My birthday was last week, and a friend dropped off a gift basket on my porch. It contained all my favorites: a Magnolia candle, a new book to read, Milano cookies, bath salts and a gift card to a cute boutique in town. I was so surprised and excited that I immediately texted her to tell her thank you. Now my mom’s voice won’t get out of my head. She’s telling me I should write my friend a thank-you note, but I feel like the text was my thank-you note. Am I right? What do you think? What’s proper etiquette in today’s age of texting? — Dying to Know
Dear Dying to Know,
Let me start by telling you a little story. When I was in fourth grade, all my friends paraded around in Guess jeans and carried Guess purses. I longed to join the ranks of girls who walked the halls with a triangle on their booty, but my single mama’s salary didn’t cover the cost of such luxuries. So, imagine my delight when a friend gave me a pair of Guess socks for my birthday! I was elated to own anything with the Guess status symbol, even if it was on my ankle.
A few days after my party I wrote my friend a thank-you note and took it to school. This was not prompted by my mom — we were transplants from up north and not bridled by Southern customs. I truly wanted my friend to know how grateful I was for her gift, so I gave her my note before school started and thought nothing of it the rest of the day.
Somehow, between fractions and social studies, my teacher found the note I had given my friend. I don’t know if it fell out of my friend’s backpack or desk, but due to my teacher’s strict “no passing notes in class” policy, she read my note aloud to the entire class — #humiliation. After reading the note, my teacher said, “Class, this note wasn’t even interesting.”
“I didn’t mean for it to sound interesting,” I wanted to say. “I meant for it to sound grateful.”
Starting at a young age I wanted people to know I was grateful. Grateful for gifts, both tangible and intangible. But thanks to texting, busyness and, let’s face it, laziness, writing thank-you notes is becoming a lost art.
I admit that as much as I love writing thank-you notes, five kids has taken its toll on my discipline in this area and I, just like the rest of our culture, have become lax in this area. Too many times I’ve let texting replace note writing and, like you, sometimes I wonder which is appropriate and when note writing is going overboard.
So, let’s clear up the confusion right here, right now. Below are some thoughts to consider when it comes to thanking people via text versus notes:
First off, consider your audience. Who are you thanking?
If it’s your mom, your sister, your spouse or your BFF, in my opinion you can get away with texting a quick, yet sincere, thank you. Anyone outside this inner circle probably needs a proper thank-you note.
Always handwrite a thank-you note to someone who is a generation above you. It is respectful and thoughtful and shows that you value that person and what they did for you.
Recently I was sick — bedridden, in fact — for over a week. One of our good family friends bought us groceries and brought me flowers. I sent her a text message thanking her and then followed up with a thank-you note. Who doesn’t love getting mail, especially when that mail lets someone know how much they are valued?
Next, identify the occasion. Why are you thanking them?
If a friend watched your child for a couple of hours while you went to the doctor, a simple thank you when you pick up your little tot followed by a text later is sufficient.
However, if a friend watches your child for a weekend while you and your spouse slip away for your anniversary, a thank-you note — maybe even attached to a gift card — is a more appropriate response.
If you go for a job interview, send your interviewer an email — not a text — briefly expressing thanks for his or her time and the opportunity to interview for the position. In this instance email is better than a handwritten note because the hiring decision might be made before your letter reaches your interviewer.
I’ve gained a lot of insight about this very topic from Maralee McKee, founder of Manners Mentor, Inc. The following is adapted from McKee’s blog at mannersmentor.com, taking into consideration that texting is the go-to form of digital communication more so than emailing these days.
A simple verbal thank-you is sufficient on some occasions, such as receiving gifts given as a thank-you gesture like a hostess gift. You can also give a verbal thank-you for holiday gifts opened in front of the giver or thinking-of-you items like home-baked goods.
Texting is a sufficient thank-you in instances when you don’t have a physical address — mention that you don’t have their address and you wanted to thank them with a handwritten note. You can also text for any small kindness that you want to acknowledge, like a friend feeding your dog while you’re out of town, a neighbor bringing you muffins or a coworker helping you with a project.
Break out the thank-you notes when receiving gifts for an anniversary, baby shower, birthday, bridal shower, congratulations, graduation or housewarming. A handwritten note is also appropriate for any gift received in the mail, a gift not opened in front of the giver, a meal you’ve been treated to, as well as any kindness or gift extended while you are ill, hospitalized or in the event of a funeral. Finally, write out a thank-you note for anything that has been specially designed or handmade for you.
Remember, it is always a good idea to do more than to do less. So, if you’re not sure whether you should thank someone verbally or text them, send that text. If you’re not sure whether you should text or write a thank-you note, write the thank-you note. You won’t ever regret being too kind.