Miss Manners: Once you get the hang of it, thank-you notes are easy

July 24, 2012

DEAR MISS MANNERS: Hi. Can you help me write a thank-you note to my family members for my grad party gifts?

GENTLE READER: Hi. No.

Miss Manners was about to snap back like that because, in her experience, when a student asks for help with a simple task that is generally considered to be onerous, he means, “Do this for me.”

But that would be unprofessional of her, and unfair to you. Surely what you mean is that you are eager to know what makes a letter of thanks gratifying to the recipient.

It is really not that hard. All you have to do is to give the impression that it was not written under duress, as it doubtless was. Rather, you should seem so overcome by the thoughtfulness involved that you can hardly wait to set it down on paper.

That means that you are actually using paper, and that the words “thank you” are not printed on it, but written by your own hand.

However, “thank you” should not be the opening words, because that would suggest you were writing by rote. Start with a statement of emotion — that you were delighted that they came to your party, or thrilled when you opened their present. Then come the thanks, with a specific mention of the present (except that money is referred to as “your generous gift”), and then a friendly line about the donors (such as that you remember something they told you, or that you hope to see them soon). A line about your own plans — summer, college or work — is optional.

It sounds complicated, but Miss Manners assures you that it amounts to only three or four lines, and you will soon get the hang of dashing off these letters. Not only will that assure you of a reputation for graciousness, but it is likely to inspire even more generosity.

DEAR MISS MANNERS: I was taught that there is a proper way to ask for someone on the phone. Specifically, once the line is answered, callers should announce themselves and then ask for the person they wish to speak to. For example, “Hello, this is Mr. Smith. May I please speak to Mr. Jones?”

This seems to be unheard of anymore and, as someone who has to answer the phone for a living, I am constantly having to ask, “May I say who is calling?” The next time that person phones, same thing.

Why don’t they get it? I always announce my name when phoning someone. Am I the only one?

GENTLE READER: If not, you will soon be. Pretty nearly everyone now is used to individual cellular telephones that connect directly to their owners and that state the name of the person who is calling. And the land-lines that remain are as likely to reach recordings as people.

At the risk of sounding lazy, Miss Manners — who believes your complaint to be justified — despairs of teaching such manners before they are no longer necessary.

Visit Miss Manners at her Web site, www.missmanners.com, where you can send her your questions.

2012, by Judith Martin

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