“Thank you for your Thank you” Is Quite Unnecessary

by admin on February 20, 2012

Hello, I’ve been reading this site for the last ten months and now I have just encountered a situation where I’m not sure if I was in the wrong or not…

Recently it was my sister’s birthday. I always make a point to send a card and a little something on her special day. Before her birthday, I had been recovering from bronchitis, which made going anywhere a trial due to losing my breath and my constant coughing. Therefore by the time I purchased her card, her gift (a gift certificate to a restaurant I know she would like in her city) and postage, I knew it was more than likely that the card would arrive after her birthday.

What I did was on the day of her birthday, I made sure to go onto her Facebook page to wish her a Happy Birthday. I also sent her a text wishing her a great day for her birthday (we’re not callers unless it’s an emergency, but we will text each other for quick fun messages). She texted me back with a thank you for the birthday text. A couple of days later, I got another text saying that she had received my card and gift and thank you for that.

Now the etiquette question…a few days later, I was talking to our mother, when Mom mentioned to me that my sister remarked that I did not respond to her thank you text for the card and gift. Sorry if I sound clueless, but was I suppose to? I didn’t think a made a slip up, but now I’m not sure. Do I owe my sister an apology for lack of manners? 0220-12

If you were having a face-to-face discussion and she thanks you, the polite verbal volley back to her would have been, “You are welcome.”  However, in written correspondences, which includes electronic communication via texting, status updates, posting to social network walls,  there is not a requirement to acknowledge written expressions of gratitude.   It doesn’t hurt to acknowledge such communication with a, “You are welcome,” or “I’m glad you liked it,” but there is no etiquette mandate that says you must.

People who expect to have their gratitude acknowledged may have a need to be praised or somehow rewarded for taking the effort to fulfill a requirement etiquette does demand of them, i.e. the prompt expression of thanks upon receiving a gift.  And maybe in our increasingly mannerless culture, it may appear to be a good thing to encourage more gratitude but this would be a mistake.  For all we would be doing is facilitating a selfish need of others to receive external validation for an act that should have been motivated from intrinsic principles of courtesy to the generous.

{ 27 comments… read them below or add one }

AS February 20, 2012 at 2:52 pm

If your sister is not an attention seeker, I’d say that she was just thinking that you’ll just continue to communicate with her, and not expecting a “you are welcome” for your thank you. I don’t think it is anything more than a passe. She might even be concerned about you and your health, and just used this as an example. Imagine a conversation something like this:

Mother: “I didn’t hear from OP for a while. I hope he/she is doing fine and recovering well from that Bronchitis”

Sister: “I didn’t hear from him/her either, mom. He/She didn’t even respond to my thank you messages for the text and Birthday card.”

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alex February 20, 2012 at 3:04 pm

I don’t think you did anything wrong as not everyone reponds to thank you texts (my sister being one of them) but I do feel as if it is polite to respond “your welcome” or “glad you like it” or something like that to let someone know you received their message. I do this because it irks me when people do not respond and maybe they feel like me but then I know others who couldn’t care one way or another.

So I don’t really think you made an etiquette blunder as I know people who feel both ways. But from now on just realize your sister likes confirmation. :)

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sv February 20, 2012 at 3:10 pm

I probably would have responded in some way ” You’re welcome! Hope you enjoy it! ” simply so she knew her text was received.

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Garrett February 20, 2012 at 3:12 pm

I agree that there was no etiquette-required response, but I would have sent something back. Like the Admin said, a simple “you’re welcome” would suffice.

That is my biggest gripe with text communication: it should not be a substitute for conversation. I have some friends who get offended if you don’t respond to a text. If you don’t ask a question or say something that merits a response (like the above-mentioned thank you), I don’t always reply. It’s silly to go back and forth with meaningless conversation just to placate someone. I have one friend who told me to at least send back a “yes” or “ok” to every text so she knows I got it. That’s a little much.

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Cherry February 20, 2012 at 3:55 pm

To play the devil’s advocate, it’s entirely possible that OP’s sister meant this in a different way to how it’s been interpreted.

