Sarah Todd: The importance of saying ‘thank you’ - by letter

Picture: PA
Picture: PA
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FORMER MP Ann Widdecombe deserves some credit for recently calling on parents to get their children to write thank you letters.

It’s easier said than done though. She doesn’t have any offspring and so won’t have ever experienced the battleground that the kitchen table – notelets and pen strategically positioned – can become.

Interestingly, a new poll shows most people are just as happy to receive an email, text or Facebook message as a handwritten note.

To me, this is a sloppy sign of the beginning of the end.

We adults need to crack open the Basildon Bond and lead by example if this tumbling tide in standards of correspondence is to be halted.

The last two wedding gifts this family has spent its hard-earned cash on haven’t been acknowledged.

Not just no letter, but no nothing.

Pity whoever gets married next, as this (don’t forget, red-headed) correspondent might call time on gift giving.

If people can’t be bothered to say thank you, then why should we put ourselves out to send a present?

Oh the simple joy though, when a letter arrives unexpectedly.

The smallest little present – just a hat – was sent to a newborn baby. Its size and value meant not so much as a nod of recognition was necessary. A thank you arrived almost by return; the mother even bothering to write an extra line to detail where it had first been worn.

Similarly, a few lines from a niece to say how thrilled she was with the gift of a grooming kit. “I have done Jiggy with them,” she reports.

Perhaps the price of stamps has something to do with the demise of the thank you letter?

Sixty-three pence is a lot for a first class stamp and at 54p second class isn’t much cheaper. We certainly have envelopes hanging around longer, in the hope the recipient might call around.

To be honest though, this is less to do with the price of stamps and more about the fact that out in the countryside collections from postboxes are so often at strange hours or axed altogether.

Maybe it’s recognition of the cost and hassle of traditional correspondence that explains why three quarters of 1,300 people questioned said they no longer expect a letter or card for gifts on birthdays, Christmas and other special occasions.

According to the research by gift website The Present Finder, half said they would be happy with a digital thank you, either in the form of an email, text message or Facebook post. A quarter added that a phone call more than does the job.

Ann Widdecombe made her call to the stationery department during a series she presented earlier this month on BBC Radio 4.

Together with comedian David Mitchell, she investigated manners – from the humble thank you note through to more modern dilemmas such as looking at mobile phones during a meeting and whether it’s acceptable to wear shorts to a restaurant in the evening.

Manners, like language, are alive and forever changing. The thank you note is still in the mix, but for how long?

Those that lament its demise should lead by example. It’s no good us moaning about not receiving written thanks when we’re pretty poor at sending them ourselves.

There will be plenty out there who have chuntered at not getting a notelet from a child for a Christmas gift; but when did they last pick up paper and pen and write to the youngster?

As a girl, we had a great auntie who used to write regular letters. Just to ask what we had been up to and chatter away about the latest news. Who’s filling that role in families nowadays?

Our teenage daughter is terrible when it comes to addressing an envelope. It’s akin to banging your head against a brick wall to try and get her to space it out correctly.

Same with the actual letter itself – where to put the address and how to sign off. We did these things at primary school.

In exasperation, “For heaven’s sake, say what you’re going to buy with it” was shouted at her across the aforementioned battleground of the kitchen table the other night.

It took three attempts before “Thank you for the vowchure” (they don’t teach them to spell at school either) was expanded
into something worthy of about four per cent of the cost of the stamp and wasted paper. It would be so easy to give up. But we mustn’t.

According to etiquette guide Debrett’s, this family has failed.
It says a thank you should always be sent within a week to 10 days of an event or receipt of a present.

There are some post-Christmas notes that are still works in progress. It will be like pulling teeth, but we’ll get there.

We must.

• Sarah Todd is a former editor of Yorkshire Life magazine. She is a farmer’s daughter, mother and journalist specialising in country life.