Thank you! Thank You! Thank You! Lather, Rinse, Repeat

by admin on August 9, 2010

I have two connected, minor stories which are both about how one says thank you.

When I was eight, my great-grandmother sent me a card saying just “You are an unappreciative little brat.” Why? Because I called her on the phone to thank her for her card the year before, rather than writing a long note. I hated writing in cursive, and I loved it when she told stories on the phone. Letters and cards felt horribly boring and impersonal to me as a seven year old, where everything was more fun if you could hear someone or see them. I honestly thought I was doing something nice. That was the last time we talked to her before she died, and I feel sort of bad for her that she drove off my entire part of the family with that one act.

When I was sixteen, my best friend’s mother had a habit of going to put-and-takes (free swap-spots for the wealthy on Nantucket island) where you could just pick through and take whatever you liked. Now, best friend was 5’6″ and 190lbs. I was 5’4″ and 103lbs. Her mother would come back with a suitcase of clothing for me, and one or two things for her daughter saying, “Well there was hardly anything to fit YOU.” I felt awkward and uncomfortable, but I said (and I remember it clearly), “Wow! I really appreciate the clothing, Mrs. X!”

Skip forward two months, and my best friend, still mad about how much her mother dotes on me, lays into me for not thanking her mother. I’m all confused – because I did! And she goes, “No, you said I APPRECIATE IT. Not THANK YOU.” Call me insane, but isn’t saying you actively like something you were given better than an empty two word gesture?

I’m all for politeness, and all for following etiquette – but if the thought counts when someone gives me a gift and I HAVE to thank them.. Shouldn’t the thought count when I thank them for it? 0707-10

{ 32 comments… read them below or add one }

Princesssimmi August 9, 2010 at 8:14 am

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: different people have different ways of doing things. There’s always going to be something you could have done better, because no matter what you do someone will want it done differently. I thank people verbally as they provide gifts and will follow up with an SMS of what I spent the money on/ an MMS (photo message) of me wearing the garment or the item being used/displayed etc. Probably not the best etiquette but half of them move so often I can’t keep track of them!

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QueenofAllThings August 9, 2010 at 8:17 am

I’m sorry about your great grandmother. A different generation, to be sure, but I’m not sure why she would expect a written thank you for a birthday card (unless, of course, it included a check).
As to your friend, she clearly was hurt by her mother’s behavior and she was lashing out at you. I think a statement of appreciation is sufficient for second-clothing that was picked from a pile for free.

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DGS August 9, 2010 at 9:25 am

While it sounds like Great-Grandmother overreacted, I do wonder if there was more to the story there. Was there something the OP did beside call her on the phone to thank her that made Great-Grandmother so upset as to write off an entire part of the family?

As for the second story, BF’s Mom should have treated her own daughter with more kindness than resorting to passive-aggressive behavior (what a great way to get her daughter to resent both her mother and her friend!) And it sounds like a sixteen-year-old girl behaved the way a sixteen-year-old girl would behave when upset and angry, by lashing out at her friend instead of confronting her mother. “Appreciate” and “thank you” are synonymous, so the best friend had no case there.

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gramma dishes August 9, 2010 at 10:16 am

DGS ~~ Maybe I misread, but I got the impression that the family sort of wrote off the Great Grandmother because they were offended by her “unappreciative little brat” rant, not that she wrote them off.

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LovleAnjel August 9, 2010 at 10:23 am

@DGS
I don’t think ggma wrote off the family, I think the family wrote off ggma after she wrote a nasty note to a young child who loved her. I wonder if it was another case of possible dementia affecting behavior in an older person.

As for the hand-me-downs used to shame a daughter into losing weight? I think “I appreciate this” is more than enough thanks.

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Xtina August 9, 2010 at 10:41 am

Going *only* on what info is provided in this story, the great-grandmother got a little crazy attacking a 7-year-old and writing off an entire side of the family over a supposed gaffe of letter-writing versus the phone. But like another recent story here regarding Facebook/Twitter, this is probably a case of times changing and the OP’s thank-you was regarded as too flippant or informal for the (apparently very proper) elder relative. It would have been much more proper for the GGM to actually communicate with the family to tell them that she thought their thank-you was incorrect rather than lashing out–too bad she died still seemingly bitter towards that side of the family.

A bit insensitive of the BF’s mother to give so many clothes to the OP, although her heart was in the right place. The BF was probably just upset and angry and lashed out at the OP over anything she could pick a fight about, although the real problem was probably more between the mother and daughter–the OP was just a convenient target.