Is it possible that the sister simply meant: “Oh, I haven’t heard back from OP. I hope she got my thank you and doesn’t think I’m being impolite and ungrateful!”?

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Enna February 20, 2012 at 3:56 pm

Maybe your sister just wanted to know you had got the message? Maybe becauseyou are ill too – it might not be that your sister thought you were rude, she might have been a bit worried.

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Cat Whisperer February 20, 2012 at 3:56 pm

Man, don’t you hate it when you go to great effort to do the right thing and someone nit-picks and faults you on one little, tiny, meaningless thing?

What I’ve found is that when this happens, it’s really not about manners, or etiquette, or doing the right thing. It’s about the person who is doing the nit-picking asserting their (perceived) dominance in the peck order. You see, by finding fault with what you’ve done, they lay claim to being the dominant person. That’s because nit-picking always goes down the peck-order, never up. Nobody nit-picks the “head cow” in the herd, but the “head cow” gets to nit-pick all the other cows with impunity.

So this is not about manners, this is really about your sister asserting her dominance by proclaiming her right to judge you and proclaim your apparent deficiencies to the rest of the “herd,” and in doing so, keep you in your (subordinate) place.

As administrator noted, you have not broken any etiquette rules and are not deficient. But your sister clearly wants you to think you are.

The nice thing about recognizing that someone is nit-picking you and faulting you as a demonstration of their (perceived) superiority to you is that you can decide not to participate in the demonstration. You might choose to ignore your sister, but the way that generally plays out in a peck-order tiff is that the person seeking validation of their superiority will escalate the issue and complain more stridently, and to more people, about your (perceived) deficiency in an attempt to get you to apologize and in doing so, acknowledge that she’s a higher-ranking cow than you are.

If you want to short-circuit sister’s little game, then do something like send her an extravagant apology for your transgression. A text message to the effect that you’re devastated that your failure to acknowledge her “thank you” with a “you’re welcome” has so devastated you that life is now nothing but dust and ashes seems in order. Perhaps an inquiry about when she’s got your execution scheduled, and are you allowed to have input on the invite list and what music is chosen for the event, and are you allowed to choose between a guillotine or a firing squad, might make the point to her that maybe she’s gone a little overboard about the “thank you” thing.

Or you could decide, if this is just another in a long serious of nit-picks that she’s done, that since you can never make her happy, you’re freed from the burden of trying. And say to heck with her, you’re going do as you please because you know you’re doing right, and if that isn’t enough for her, she can pound sand. I can recommend this last approach, as it’s actually quite liberating.

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Jojo February 20, 2012 at 4:04 pm

It all seems a bit formal and Victorian in Op’s household. Of course I thank people for the gifts they generously give me but I don’t think I’ve ever expected a response. Particularly not to a text, which all too often gets read in a hurry and forgotten about if not attended to immediately. I can only imagine the text conversation in my family if we were expected to reply to a thank you -
“hv u tkn dog 4 a wlk?”
“Yup”
“Gd gd, thnks”.
‘No probs”.
Are other people’s lives really that different that a text is interpreted as anything but casual daily conversation?

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wendymoo February 20, 2012 at 4:11 pm

While I do agree that there is not requirement for a response to a texted/electronic “thank you”, I do usually try to acknowledge when someone thanks me simply because I’ve had texts (both those I’ve sent, and those I was to receive) not arrive at their destination. I like to make sure that their politeness was both received and appreciated. Overkill? Perhaps. But I think it’s a nice gesture. :)

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Wink-n-Smile February 20, 2012 at 4:55 pm

If her thank you was just out of politeness, then no response is necessary. However, she may have thought of it as a written conversation.

In my experience, a reply to a thank you can suck you in, where you don’t want to go. For example, if you give someone a token gift, and just want a thank you and then not to hear from them for another year or two, respond with “You’re welcome,” and they’ll drop it. If, however, you respond with “Glad you liked it,” you might be sucked into hearing what they did/did not like about it, how they plan to use it, the funny thing that happened when they used it, how cute their kids were when they used it, the plans for the next time they will use it, the plans for the time between now and the next time they will use it, and the plans for the next several months after the next time they will use it.

