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There Is No Limit To Gratitude

This story pertains to my boyfriend’s mother, C. My boyfriend and I have been dating for 2 and a half years, and intend to get married, so this isn’t something I can just ignore.

C and her husband are very wealthy and like to give generous gifts, especially for Christmas. The first Christmas I was with her son, she gave wonderful gifts and I thanked her graciously in person, since we opened them at her house. About a week later, I received a thank-you card from her in the mail, though she also thanked me in person for the present I gave her. After some debate, I reciprocated with a thank-you card for the gifts she had given me. Next year, the same thing happened; we exchanged gifts in person, thanked each other in person, and she sent a thank-you card in the mail, and I reciprocated.

This whole double thank-you dance feels a little silly. When she brought a gift for me at my graduation party, I decided to open it later to avoid the double thank-you, as well as the awkward situation of making others watch me open gifts. I promptly send the thank-you the next day. Was it rude not to open the gift while she was there? Is there anything I can do about this double thank-you dance? My mother taught me that if someone is there when you open the gift, and you thank them for it in person, there is no need to send a thank-you card. Why does C feel the need to also send a thank-you?

You are asking advice from someone who believes there can never be too many thank yous or too much gratitude.   People who consider writing thank you notes a chore to be endured are possibly needing a change in perspective to one of more humble gratefulness for gifts given to them.   View writing these notes as an exercise to build your gratitude muscles so that you become an expert on the art of writing lovely notes of thanks.   And it’s such a tiny price to pay for familial harmony with one’s mother-in-law.

{ 56 comments… add one }
  • Yvaine May 22, 2012, 11:44 am

    I think that the double thanking in general is a harmless quirk, but MoniCAN’s example is way over the top, and it sounds like they’re even interrupting the actual event to write TY notes in the middle of it! Taking it to that extreme smacks of showing off (or calling “First”), and it can’t be polite to ignore your companions while dashing off notes to the selfsame companions.

  • Cat May 22, 2012, 6:31 pm

    I like to follow up with a thank you card so I can say how I am using the gift. If food, I say how it was shared with others or how it was served and how much we enjoyed it. If an item of clothing, I mention where I wore it and the compliments I received.
    It’s not that I feel I have to thank them again but rather that they can understand how I used it and how I enjoyed it.

  • SS May 22, 2012, 7:59 pm

    I thought the point of the official etiquette books (such as Emily Post) was to eliminate all these uneven levels of courtesy so that noone could take insult if another person’s idea of manners was not the same as their own. This way a person who expected written thanks for an in-person gift would not have this situation of feeling slighted if the other person believed they had properly thanked them already in person. When I was younger, everyone who cared about manners had a copy of the Emily Post book. This way they were on the same level of expectation. It is unfair to claim that someone is being rude for following the written norms of etiquette for thank you when the Emily Post written ‘rules’ say you don’t follow up an in-person gift with a written thank you (except for specific circumstances). It is unfair to say that the person should do the extra effort anyway because it is nicer. Once again, this turns the etiquette into a ‘tug of war’ over whose etiquette expectations should control the situation which the etiquette books were created to avoid. The extra thank you should be greeted with pleasant surprise, but not be insisted upon.

  • Kim May 23, 2012, 3:29 pm

    I find gift-giving to be rampant consumerism and avoid it in any case (we are on a single income with 3 kids); we have no extra money for constant gift-giving for Christmas, birthdays, mother’s day, father’s day, end of school, graduation, easter, baptism, confirmation, weddings, showers, etc. I know this is off-topic, but it’s just endless, along with thank you notes. You say thank you in person, then in writing, then the recipient of the TY note calls and says thank you for the thank you note.

    I’m also in the minority, say thank you if in person and be done with the merry go round. Of course in wedding and shower situations send a thank you. But if you’ve already thanked in person or over the phone, no more, for the love of gawd. Stop the insanity!

  • Jessica May 24, 2012, 9:12 am

    I have a confession to make. I hate getting gifts.

    I’m okay with _giving_ gifts, even though I don’t see the point of them, because it is the social norm and I don’t mind it if it makes people happy. I don’t have to understand it to accept it. If people want me to buy them things according to some kind of schedule, I’ll buy them things according to some kind of schedule. No skin off my nose.

    But I hate, hate, hate getting them. I just don’t get what people get out of them and I wonder if everyone really enjoys getting presents as much as social norms demand they pretend to do? I can see the challenge in finding a good present and make a nice wrap for it. But getting one? Where’s the fun in that? These are not feelings I came into as an adult, by the way. I have felt this way ever since I first was old enough to understand the concept of presents. (Probably around my second or third Christmas.) As a kid, I hated having my birthday and at Yuletide I dreaded gift distrubution time – much preferring the Christmas movie and the family lunch as favourite traditions.

    I can’t get used to it. I have to just endure. Whenever the question of gifts and thank yous come up, I can’t help but feel that it’s kind of like when children in public school stories are told to say “Thank you sir, may I have another one!” in caning scenes. Or at least being told to say thank you for the nice frog that Tomlinson dropped down the back of my shirt or the nest of spiders that were left on my pillow.

    The people who know me and truly love me are aware of this and respect it. Otherwise, I would probably have moved off to some cottage with thirty cats or killed myself by now. But am I _really_ the only person on this earth who just hates getting gifts?

  • erica September 10, 2012, 12:12 am

    I will offer a thank you even as the gift/card is handed to me and not even opened yet.
    I do not always handwrite thank you cards…I know I’m going to eHell.
    BUT…that is only when immediate family that we see often gives us a gift for say a holiday.
    We are an informal family and if I wrote out thank you’s I think it would make my in laws uncomfortable. We just don’t “do” that.
    Far off relatives? YES. Graduation and other special event gifts …absolutely.
    I know, still going to eHell.

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