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ErinAnn August 9, 2010 at 10:42 am

Your great-grandmother sounds like she had a bit of dementia. Too bad your family didn’t think of that. My own grandmother says mean things from time to time and is slowly driving people away (her hairdresser just asked he to not come back). But we keep visiting and ignoring her craziness. The woman is 93. You can’t expect everything to be functioning properly at that age. As a little girl, there wasn’t much you could do other than feel hurt. Your mother, however, could have said, “Sometimes older people get grumpy at silly things because their minds don’t work as well. Let’s just send a nice thank you letter to G.Grandma because it will make her happy.”

As for etiquette, the elderly in my life get a lot of room for error, and I try to keep things very proper.

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Margaret August 9, 2010 at 10:56 am

I don’t think the OP was saying that the great grandmother wrote off the family — the family wrote her off after being so nasty to a child. That is a shame, because it is actually quite lovely when you said that you enjoyed hearing her tell stories. Too bad she couldn’t realize what a compliment that was. Although, not to make sweeping statements about the elderly, if this was shortly before she died, it is possilbe that there was some mental deterioration and either she didn’t rememember that you had thanked her by a phone call or she was offended where maybe a few years earlier, she wouldn’t have been. I’ve noticed in the last couple of years with my grandmother (now 97), some things that never used to bother her make her quite irrate now.

And I totally agree that the best friend was lashing out at you when she was really mad at her mother. Not very nice, but I can understand. I feel more sorry for the friend than for the OP in that case (not that the OP did anything wrong).

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padua August 9, 2010 at 11:45 am

my grandmother refused to send any more birthday cards (usually accompanied with birthday cheques) to my siblings and i after she failed to receive a thank-you note from me when i was 8. mind you, i’d written the note, but mom hadn’t sent it. harsh things were said over the incident, but in retrospect, i think it was merely a generational difference, and i fully believe my grandma was trying to teach me the importance of thank-you notes.

not that i agree with that method. but i sure wish it had made note writing a little more automatic for me.

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Gilles August 9, 2010 at 12:10 pm

When my first daughter was young and her great-grandmother would send her presents, I made sure she wrote a thank-you note instead of just a phone call because my father told me that she loved getting mail at her nursing home and that she liked to have something to show her friends. You can’t do that with a phone call.

Also, I know from issues with patients that older people often forget phone calls. Maybe the great-grandmother in question forgot all about it. With a card, there’s a physical reminder.

Of course, none of this excuses tearing into a seven-year-old.

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Enna August 9, 2010 at 3:31 pm

Great Grandma could’ve been suffering from dymentia – I know my Grandma says some very upsetting things to my Mum but she puts it down to Grandma’s old age and convient memory. As f0r the firend – maybe the OP should try to point out to the firend that she knows it was mean what her mother said. If it is common place I think maybe the OP should try to inovlve her own Mum? Who could say to the firend’s Mum next time she says something like that to her own daughter: “That’s harsh, comments like that can cause anorexia in teenage girls.”

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e-helot August 9, 2010 at 3:45 pm

I’ve actually had the opposite situation happen with a great aunt as the OP and her great grandmother. One Christmas, my sister and I both sent thank you notes to her (having also thanked her in person when we received our gifts)… only to have her rebuke us for not calling to thank her, as our cousin did.

For the next several years, she got THREE thank yous from each of us…

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Me August 9, 2010 at 5:31 pm

In the second example, I think the mother is the one who made the etiquette blunder. What a horrible situation to put you in!

I was the kid who wasn’t allowed to use my presents until I’d written the thank you letters. One Christmas, I lied and told my mother I’d already done them (so stupid in retrospect, of course she was going to find out!) When she did, she cancelled my birthday party (in late January.) I still got presents and had a cake, but I wasn’t allowed to have friends over. It was more about the lying than the thank you presents, but it definitely worked – I never dragged my feet writing those suckers ever again!

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Manoomin August 9, 2010 at 5:52 pm

In response to Me’s post, I had a similar experience as a child. If I didn’t sent out my Christmas thank-you notes quickly enough my grandparents wouldn’t send a gift for my mid-January birthday (“quickly enough” as in, in the time it would take them to select and mail it). Reflecting on it as an adult I am, of course, aware that I’m not entitled to gifts from anyone, family or otherwise. But as a little kid it does make an impression on you to receive a card that is empty other than its heartfelt wishes when you’re looking forward to otherwise. ;-)

Not that I think they were making any kind of blunder, just sharing a similar practice!

