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Salon's social bootcamp: Thank-you notes, invitations and the plight of the empty mailbox

Readers ask Fancy, our etiquette expert, how to navigate tricky social situations and live their best life


Kirsten Schofield
September 13, 2016 4:00PM (UTC)

Welcome to Salon’s Social Bootcamp. Fancy is the pen name of Kirsten Schofield, a writer who spends her spare time considering modern etiquette, manners and social mores. If you have a question that’s technical (Which fork do I use?) or theoretical (How shall I assess the unspoken rules of conduct at my new Pilates studio?), direct it to advice@salon.com, and she’ll do her best to shepherd you in the direction of correct behavior.

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Dear Fancy,

I’m really, really diligent about sending thank-you notes whenever I receive a gift or someone does something nice for me. To ensure no one is missed, I keep a spreadsheet with when I sent the note, etc. Recently, it has come to my attention that sometimes my cards don’t make it. I guess I can write replacement cards for them, but what is the etiquette here?

Thank You Silence

Dear Thank You,

Typically, you saunter down to the mail box with one, maybe two pieces of correspondence at a time — a bill, a birthday card, the all-important BMG Music Club order form. It’s a pretty rare thing to have enough outgoing mail to run any kind of informal study on its outcome, but things can and do disappear into the ether. I asked a mail carrier I know about this, and he informed me that a not-insignificant amount of mail gets lost every year. It’s not enough for you to notice if you’re sending things one note at a time, but it’s around one percent! Add that to mis-deliveries, an address blurred by rain, things that get stuck in the back of your mailbox (seriously, go check today, I bet you find something), the occasional bad actor, and myriad human errors, and you realize how incredible it is that we get mail at all. I’m in awe of the USPS; they’re in the business of moving a single piece of paper across thousands of miles of terrain for 47 cents apiece, and it still gets there. Amazing.

But I digress. A thank-you note traditionally fills two roles: first and foremost, it’s to express gratitude. Secondly, it acts as something of a receipt. Since we live in an age of more or less instant communication, that latter purpose is somewhat less important. When you get a present or you have a job interview or whatever else, text or email or Snapchat the nice-thing-doer and say, “OMG, thank you for the You Goat Mail package!” You should still send a note of thanks, too. The same thing goes on the receiving end. Text the sender and say, “I got your thank-you note today! I was so nice to hear from you.” It doesn’t cost either party a thing, and then no one has to wonder.

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As for the note itself, I’m of the mind that once it leaves your mailbox, your responsibility is over. You’ve received the gift, admired it, written a nice note stating said admiration, and sent your appreciation in paper form. If the mail carrier doesn’t deliver it or if it takes longer than average for it to get to its final destination, that’s not really on you. If you’re talking to your Aunt Caroline and find out she didn’t get your card, I think it’s fine to just summarize what you said. “Oh, crazy! I sent it on the third. It said I loved the sweater and have packed it for our camping trip later this month and that we’re excited to see you for Thanksgiving. That’s all. I really do love the sweater, by the way.”  You can rewrite a thank-you note if you so desire, but if you’ve done your due diligence, it’s really just for your peace of mind.

Yours from the Alanis Morissette listening room,

Fancy

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Dear Fancy,

When someone asks you for your address in advance of a life event (like getting married, baptizing their baby, having a birthday party) but you never actually get anything from them, is it okay to ask about it?

No Mail Today

Dear Mail,

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It can be a rollercoaster of emotions, anticipating an invitation. Maybe they canceled the event! Maybe they decided they hate you (if you are me, this is always the most likely option)! Maybe you wrote your address down wrong! Maybe the letter got lost in the mail which, as you just learned, happens sometimes! It’s stressful!

I would err on the side of not asking unless it is a very close friend or an exceptionally clear oversight. People typically follow up on things like this when they’re checking their RSVPs and realize, “oh, you know, I don’t know if Karen is coming to our anniversary party or not, let’s call and ask!” You will momentarily seem a little clueless for not sending in your reply card/checking the spam for a Paperless Post notification, but all will be resolved. No harm, no foul.

Yours from the day after a national holiday,

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Fancy


Kirsten Schofield

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