This morning two things happened that made Etiquetteer think about the expression of thanks. First, a series of text messages arrived on Etiquetteer's flip phone - quite possibly the pocket watch of its generation - from a friend expressing thanks for a gift. These were written very much in the style of a Lovely Note, with salutation, body, and closing, but via texts. They were a lovely way to begin the morning.
Second, discussing this with a colleague, she confessed that she photographed the draft of a thank-you note to transmit to someone who had given a gift, knowing that the gift-giver would want to know the gift was received as quickly as possible - even though she hadn't finished her draft. She asked if it could be Perfectly Proper to communicate thanks only electronically.
Etiquetteer would be a fool not to acknowledge that our means of communication have evolved, just as they have at other periods of civilization. The printing press and engraving changed the forms of how word got around, most notably to Etiquetteer with the invention of the engraved calling card in the early 19th century*, and later on engraved stationery. Benjamin Franklin used his own printing press (imported illegally into France during the American Revolution) to print invitations to an Independence Day party in 1779**. In its turn the typewriter made its mark, then audiocassettes, the computer, the Internet, and now, saints preserve us, the smartphone. In most cases these innovations reduced the amount of time between sending and receiving, from weeks, to days, to seconds.
But what we gain in time we lose in those old-fashioned qualities that we shouldn't think of as old-fashioned, Grace and Charm - and sometimes in the appearance of Sincerity, too. A text message or an email can appear so perfunctory, no matter how many fonts one might be allowed to use, no matter through what form of social media delivered. This is why Etiquetteer continues to advocate for the Lovely Note, because now it signifies even more how much one values the courtesy received, whether a gift, an invitation, or some other consideration. Whether the chastest white or cream foldover or the most garish greeting card, the Lovely Note demonstrates that one has taken some trouble to express gratitude. Because of its immediacy, the email or text has a place in Perfectly Proper correspondence, to inform gift-givers that their gifts have been received. But Etiquetteer still holds that it’s only the first of two places. The second should still be filled with that handwritten Lovely Note, especially for wedding gifts.
And yet . . . and yet, it was so nice to get that barrage of texts this morning, since the sender expressed knowledgeable appreciation for the gift. No perfunctory "Got yr box, kthxbye" message this! Those of us who are recipients must be grateful for what acknowledgement we receive, and continue to lead by example.
Etiquetteer is certainly not the first person to express these sentiments, but the fact that it still needs to be expressed . . . well, it means you ought to run down to your local stationer and buy a box of notecards, that’s what it means.
*At first calling cards were blank and one wrote one’s name on each one. Later, “calling cards became more elaborate, sporting engraved names, mottoes, gilt edges, and pictures.” Parlor Politics, by Catherine Allgor, page 121.
**The Great Improvisation, by Stacy Schiff, opposite page 300. It is interesting to note that Franklin included the instruction “An Answer if you please."