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Salsera August 9, 2010 at 7:02 pm

I think there is a big difference between saying’ thank you’ and saying ‘I like your gift’.

‘Thank you’, to me, has to be said, as it is a thank you for thinking of me. The ‘I love it’ is an optional extra, but does not replace the thank you. It is an appreciation of the gift in itself, not the thoughtfulness of the giver. They are not the same thing at all.

I have nieces who say ‘Cool’ or ‘it’s great’ if I give them a gift, but they never thank me. If one day I get them a gift they don’t like, are they at liberty to say ‘I don’t like this ‘?

Regardless of their enthusiasm, I feel unthanked if I don’t hear the actual words. Of course, a combination of ‘Thank you’ and ‘I love it’ is the best thing to hear.

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Allison August 9, 2010 at 9:47 pm

I realised sometime earlier this year, that when I say “thank you very much”, which I ALWAYS say, to anything really, including say, getting my lunch from the deli, I curtsy. Its not a huge curtsy, just a slight bob.
I dont know when it started, but according to my family and friends, I do it all the time, and have done it for years. Not sure what my point is here, but I have always wondered if the people I curtsy too, ever notice, and what they think of me for doing it?
but for me, saying thank you is like second nature. I think its rude to be given something and not say thank you for it, even if its just a cheeseburges from McDonalds, someone went to the effort to give that to you, they deserve thanks.

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Kelly August 10, 2010 at 3:59 am

Many years ago when I was little, my grandmother announced that she would not be getting me any more toys on her travels (gma and gpa travelled all the time) because I had not sent a thank you note. I had not been taught about thank you notes, so I don’t know how a 7-year-old could have come up with the idea on her own, but the ruling stood.

Well, she did get me towels for my birthdays (which promptly went to Goodwill – a kid really doesn’t need their own towels!) but for Christmases and such, she’d get gifts for my brother but not for me. And no, as far as I know, he never sent a thank you card either…..

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Typo Tat August 10, 2010 at 5:24 am

This kind of reminds me of my friend, I always get the vibe that she doesn’t appreciate my gifts.

Her birthday last year:
Me: *presents a nice expensive mp3 player*
Her: Thanks! I’ll probably exchange it. Boyfriend just gave me an mp3 player too. *shows cheap chinese knockoff*
Me: *shrugs*, exchange note is in the baggie.
Her: You know, maybe I’ll keep it after all.

Her birthday this year:
Me: *presents a nice expensive necklace with her favorite stone*
Her: Thanks! I’ll probably exchange it. I have too many things with this stone.
Me: *shrugs*, exchange note is in the baggie.
Her: You know, maybe I’ll keep it after all.

Is it really so hard to just accept a gift graciously? She’s a very close friend and invests a lot of effort into our friendship. Still, it’s annoying.

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Sabrina August 10, 2010 at 7:12 am

@Salsera

I think you make a very good point here, in that expressing that you LIKE a gift is NOT the same as thanking the gift-giver.

However, in this case, the OP said, “I really appreciate it!,” which to me is synonymous with “Thank you.” I can totally hear kids saying, “Wow, that’s awesome!” and running off with a new toy, and you are correct–that is NOT the same as thanking you for it. However, if they said, “Wow, this is so cool! I really appreciate it!,” I think that IS thanking you. They have acknowledged that you went out of your way to do something kind. “I appreciate it” expresses gratitude, which is the same as thanking someone.

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phoenix August 10, 2010 at 8:01 am

Salsera, the problem with that is that the meanings of “thank you” and “I love it” that you have laid out in your post are what they mean to YOU. Those are some very specific rules and connotations you’ve laid out. Not everyone is going to realize that showing appreciation for a gift you gave them leaves you feeling unthanked. For me, I’d far rather hear that they like something than say two specific words that have often been rendered meaningless. I know a lot of people who have been taught that showing enthusiasm, real or not, is the best way to thank people.

I try to always say “Thank’s so much!” for everything, but it sounds like you’re focusing entirely on the exact way someone says something, and not what they’re saying. People say and do things differently, it seems a bit strange to get so hung up on the exact form that thankfullness takes.

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Jillybean August 10, 2010 at 8:34 am

@Allison – that reminds me of something that happened to me once. I was in a deli getting a sandwich. The person making the sandwich would say something along the lines of, “Would you like pickles on that?” And with each question I answered, “Yes, please,” or “No, thank you.” After a few questions he looked at me and said, “You’re not from around here are you?” I was so confused, and then was saddened when he told me he assumed I wasn’t a local because I was being so polite.

