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It’s coming up to holiday season again and this reminds me of one of the most confusing parts of social etiquette (to me): thank you cards.

I was brought up to say thank you for any gift. If a person gives you a gift in person you thank them in person. If a person sends you a gift then you send them a thank you card. This makes logical sense. Someone put in effort to get you something and you should show appreciation and thanks, that is only fair.

As far as I was aware that was the norm, at least where I grew up. Since moving to the US I’ve discovered a whole new thank you etiquette. Where thank you cards are not really appreciated; rather, they are just expected, and they are expected in all cases. If a person comes to your house and gives you a gift and you thank them in person when you open it, it is not enough any more. After the person’s visit you are then supposed to send them a thank you card. I understand that sometimes you really want to show how much you appreciate what the person did for you, but now this secondary thank you is not extra-ordinary, but expected. If this additional thank you card is not sent then the gift-giver becomes offended at a lack of thanks. I don’t understand this. Thanks was given. Appreciation was shown.

I have entered a whole new world of thank you traditions recently. A visit to a person’s family home involves gift giving (that’s fine with me, you bring a gift to thank the person putting you up and show appreciation of the effort they are putting in), it then involves a thank you at departure (again, perfectly normal to me) and sometimes a gift. Then, after departure you are expected to send a thank you card (let’s not get started on the “lazy” email versus mailed card discussion) describing the details of everything you appreciated, and sometimes another gift. If these three steps are not followed offense ensues.

Again, I understand that sometimes an additional thank you may feel like a nice thing to do, but I do not understand why it is expected. All of a sudden people aren’t offended that you didn’t thank them for something, they are offended that you didn’t thank them the required two times in two different ways.

This really bothers me for a number of reasons. If I am giving someone a gift of course I want them to appreciate it, and being told thank you when I give it to them is a social norm, and one that makes the gift-giver feel good, but I don’t care about an additional card to say thank you again. Why do I need this? I gave a person a gift. I don’t need them to list the ways they are indebted to me.
At its most basic level gift-giving is supposed to be a selfless thing. We aren’t giving gifts for ourselves, we are giving them for the other person. It should be enough to see their happiness at receiving said gift. Why does this pleasant act of gift-giving now have to come with strings attached? That is not the point of gift-giving.

I know this seems like a small thing, but it is something that I find incredibly obnoxious and has resulted in relationships being broken due to a lack of secondary thank you. I think this is ridiculous. When we give gifts we shouldn’t be expecting any thanks.

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