Let’s Bring Back The “Thank You” Note

The worst moment of my 13 year-old life was when my mom pointed to a stack of cardboard cards featuring my name written in glitter and told me that I had to write “thank you” notes for all of my Bar Mitzvah gifts. This was weeks after having been hospitalized for dehydration (my Bar Mitzvah was very stressful; all those “CH” sounds) and I couldn’t imagine a universe where anyone, in their right mind, would voluntarily write a “thank you” note. “Thank you” notes are strictly for those whose parents are making them write them.

Years later, living in New York, I became a devotee of the Greenwich Village Letter Press. I’d go there for birthday cards, anniversary cards, wedding cards, you name it. And at some point I saw a stack of really cool “thank you” cards and decided to buy it. I told myself that I was going to become the sort of person who writes handwritten “thank you” notes whenever someone invites me over for dinner.

And a few weeks later, that’s just what I did when my friend Dara had us over for Rosh Hashanah.

Now, I don’t know what Dara thought of me before I wrote her a handwritten “thank you” note. I’m pretty sure that she liked me. But after I sent her that card? You would’ve thought that I was the classiest guy on earth; it was as if the rest of humanity smelled vaguely of urine, and here I was smelling like roses–all because I took the time to fill out a card, put it in an envelope, stick on a stamp and pop it into the mail. It was one of the smoothest things I’ve ever done.

I wish I could tell you that I kept it up. I didn’t. I’d like to, but somehow my lazier side gets the best of me. Now, after going to someone’s place for dinner, I immediately sprint home and write them a thoughtful, grateful e-mail. And that works nicely too, though it’s not the same as a handwritten thank you note.

But you know what? Some people don’t even do that! And that’s what this post is about; allow me to be your virtual mother for a second:

If you go to someone’s house for dinner, even if they serve soup from a can and salad from a box, you should always go home and write a “thank you” note, by hand or by e-mail. For many of you, you’ll be like “duh” but I’m sure some of you will be like “gulp!” (And for those of you who’ve eaten at my place and haven’t written “thank you” notes, don’t worry. I don’t hold grudges, JENNIFER SMITHTON*.)

(*Jennifer Smithton is not a real person. I made her up for comic effect.)

It’s one of those old-fashioned things worth bringing back: yes, it’s a fussy, Miss Manners idea–using your best stationary, your best penmanship–but even if it’s on a roll of toilet paper written like Danny writes RedRum in “The Shining,” it’s an important gesture. It means that the time someone spent slaving in the kitchen for you is acknowledged. Your 3 to 4 minutes of “thank you” writing is a mere fraction of the hours this person took browning pork shoulder, shredding coleslaw, and rolling out pie-dough. Couldn’t you spare even 20 seconds to shoot out a quick “Thank you so much for dinner! The food was amazing!” over e-mail?

Ideally, though, you’ll do what I once did and buy yourself a stack of cool “thank you” cards. Keep them on your desk, visible, so when you come home from someone’s gourmet extravaganza, you can just lift one up, dip your pen in the ink well, and write up your best, most sincere note of appreciation.

And that card will be appreciated, more than you think. I’m still a hero in Dara’s eyes, all because of a simple, hand-written “thank you” note.

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