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gramma dishes August 10, 2010 at 9:50 am

Kelly ~~ ” . . . but for Christmases and such, she’d get gifts for my brother but not for me. And no, as far as I know, he never sent a thank you card either…..”

That just seems downright mean!
I feel so bad for you that you were treated that way! :-(

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Chocobo! August 10, 2010 at 10:25 am

Isn’t the point of saying “thank you” to show appreciation for the gift/favor? In this case, I think “I appreciate it” and “Thank you” are synonymous. Although personally, trying “I appreciate it” on my tongue a few times, I can’t seem to get the sentence out comfortably without “thanks” attached to one end. But that’s just a personal preference.

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LovleAnjel August 10, 2010 at 10:27 am

@ Allison I’d like it if more people curtsied/tipped their hat/gave a slight bow. It shows a slight deference with the thanks.

@ Jillybean I thank shop people all the time. Not uncommonly I get a shocked, appreciative smile in response, and that’s the best thing ever.

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Jillybean August 10, 2010 at 10:50 am

@Kelly – I agree with gramma dishes

@Typo Tat – I would no longer buy a gift for a person who reacted that way.

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Dear! August 10, 2010 at 11:28 am

Being from the Caribbean, we rarely, if ever, follow up with Thank You Cards. I’m HUGE on manners but usually a thank you in person with a hug or a phone call when appropriate will usually be sufficient. But the question, is it more rude not to say Thank You in the way the person demands it, or to be disrespected because of it. The story with the Grandma is sad, but I, too, don’t talk to my grandmother for similar reasons.

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Dear! August 10, 2010 at 11:30 am

Oh, the exception with the card rule, is acts of kindness. We usually gift give or give a higher end card for that, instead of a note. …Just a little peek into another culture. :)

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RP August 10, 2010 at 2:30 pm

@phoenix: I might have agreed with you if it wasn’t for Sabrina’s comment giving an example of what Salsera meant. I don’t think Salsera is getting hung up on the exact form the thankfulness takes, I think she is reacting to how it’s said and the context in which it is being said.

I’m betting Sabrina is right in that Salsera is only hearing “cool” from her nieces in the kind of tone that tells you that the only think they’re thinking is “CHA-CHING!” rather than gratitude.

That said, I do agree that someone can say that the gift is wonderful and that also express gratitude to the gift-giver. For me, this is especially true with gifts I knit. Hearing someone go on about how awesome they think something I made is just makes my entire day.

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librarianinhell August 10, 2010 at 2:51 pm

My mother is from Colombia, and I was never taught to write “thank you” notes. I don’t know if it’s a cultural thing. But I was taught to thank people in person, since all the gifts I got was in person (like Christmas, birthdays).

I was invited to a cw’s (let’s refer her to as “b”) for another cw’s birthday. So I brought a gift. cw gave me a thank you note. Then she gave me a birthday present and this went on for a while. Cw, for one bd, give me an etiquette book with stationary. One instrument was suppose to be a pen but it was in a closed tube with no hole, so the best me and my other cws thought it was was an extra cartridge for a pen. I don’t think I sent her a thank you note (though I might have) since I never did that before. I thought it was tacky.

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Kelly August 10, 2010 at 5:46 pm

Well, for what it’s worth, I am a stickler for thank you cards today :)

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Julie August 10, 2010 at 8:54 pm

I live in Mexico and we don’t do thank you notes; as with librarianinhell and Dear, it’s appropriate to express your gratitude in person upon receiving the gift, or if it was sent to you, a phone call is frequently enough. As far as I know, no one around here would think of sending TY notes, much less would be offended if they aren’t sent to them. I think is is indeed a matter of cultural differences :)

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Laurelhill August 17, 2010 at 2:38 pm

Keely – I would guess that what is going on here is different rules for boys and girls. I’ve found that I was expected to write all the thank-you notes for not only myself but also my husband. When wedding presents from his family were not responded to by him (after he said he would do those, then didn’t), I was the one who got the queries about did we receive the gift and why didn’t I write a note? I had finished my 150+, but counted on him to do his dozen without constant questions, so I was mortified. I’m thinking that you as a girl were being held to an expectation that your brother was not, solely by virtue of being a boy. Of course, now that expectation have changed, you know what to do, and he likely does not. I’m raising my two differently, of course – although my son has terrible handwriting and struggles, he still does them.

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