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To Whom Should You Send an Actual Thank-you Note?

Posted by Peter Post December 31, 2013 07:00 AM

Holiday gifts have been given, received and opened. The mess of paper and ribbons has been cleaned up, and life is starting to get back to normal. But there’s one final step to be taken: the thank-you note to those from whom you received a gift.

So to whom should you send an actual thank-you note?

The easiest way to think about it is this: If you open a gift in front of the giver and thank the giver on the spot, then you have fulfilled your obligation and are not on the hook for having to write a thank-you note. If, on the other hand, the giver is not present when you open the gift, then a thank-you note is in order. In this case, not only are you expressing your appreciation, you are also letting the person know you did receive the gift. Not sending a thank-you note puts the giver in the awkward position of having to contact you to find out if the gift even arrived.

The real key to the “to write or not to write the thank-you note” dilemma is couched in the word “obligation” in the previous paragraph. Much too often we think of thank-you notes as something we have to do—a dreaded chore. Instead, think of the thank-you note as an opportunity to reach out and show your appreciation to someone who was thoughtful enough to give you a gift. The note itself doesn’t need to be long or involved—just three or four sentences will do very nicely; tuck it into an envelope, address it, stick a stamp on it, and mail it.

Email or through the US Postal service? Think of it this way. Amidst the bills and junk mail the recipient gets every day, your note will stand out. After the recipient reads it, she’ll put it down on a counter or desk or table where she’ll be reminded of you each time she sees it. An email, which may get stopped by a spam blocker or sent to a junk folder, will be opened, read, closed, and then deleted. Ask yourself: Would I rather my thanks be remembered or deleted?

One final suggestion: If you have children whom you are encouraging to write their notes, try making it a group activity and you write your thank-you notes right along with them. Provide the tools if needed—notecards, envelopes, pens, pencils, or crayons for the little ones. You’ll demonstrate to them that you hold yourself to the same standard that you’re asking them to meet.

Your Most Important Gift This Season: Saying Thank You

Posted by Peter Post December 24, 2013 07:00 AM

Each year at this time The Emily Post Institute receives interview requests about holiday related subjects. Typically, there’s always one issue which dominates more than others. One year we were inundated with requests about regifting; another it was about office parties. This year the focus is on what’s an appropriate amount to spend on a holiday gift and what to do if you have a limited budget.

The issue of an appropriate amount to spend really isn’t an etiquette question except when it involves spending too much. Then it can become an issue of the gift making the giftee uncomfortable and that is the antithesis of what gift giving should be. The reason the value of the gift isn’t an etiquette question is because each person’s circumstances are different. What person A can afford, person B simply can’t without racking up debt. Each person should set a budget, figure out how much they can afford to spend on each person on their list, and then find the nicest, best, most thoughtful gift possible without overspending. Homemade gifts can keep you on budget: food items are always well received but so, too, a scarf you knit or a watercolor you paint.

Regardless of the gift, and frankly even if you can’t give a gift at all, express your sentiments to the person with a card or note. Use it to express your thanks and appreciation to that person for being in your life and wish them the very best in the year to come. After all, that expression of thanks and appreciation is what the holiday season is really all about.

In that spirit, I extend a sincere thank you to all of you who take the time to read this blog. I really appreciate your comments (even when you don’t agree with me), your interest in etiquette, and the importance of building positive relationships. Have a happy and safe holiday, and I wish you all the best in the new year!

Who’s Receiving Holiday Tips?

Posted by Peter Post December 17, 2013 07:00 AM

‘Tis the season to say thanks and to acknowledge those who have provided you with service throughout the year. Every year at this time people ask about holiday tipping—a tradition that’s been around for a long time.

As you consider who you would like to tip, figure our just how much you can give this year and then share it out amongst those on your list. Most importantly, people should not feel obligated to give holiday tips if it’s simply not within their budgets to do so. The real importance of the holiday tip is saying thank you. A card with a heartfelt message is a perfect alternative.

The Emily Post Institute offers guidelines for holiday tipping, but I’ve often wondered who actually makes the holiday tip list and what they receive. So, The Emily Post Institute and SurveyMonkey conducted a holiday tipping survey in early December. The results are in and show most of us are still quite conscious of seasonal gratitude in the form of holiday tipping—61% of us, to be exact. We’re not spreading pre-recession levels of tipping cheer just yet, but we are intent on bestowing a little extra on those who help us throughout the year, be it a monetary tip or homemade gift or simply a hand-written note of thanks.

Specifics from the survey:

  • 61% of respondents give holiday tips.

  • 39% don’t tip, for a variety of reasons, including lack of awareness of this long-standing tradition, or because they have no essential service providers in their day-to-day life.