In other words, say “You’re welcome” and have done with it. Glad you like it begs a response, and keeps the conversation going, whether you meant to, or not.

Likewise, in informal conversations, such as texting (rightfully, she should have sent her thank you by post, since the gift arrived by post, and Miss Manners says to respond in the way the gift was presented), tend to run on and on until they finally reach a natural stopping point. You sister loves you, and doesn’t want it to reach a natural stopping point.

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Wink-n-Smile February 20, 2012 at 4:58 pm

Cherry – that’s entirely possible.

Garret – that is one reason why I do not choose to have texting on my cell phone plan. I don’t like texting. Just call me, already, let us have a reasonable conversation, say goodbye, and have done with it. I cannot be forever tied to a phone.

Call me old-fashioned, call me a Luddite, by all means. Just don’t text me, please. I prefer my conversations to be the truly old-fashioned kind – face to face.

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Wink-n-Smile February 20, 2012 at 5:02 pm

Wow, Cat Whisperer.

If this were one of a series of such things, I think your advice would be worthy, but since this is apparently just a one-off deal, it probably has nothing to do with either cows or chickens, and is just a case of “Did she get my thank you?” or “I want to continue the conversation.”

Again, just talk to each other, people!

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MellowedOne February 20, 2012 at 5:27 pm

I disagree with the admin’s comment about texting being considered under the category of written communication. True it is non-verbal in nature, and is a poor substitute for actual conversation, but texting is a live conversation in progress. And that’s at the heart of the OP’s story.

Picture it this way..sister and OP are in a room, sister thanks OP for gift. What is the natural thing OP would do? Remain silent? No she would acknowledge the comment with a ‘you’re welcome’, ‘that’s what sisters are for’, or something like that.

I don’t think people should have to respond to each and every text they receive, but there are plenty of times where a simple acknowledgement to indicate one has received..and read..a text would be gracious.

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hannahere February 20, 2012 at 5:34 pm

If I were to receive something in the mail, and I thanked someone via facebook/text, I would like an acknowledgement that they had seen my text–otherwise I would worry needlessly that they had not seen it, accidently deleted it, it was put in a spam folder, etc. and that I would need to go a step further in making sure that I had thanked them. That makes sense doesn’t it?

If I were to send a thank you card, I guess I wouldn’t worry so much about whether they had received it, but there are just a lot of times when people say “I didn’t get that text/tweet/status update, etc.” and I would worry my thank you had gotten lost in cyber space.

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Ashley 2 February 20, 2012 at 7:17 pm

I think the admin and some others on here are being a little too quick to say that the OP’s sister may be an attention or praise seeker. Who knows maybe she is, but in my opinion it really doesn’t have anything to do with whether or not OP owed her sister a “your welcome sis! :)” to her *thanks! :D* Perhaps the OP’s sister simply mentioned to her mother for worry that for some reason OP didn’t receive her thank you message?

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Cat February 20, 2012 at 7:46 pm

Between sisters, this could be fun-like sending each other the same birthday card for twenty years.

I would play it this way: “Thank you”; “Thank you for thanking me”; “No, thank you for thanking me for thanking you”; “Don’t mention it, thank you for thanking me for thanking you for thanking me”; “Don’t be silly, thank you for thanking me for thanking you for thanking me for thanking you”… Last person to quit wins the graciousness award.
What good is having a sister if you cannot continue to annoy her right through old age?
Thank you.

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Jared Bascomb February 20, 2012 at 7:53 pm

You summed it up, sv @3.
I’m frequently a member of multi-person lunches, with the arrangements done by e-mail. Often, after many messages about date, time, and venue, the “final” message will be something along the lines of: “Then it’s Friday the 12th at 11:30 at [restaurant].” A simple affirmative reply indicates receipt and concurrence.
It’s really no biggie.

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Elle February 20, 2012 at 10:10 pm

Responding to a text is just polite. It lets the user know that the text has been received and seen.

