You receive a gift. You write a thank you note. Seems obvious, right? I was raised to do a lot of things: Fold my laundry, make my bed, help the elderly cross the street—all things I neglect to do. The one thing I always do? Write a thank you letter.
You might reason that you don’t have to thank everyone for everything. You’d be wrong. You must always thank gift givers, no matter how grandiose or seemingly insignificant the gift. Someone took their time (and/or money) to buy you something. That person thought of you.
Sit back as I knowledge you good: A thank you note is a gift in and of itself. Someone buys you a gift and in return, you give the gift of acknowledgement. If you care about your reputation, you cannot fail to send a thank you note. It is, after all, the one acceptable time in the twenty first century, depending on the grandiosity of the gift—to dust off that old cardboard box of stationery and mail your letter the old fashioned way, like Grandma used to do.
I don’t give a lot of gifts (I don’t like most people enough to buy them things), but when I'm the recipient of a gift, I’m excited and appreciative. I want to relay said excited appreciation.
The Two Types of Thank You Letters
Let’s talk casual—dinner with a buddy. When the check comes, he takes care of the bill. It shouldn’t matter if this guy is your BFF or someone you barely know; a simple “thanks for dinner” works. If you wish to go the extra mile, since it’s dinner with your buddy and not Donald Trump, a follow up text, email or Facebook post (anything more verges on weird), though not mandatory, is a nice gesture.
Let’s talk special events—the wedding of friends you’ve known for a while. Every time you’re together, all they do is talk shit about the Mr. Coffee they stole from a hotel six years ago. You’re shopping and damn if you don’t see the most amazing espresso maker (on sale … but they don’t have to know that).
Now, the wedding has passed and you’re at the grocery store when you bump into the groom’s parents! You never received a thank you note from your friends. Maybe the espresso maker got lost in the mail. Maybe the couple felt they didn’t need to take the time to thank you. Duh, we loved the gift—what’s the point of wasting postage? You small talk the parents and casually ask if the happy couple ever received the espresso maker. Received, the father asks, they love that thing!
Zing! The parents have failed at child rearing. Maybe the note got lost in the mail, so you offer this excuse to spare them from embarrassment. But they know the truth. And if there was ever a time to have written the thank you note, it would have been upon the first use (or second use … okay, third) of the state of the art espresso maker.
I understand wedding culture states you have one year to write thank you notes. But that’s a stupid rule. A lot can happen in a year. Failing to write a note makes you, the happily married couple, appear rude and unappreciative. And, it makes your parents look bad. No one wants that.
Guess what! The recently married couple had a baby and sent cards announcing the birth of their child. And that guy—you remember the one who gave the expensive espresso maker? Well, he’s not sending a Tickle Me Elmo.
And when that kid turns to his parent’s writer-friend for help on his college essays, has the eighteen year old been properly taught to express his thanks? Or will he, like his parents, who still use that espresso maker, neglect to thank the writer-friend for his editorial eye?
Other than showing appreciation for a gift, a thank you card is acknowledgment that you actually received the gift. Maybe the espresso maker did get lost. You don’t want to be asked if you got the gift—no need to make things awkward.
Of course, if you never heard from the new couple because the espresso maker really did get lost, maybe they’re wondering why you never gave them a gift. You’ve now fallen into the dreaded Why-Didn’t-They-Thank-Me-Why-Didn’t-He-Send-a-Gift Nightmare! May Jerry Seinfeld have mercy on your soul.
In all likelihood, they did receive the gift. And now you know your friends lack the common courtesy or are too preoccupied with their lives to thank you. They rightfully lose out on future awesome gifts.
Some Tips on Making a Good Impression
You’re pretty sure that girl you’re dating is the future Mrs. Whatever-Your-Last-Name-Is. It’s time to meet the in-laws! Problem is, dad is a WWE Superstar, who can kill you with his pinky. After dinner, you write a thank you card (because computers are for geeks and wrestlers are not geeks) expressing how much you enjoyed meeting them. Compliment their daughter and then add a friendly PS: I enjoyed hearing about your classic ’69 Camaro. Offer to help restore the car on one condition: Mrs. WWE Superstar makes her championship meatloaf.
You’re in there like swimwear.
Remember that CEO you met recently? Meeting him was a once in a lifetime opportunity and you wanted to make a good impression. Bust out the stationery and thank the CEO for taking the time to answer your questions. Tell him you will apply his advice and hopefully, one day, you’d be honored to work for him. Keep it brief and professional.
And of course, you would never have been able to meet the CEO if it wasn’t for the friend of a friend who runs an upscale men’s clothing boutique. He gave you a steep discount on a designer suit and made sure your alterations were priority.
It doesn’t matter whether the gift comes with a hefty price tag or a generous favor, you must invest a little bit of time to hand-write a personalized thank you card (email is just too easy). And put a rush on it—the longer you postpone the act of writing a note, the more likely you’ll forget about it. Unless you’re backed up with an influx of birthday, wedding, or baby-shower gifts, try your damndest to say thanks within a month.
What to Say in Your Thank You Note
A thank you letter scratched down with a Bic pen on a folded piece of paper stuffed in an envelope is unacceptable. If you know meaningful gifts will be coming your way, prepare yourself with the write (hah – get it?) tools.
Don’t try to get away with a perfunctory message:
Thanks for the espresso maker. Nice to see you at the wedding.
Take the time to personalize your thank you:
We think of you every morning as we our drink coffee. No sluggish days for us! Thank you so much for the state-of-the-art espresso maker. It sure beats our Mr. Coffee.
We’re so glad you could be at our wedding. Now come over for brunch and a great cup of coffee!
Kenneth & Jennifer (Aniston)
Thank You Note Kits
If James Bond wrote you a thank you card, he’d write it on Smythson stationery. So head over to Smythson.com, pick up a simple pack of plain correspondence cards and a felt tip pen. And remember, you’re not a kid. Stay away from the goofy motifs and flashy colors. Less is more.
Also check out Forgetful Gentleman, a line of stationery catering specifically to modern men that features minimalist design with kits starting at $25.
If you're in a real hurry, head on over to Papyrus at your local mall, they have some nice sets, too.
Always send a thank you no matter the occasion. If you don’t thank your buddy for dinner, he may roll his eyes. If you don’t thank your friend for an extravagant wedding gift, he might dismiss you for your lack of courtesy. And if you don’t thank a businessman for his profound advice over a fine steak and bottle of wine, you might kiss that future job goodbye.