  • 27% of non-tippers say the reason why is because they tip regularly during the year.

  • 25% of non-tippers say they simply can't afford it.

The most tipped professions include:

  • Barber/beauty salon staff: 57% with the majority (46%) tipping $1-$25

  • Mail carrier: 46% with the majority (42%) tipping $1-$25

  • Newspaper Delivery: 38% with the majority (35%) tipping $1-$25

  • Trash collectors: 25% with the majority (21%) tipping $1-$25

  • Housekeepers: 23% of respondents tip and the majority (9.4%) tip $26-$50

Not all holiday gratitude is expressed with cash:

  • 7% of respondents don’t tip monetarily, and say that instead they give or make a gift.

Whether it’s cash, a card, or a gift, I encourage you to take a moment to say “thanks” this holiday season to those who make your life more pleasant or run more smoothly throughout the year.

Deciding What To Give To Whom This Gift-Giving Season

Posted by Peter Post December 10, 2013 07:00 AM

With the approaching gift-giving season, I often get asked how a person should approach the process of deciding who to give to and what to give.

The most important consideration in deciding the who and the what is first to determine just how much you can afford to give this year. The answer should not include borrowing or credit card debt in order to give gifts to family, friends, colleagues, or those who provide service throughout the year. With that caveat in mind, each person has to decide for him or herself just how much they can afford to set aside for gifts.

Next, make a list of the people you to whom you want to give gifts. If the list gets too big, you may have to prioritize. Then slice up your gift-giving budget among those people. Now you have a place to start, whether you shop online or in bricks and mortar stores.

What to give? I like trying to think about what interests the person has and what gift I can find that reflects those interests. Gift cards are another perfectly acceptable way to go. I like them because even if you haven’t found a specific gift, you have directed your gift giving to a particular interest of the recipient. Cash, while not at all personal, is almost always appreciated by service providers and nieces and nephews alike.

You may find yourself in a tight budget situation. In that case consider a gift that includes some effort on your part but which may go a long way in allowing you to give a gift while staying within your budget. It may be something you make yourself that is a gift of your time and talent: a food item like cookies you bake, something you’ve grown in your garden that you’ve preserved, a gift certificate of your time to baby sit a niece, nephew, or friend’s child. As long as you think it is something the recipient would enjoy or appreciate, a homemade gift or a gift of your time has value and meaning.

Google Glass vs. Your Right To Know You Are Being Photographed

Posted by Peter Post December 3, 2013 07:00 AM

I remember when I was a kid growing up, I saw advertisements for cameras that were so small that you could use one without others knowing their photos were being taken—spy cameras. Or, on the back of bubble gum wrappers, a camera that would let you see through a person’s clothes to the skeleton beneath. I always wondered what kind of scam those cameras were. Ever since the days of the portable and compact Brownie, cameras have had the ability to invade others’ privacy, to be used without the subject knowing they were being photographed.

Fast forward to the advent of the cell phone camera. Again, here’s a camera that is small, inconspicuous, and can be used secretively. My advice regarding cell phone cameras is that they shouldn’t be used in places where people don’t want to be photographed or don’t know they are being photographed, such as restrooms. You couldn’t be sure if the user was talking on the phone or shooting a picture of you during a private moment. Then, too, phones are being used intentionally to catch people in compromising positions. Think Michael Phelps.

Fast forward to today and you have the capability not only to take photos surreptitiously, but also to post them virtually immediately for the whole world to see. And that’s when you run into the problem of whose “rights” to privacy supercede whose.

  • Should we expect a certain level of protection against being “caught” or is it the right of the photographer to catch us unawares anytime, any place?
  • Is it reasonable for an establishment to ban the use of a device simply because it is possible for that device to be used to embarrass or image people without their acquiescence?

And therein is the conundrum faced at Lost Lake Café & Lounge in Seattle recently. A patron entered wearing Google Glass. He was asked to remove the Google Glass or leave the café. He chose to leave.

The owner saw a difference between using a camera—cell phone or otherwise— that other patrons could see being used as opposed to the Google Glass camera, which can be used to take photos or videos without others being aware they are being photographed.

While the jury is out on Google Glass etiquette, regardless of the kind of camera, the thoughtful, considerate thing to do is to let the subject know you are taking their picture and, if they object, then not to take it. In addition, before posting any image of somebody online, take a moment to ask if they mind if you share the image. If they do, then keep the photo to yourself or delete it.

About the author

Since 2004, Peter Post has tackled readers' questions in The Boston Sunday Globe's weekly business etiquette advice column, Etiquette at Work. The column is distributed by The New York Times More »

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