I’m afraid that in this story, I may be the tacky heathen. A little over a month ago, I hosted an event to welcome the wife of my husband’s new Squadron Commander to our coffee group. (A little background: An Army tradition is that every Battalion/Squadron sized unit has a “coffee” group which consists of the spouses of the commissioned officers and the senior ranking non-commissioned officers. There is rarely any coffee served, they’re just called that for whatever reason. They are intended to be purely social groups and meet about once a month. Depending on the unit and how the groups are handled, they can be a wonderful way to make friends. My first coffee group was instrumental in helping me survive my husband’s first deployment five months into our marriage as the senior spouses helped me navigate the ins and outs of military life.)
Usually, the job of hosting a welcome reception/coffee is the responsibility of an older, more experienced spouse, but due to some peculiar circumstances the responsibility to host was mine. I was very excited to host, loved the new SCO’s wife, and felt the event went well. At the event she gave me a potted flower to thank me for hosting and less than a week afterwards I received a thank you note from her for the event and the welcome gift and bouquet of yellow roses (another tradition) I presented to her. She’s really wonderful and very gracious.
Lately, I’ve been thinking about the plant she gave me as a thank you and got a little nervous. I never sent her a thank you note for it under the assumption that you never thank someone for a thank you note; therefore, you would not thank them for a thank you gift. Am I correct or did I mess up? Should I write her a (very late) thank you note? I will see her later this week at another coffee and could hand her the thank you note there.
And on the same note, what about other hostess gifts? I’ve had people give me potted plants, candles, bottles of wine, etc to thank me for having them for dinner, as weekend guests, or other small events. Should I have written thank you notes to them too? 0807-13
I realize that gratitude and graciousness seems to be waning and that there is a temptation to reward it when it does occur but there is no obligation to send thank you notes in response to polite behavior. If there was an etiquette rule that all expressions of gratitude must be reciprocated in kind, we’d all be on a never ending cycle of note writing that becomes legalistically mandated. What you can do when you next see the new SCO’s wife is to mention how lovely the potted flower is on your kitchen window sill and let it be a conversation starter. “I’m not familiar with that type of flower. Do you know anything about it? It’s blooming up a storm in my kitchen and cheers the whole place up.” You would be rewarding her in a gracious, subtle, classy way without either of you getting on the “thank you note hamster wheel”.