One of my Old Money friends called from the US the other day, a little irritated. Normally an optimistic and upbeat person, I was concerned by the tone in her voice.
When I asked her what was wrong, she confessed: the habit of not sending paper thank-you notes had infected her circle of Ivy League-educated friends. Apparently, she had taken the time to think about gifts for three friends, go out and purchase the gifts, gift wrap them (she does this herself) and have them delivered (not shipped) to each friend to mark a big day the four of them always shared and celebrated.
What did she receive in return? A thank you note from one friend, yes, but then…two emails from the other two friends, briefly expressing their gratitude.
“It’s another brick on the wall!” she railed, echoing Maggie Smith’s Dowager Countess on Downton Abbey. The ‘wall’ being the set of behavioral norms that define, support, and provide and certain sense of continuity and comfort to people of a certain class.
“I expect my friends to match the effort in saying ‘thank you’ that I put into finding the gift. Is that unreasonable?’ No, I replied, I don’t think it is. I added that it’s probably a good formula: if someone buys you a cup of coffee, say thank you. If someone sends you a gift certificate online, say thank you with an email, at the very least. If someone takes the time to go out into the real world, select a gift for you and give it to you, send a real-world paper thank you note.
Let’s call it the Match Game: match the expression of gratitude to the effort made in giving the gift.
My friend liked the idea. She calmed down, and laughed at herself: her life was so good that this was what she had to get upset about. “But it’s still important, isn’t it, Byron?”
Yes, it is. Let’s put that brick back in the wall.