Thanks but no thanks? Gift giver ponders modern etiquette

Dear Carolyn:
I am confused over gift-giving etiquette with the current generation. I have always been prompt in sending gifts, money, cards to my relatives for birthdays, holidays, weddings, births, etc. Yet none of these gifts has been acknowledged through mail, telephone or electronic means to (at least) notify me they had actually arrived. I have always been prompt in sending a thank-you note or calling within a day or two of receipt regardless of the size or nature of the gift.

As a retiree on a fixed income, I am inclined to cease sending gifts and only send cards. Is expression of gratitude no longer in fashion? I would like to know what the current protocol is. Thank you.– P.
   
Short answer, nothing has changed. Recipients owe givers prompt thanks, in some form.

Long answer, everything has changed.

While it is rude not to acknowledge a gift, and while there seems to be an epidemic of silence by gift recipients, I think it's oversimplifying to add 1 + 1 and declare an epidemic of rudeness.

I think something else important has happened that doesn't get enough credit for the clear trend toward unacknowledged gifts: Stuff matters less.

When I was a kid about 1,700 years ago, it was a big deal to unwrap a sweater. New clothes were special. Now, even for many who struggle financially, it's a yeah-whatever experience; people can now get sweaters (or books or knickknacks or any goods within the purchasing power of a gift card) 24-7, often without leaving home, sometimes so cheaply that a kid's dog-walking money would cover it.

As a result, many kids and even adults now are immune to their own possessions. Despite the recession, Americans are largely staggering under the weight of their stuff. I want the people who love me to show it by supporting my effort not to accumulate more and more and more. If not for my sake, then the earth's.

And so I'm not just going to say yes, by all means, start sending only cards to mark your loved ones’ special occasions. I'm going to throw it out there that we'd all do well to give our gift-giving habits a harder look.

Specifically, I think it's time to ask ourselves every time: Does this thing I'm about to buy have any chance of being important to its recipient? Does it get cash to someone strapped, free up time for someone busy, show support or appreciation for someone down, strengthen connections for someone lonely, provide a pleasant experience to someone who wants for nothing material?

Would this person prefer no gift at all?

Is there something only I can give, even just my thoughts, expertise or time? If I'm not sure, then can I redirect my gift energy into keeping in touch more between birthdays and weddings?

Most of us can, and should, do better both at showing gratitude and teaching its value to "the current generation." But we can also do better at listening to what changing mass behavior tells us, instead of just trying harder to make the old ways stick— or escalating the protests when they don't.
   
Email Carolyn at tellme@washpost.com, follow her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/carolyn.hax or chat with her online at noon Eastern time each Friday at www.washingtonpost.com.
   
(c) 2013, Washington Post Writers Group

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10 comments

If you recieve something in return for your gift, you have not gifted, you have bartered. Sending a thank you note turns the gift into a trade. If the gift is handed to you directly of course it is polite manners to say "thank you", whether or not you even want the gift. Time is money. If you recieved the gift by mail or some other indirect means, the time it takes to 1. Think of what to write in a thank you note; 2. Write that down and 3. Purchase stamps, letter paper, cards, and then go to the post office, etc. may far exceed the value placed on the gift by it's recipient. I never liked being exhorted to write a thank you note as a child, if I did write one it turned the gift into a barter which I did not seek out, if I didn't write one, the guilt I felt for not writing one seemed like a punishment that came with the gift for which I did not ask. It created a situtation where I could be looked upon as an unappreciative jerk, a situation I never entered into voluntarily. If you asked for the gift you recieved, that's a different story altogether.

The only real answer is your relatives are ill bred boors and you should stop sending gifts. They don't even acknowledge them? This is a no-brainer.
Old wise Chinese say: You get your friends from God and your relations from The Devil.

I think you should just start sending cards as well, and no longer send gifts. I think it is rude not to acknowledge a gift in some form. I realize now that many people prefer to do the thank you in email or over the phone, versus mailing a thank you, but I think a gift should at least be acknowledged. If noone has done that, then they can do without the gift because you have no way to know that they appreciated the gift, or that it was even received.

I did not receive thank you notes for valuable gifts (that the brides and grooms had on their gift registries) from the last two weddings I attended. The same two couples will probably not get a baby shower gift from me if they ever have children. It is a courtesy to send a thank you note. It doesn't take any time/effort/cost to do so.

See what I mean? People don't send gifts because they enjoy gifting to others they send them in obedience to a social moree and expectation of being thanked in obedience to another social moree. When the social moree fails to be met they won't hesitate for a minute to publicly make even the children of a newlywed couple out to be unworthy of generosity. It's all a sham! Don't pretend you're generous if your motive is not true generosity.

In all fairness, maybe SizLively passed on the wedding cake, the free cocktails, maybe she plugged her ears and sat in a chair while the rest of the crowd danced and had a great time. I don't know what a gift registry is, but if it's a list of gifts the couple asked for beforehand that sounds like something some folks might see as motive to get married.

what the heck is a moree?

I agree that it is incredibly rude not to even acknowledge a gift. A thank you note may be a custom that is not totally necessary, but leaving someone to guess at whether you received, liked, or appreciated something that they thought enough of you to give is just plain rude. I believe it reflects a lack of gratitude, and an unjustified sense of entitlement. Anyone who doesn't understand that has probably never been on the giving end of a gift.

And maybe that's exactly why they don't understand. If you're able to afford gifting to others it's you who ought to be writing the thank you note to the big guy in the sky. One time I had a friend who mentioned he wasn't sure what to get me for Christmas. Being a chump I assumed he had an intention of gifting me something for Christmas. So I thought I ought to give him a modest gift, one which I was sure he would appreciate. Come Christmas afternoon, I drive over to his house to present him with said gift plus another gift as well. I was sent home on my merry way by his wife (who also received a gift from me) within about ten minutes of cordial-on-my-part visiting. I received neither a gift nor a thank-you, in person or in note, in return. It wasn't the failure to receive a formal thank you (or even a casual thank you), or a gift in return that bothered me, it was the fact that I was sent home after ten minutes after driving twenty minutes to see them and present father, mother and child each with a gift. Later on I realized I was a chump for giving any of them a gift but I don't blame them I blame myself for giving in expectation of receiving something in return, anything at all, even more than ten minutes with friends on a lonely day would have sufficed.

What a rube.