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A Thank You Note For A Thank You Gift? Nope.

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”.


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  • Angel August 7, 2013, 9:27 am

    The admin is correct. I think at this point, mentioning how much you enjoy the plant she gave you is thanks enough. And continuing to be gracious and kind. Not everything requires a thank you note and I think this is one of those times, where a verbal thank you is good.

  • AthenaC August 7, 2013, 9:36 am

    Your story made me smile, and reminded me of my own “coffee” group back when I was an Army wife. When I gave birth to my second child, the commander’s wife gave me a small baby block (Google “commemorative baby block” and the first several images show exactly what she gave me). I thought it was the best gift – small and sweet, with all the right details to remember the event. I wrote her a thank-you note and set it to the side on my desk, intending to hand-deliver it at an event coming up in a few weeks. When I saw her at the event, I realized I had completely forgotten her thank-you note, so I thanked her profusely and apologized for not bringing the note with me. She told me she was glad I liked it and not to worry about the note. Well, of course I still wanted to send it, but it soon got lost under mountains of paper from my college classes and unfortunately I never sent it. I still have the block, and it still makes me smile when I look at it.

    Also, I have learned to always put notes in the mail as soon as I write them (regardless of when I will see someone again), just to avoid forgetting to send them.

  • Jewel August 7, 2013, 10:07 am

    It’s traditional for our family to give our children’s teachers a gift on the last day of school before Christmas break. I’ve always found it interesting that about half the teachers interpret the gift as a “thank you” and don’t acknowledge it in any way and the other half interpret it as a Christmas gift and send us a thank you note. I’m sure we’ve puzzled the heck out of them, but because it feels strange on our end to not receive any acknowledgement about the gift at all, I second Admin’s idea of making a “non-thank you” mention about the plant the next time you see the SCO’s wife. I’m sure she’d appreciate knowing that you are enjoying the flowers.

  • June First August 7, 2013, 12:19 pm

    Mentioning the flowers as a conversation starter is a perfect way to express gratitude (and be welcoming to the new member of your group).

  • Mer August 7, 2013, 1:07 pm

    Jewel: At least in “my neighborhood” gifts to teachers are commonly stated as thank you gifts. It is quite common habit, usually almost everyone in the class brings something to teacher. Usually something small, or sometimes class throws money together and buys one thing. And usually they are intended and interpreted as thank you gift for teachers efforts for the class/student.

  • Marozia August 7, 2013, 3:30 pm

    I don’t think that your problem is bad etiquette or thoughtlessness, but more the jitters in hosting and doing the ‘correct etiquette thing’. These coffee clubs are a great idea, I like them, goodness knows how a lot of Army spouses have survived long deployments without the support of others.
    Loosen up, don’t be nervous or jittery. Have your list of names and cards ready and after the clubs, sign and post them. You’ll fall into it easily enough.

  • SweetPea August 7, 2013, 3:44 pm

    I’ve always sent thank you notes when receiving a hostess gift, also using it as a time to say how much I appreciated them taking the time to travel to me.

    However, I’ve never thanked anyone for a thank you gift, so I think you’re safe there. Mentioning it in conversation sounds perfect.

  • Easily Amused August 8, 2013, 1:41 pm

    I think the admin’s advice is spot on. I have realized lately that although I do believe on the sending of thank you notes (and I do send them and am teaching my child to do so, too!) I have finally let go of the idea of “keeping score” of what I have given and whether or not I have received an official expression of gratitude. I enjoy the thanks I get, but honestly cannot tell you if every person I have gifted remembered to send a card or not. My kindness does not hinge on their good behavior- but I might choose to stop if someone is blatantly ungrateful! Just my thoughts on thank you cards…

  • The Elf August 12, 2013, 7:30 am

    I resolve to use “thank you note hamster wheel” at some point during the week. It’s awesome.