case with the English and British in general. I was wondering about Americans. Is one obliged to send back a simple note of thanks (even if insincere or forced) or at least an acknowledgement?
posted by MiguelCardoso to Computers & Internet (23 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
FWIW, I'm an American, and if I e-mail someone, I _expect_ a reply. The only exception is when the e-mail is already a reply, and doesn't pose any new questions.

In most of my correspondence, it goes like this: original, reply, reply-to-reply.
posted by silusGROK at 11:55 PM on January 24, 2004

I don't see what being American have to do with it..

Sometimes I send emails that I expect a response. Sometimes I send one-offs that are jokes, snarky comments, etc. It depends on the specific email. If I send someone a note saying "hey where's that PayPal money you promised" I expect a response, for example.
posted by mrbill at 12:14 AM on January 25, 2004

My own humble American opinion is that replies are not expected based on the means of trasmitting a message, but its content. There are times I fire off an email to someone just to send them a random link I thought they might enjoy. I certainly don't always need to hear back about that. There are also times I leave people voicemail messages, and if they don't call right back, fine. I'll catch up with them when I see them next.

But if I have asked a question, or written a long letter, or given some pertinent information that requires action from the other party, then I expect a reply, whether it's an email, smoke signal, or whatever.

[yet another discussiony question, btw, Miguel]
posted by scarabic at 12:22 AM on January 25, 2004

I would agree with silusGROK. I expect a reply, at least that it was received, unless what I sent was a reply.
posted by Steve_at_Linnwood at 12:35 AM on January 25, 2004

Not an american, but I'm with scarabic on this one. Which doesn't mean that I won't reply to a lot of email that very clearly doesn't need a reply when I'm feeling chatty, or there's an opportunity for a good pun.
posted by fvw at 12:43 AM on January 25, 2004

I agree that it depends on the content, but an acknowledgement is never amiss.
posted by rushmc at 6:19 AM on January 25, 2004

Mt 2 penneth worth. You should only reply to emails if: An answer is required or the original email contained information it is important for you to have received.

On a side note. I can see the need for email replys to become more important as spam filters become stricter. When emails can get lost, then - yes there will be a social need for replys.
posted by seanyboy at 6:34 AM on January 25, 2004

I am an American and my attitude is this: I expect a reply but am not disappointed if it isn't forthcoming. I don't, however, answer all emails. Judging from the state of most of my correspondence, this seems to be a pretty common mindset.

As far as letters and phone messages go, if the letter is one of a personal capacity, I will reply to it but answering machine messages, voice mail, and "while you were out" slips of any stripe get the "Latin" cavalier response.
posted by majick at 6:37 AM on January 25, 2004

Hell, I don't even READ all my email.
posted by mischief at 7:09 AM on January 25, 2004

I read all my mail. If I write an email to someone that has a question in it, I expect a reply in a general sense, but don't freak out if i don't get one. As far as my personal replying habits, I try to reply to all email, even the "like your site!" kind, but I do have a small list [20 or so] emails in my awaiting-reply directory that are getting kind of old. Most of these require long explanations that I rarely feel like I have the time to give. I definitely have my friends grouped into categories which include, among other things: usually-replies-to-email, never-replies-to-email, sometimes-replies-to-email. When I send a "I like your site!" email to someone a reply is sort of nifty, and not really expected.
posted by jessamyn at 7:19 AM on January 25, 2004

An amendment: I expect a reply, but don't necessarily grouse when I don't get one... if I don't get a reply to an e-mail, however, my first assumption is that the original wasn't received, or that it was thrown out with the spam.

Hell, I even reply to the junk e-mail I get from friends... normally just a non-committal " : ) " .
posted by silusGROK at 8:16 AM on January 25, 2004

I get so much email that unnecessary replies are just an irritation. Consequently, I tend to be conservative in replying, lest I end up in some neverending cycle of replying-to-replies.
posted by five fresh fish at 10:17 AM on January 25, 2004

Migs, I think in part the answer to your question has to do with the social context -- is it a 'friendly' email, or a business one. If I, for example, a business contact sends me an email of the "here's the data we discussed at the meeting" type I will always, always reply immediately with a simple 'Thank you' type message. For social, friendly, or 'fan' type email I'm not nearly as disturbed at a lack of immediate response.
posted by anastasiav at 11:20 AM on January 25, 2004

if i write a nice email to someone who doesn't know me well, and they never respond, i take it the same way as i would if they ignored me at a cocktail party.

or i assume they have better spam filtering.
posted by th3ph17 at 11:35 AM on January 25, 2004

Speaking personally...

I used to reply to all my mail.

But now that I receive upwards of 200 emails a day (despite the spamfilter), the majority of which is spam, I tend to delete unread all the mail which I think is spam; it's possible I may have deleted the odd email which I should have read by mistake, but if I read every email I received, I'd never be able to sleep.

I'm with seanyboy; sadly, spam has made replies necessary to ensure that people know important mails have been received; and sadly, th3ph17, it makes such mis-communications are nice mail not receiving the response it deserves that much more likely.
posted by plep at 12:44 PM on January 25, 2004

Oh, for work-related email :- 'hiding behind email' is a bane of the modern office, and it's probably wise to be conservative in replying - especially if something has already been said; being 'cc'd' on a message makes a reply unnecessary unless you have something special and important to say, IMHO.
posted by plep at 12:58 PM on January 25, 2004

Does anybody use the "request confirmation" option that pops up a window on the recipient's screen, asking them to send notice they've read your message? Or is that just my mother?
posted by Hildago at 1:14 PM on January 25, 2004

"Does anybody use the "request confirmation" option that pops up a window on the recipient's screen, asking them to send notice they've read your message? Or is that just my mother?"

These annoy me to no end. If my client has an option to ignore such requests, I use it.
posted by nthdegx at 2:14 PM on January 25, 2004

none of you guys have ever answered any of my e-mails

I hate you all

posted by matteo at 3:20 PM on January 25, 2004

for me, it depends. if I'm e-mailing someone I don't know or haven't met or don't see regularly, I don't mind not getting a reply. for all others, when I don't get a reply I usually assume they are mad at me, and make plans to shoot them with a poison dart.
posted by mcsweetie at 10:33 PM on January 25, 2004

I answer direct questions eventually, and try to respond to "Hey I like your site!" emails, since they are rather rare. If my responses generate a reply I usually don't respond to that one.

I always respond to direct emails from friends, although it often takes me a long time. I never respond to group emails from friends, unless it's an important news announcement (births, marriages, moving, etc.) since I have quite a few friends who think I am in danger of perfume spraying killers at the mall, want me to read a list of things women really mean when they are saying something else, or have a habit of writing long tirades to everyone in their address books.

If some one doesn't answer direct, business-related emails that require a response, I get furious! If some one doesn't answer any other kind of email, and I actually remember writing it in the first place, I don't get to bent out of shape, given my personal horrible correspondence follow-up habits.

(But if some one ignored me at a cocktail party, I'd have to restrain myself from dumping my drink on them.)
posted by jennyb at 8:38 AM on January 26, 2004

TOO bent out of shape, dammit.

*dumps drink on self*
posted by jennyb at 8:39 AM on January 26, 2004

So, to sum up, there is absolutely no consensus answer to your question whatsoever, Miguel! Yer on your own.
posted by rushmc at 3:41 PM on January 26, 2004

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