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Edhla February 20, 2012 at 10:51 pm

Texting pro-tip- if you feel you should respond in some way to “thank you” but the topic of conversation is pretty much exhausted and you don’t want to play text ping-pong all day (which can get really annoying), I find this —> :) usually suffices. It’s an acknowledgement of the thank you and letting them know you’re pleased, but it’s not something THEY would feel obliged to respond to- or would be able to, unless of course they responded with their own –> :) , in which case, stop there ;)

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Claire February 21, 2012 at 6:21 am

I LOVE Cat’s idea! i may start that with my sis (who I love dearly btw).

However in general life there really must come a point when a text “conversation” ceases or it becomes ridiculous and you are paying the mobile phone companies to send things like “kthx”, “ok” “c u soon” or even “lol” or “:)”. Pointless!

I think there needs more context before etiquette may be judged here. We are inferring the conversation between sister/mother and subsequently mother/OP were done with a level of discontent or even anger. I would suggest that a little more benefit of the doubt be given – for all we know, mother could be the *wrong* party here, perhaps giving sister a hard time about not sending a “proper” thank you”, sis becomes defensive “did so, she didn’t even text me back” etc etc.

My mother often runs interference between my sisters and I, its taken a while but we all know to check directly with each other before we make a decision now! She means no malice but does frequently miscommunicate a message or place a different slant on things.

In essence, OP was not wrong as such but i would say there is a lull rather than an end in that particular conversation, to be picked up again, especially if they text on a regular basis. Sister was not wrong if she made a simple enquiry, but was wrong to do so with (if) she meant malice. Likewise mother.

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vanessaga February 21, 2012 at 6:41 am

Texting is NOT always a “live conversation in progress”. For instance, I work in an office where security mandates cell phones be off (not on vibrate but physically off). My husband and I often communicate by text for this reason but depending on when I’m taking a break and when he is,we are usually not texting at the same time. The same is true for friends who text me occasionally, saying things like, miss you, ect. I am not attached to my cell phone, therefore I may get their text hours after it was sent. It does not always require a response.

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Kitty Lizard February 21, 2012 at 8:07 am

This calls to mind when my older sister had cancer surgery. My mother gave me strict instructions NOT
to call her because she “needed her rest.” So I didn’t. A week later my mother called me and reamed me out for not calling my sister to see how she was doing. I did call my mother during this time but she wasn’t answering her phone and had turned her answering machine off.

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PhDeath February 21, 2012 at 8:50 am

I’m with Edhla, and was going to say the same – sounds like a job for :)

I have a few friends/family members who will drag a text conversation on for.ever. because they don’t know how to end. The smiley or winky has saved me many a minute.

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Wink-n-Smile February 21, 2012 at 9:18 am

Kitty Lizard – that was an untenable situation. I suppose you could call the hospital and ask the staff, but they would not be allowed to give any information. They could, however, pass on a message to the sister, when she was awake, that you had called and cared.

I suppose sending flowers and/or a card wouldn’t have been enough to satisfy your mother?

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MellowedOne February 21, 2012 at 10:19 am

vanessaga, you are quite correct…it’s not always ‘in progress’–I should’ve chosen my words a little better :) The ‘in-progress’ part, as you accurately conveyed, depends on the recipient’s availability.

But the same can be said for verbal conversation. My point is just because communication is non-verbal does not necessarily classify under the umbrella as ‘written’. That’s a black and white assessment which is not applicable in the age of instantaneous non-verbal communication.

And we both agree that not every text deserves a reply. But if it’s such a small thing, why not make the concession to make people happy? Edhla’s suggestion is right on the money. It works perfectly.

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Patty February 23, 2012 at 11:20 am

I think it always comes down to whom you’re talking to. If I value a person a lot, I will answer back. I can’t always answer every text and tweet and Facebook post I get, but of course not every one of them comes from a person who is really important to me. If I were the writer’s sister, I would have also expected an answer. Of course it’s no big deal – I would never get angry over such a thing. But I think an answer would add that little more “yes, I’m happy to hear from you” :)

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Enna February 25, 2012 at 6:27 am

Its good to acknowledge a response from somone with texting but it’s not vital to be polite. I’m making an assumption here but I think it might be bceause you were ill maybe your sister was a bit worried. I like the idea of sending a smiley face :)

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