Thank-You Notes: The Friend-of-Your-Mother’s Edition


In the never-ending annals of thank-you note etiquette, one of the stickiest issues is what to do if you've sent a gift and not heard anything in response.

I call this the Friend-of-Your-Mother's phenomenon, because I've been made aware that my mother is not the only one to call her daughter (and sadly, it's usually a daughter, rather than a son — see my blog post on June 3rd) and ask, "Did you get the gift Beverly sent you? She was just wondering…" Now many a daughter would interpret this as code for, "You need to send Beverly a thank-you note," "Why haven't you sent Beverly a thank-you note yet?," and/or "You're embarrassing me by not having sent Beverly a thank-you note!" My good friend even has a policy about always writing thank you notes to her mother's friends first—even before writing her own friends—with the sole purpose of pre-empting such a call.

But what happens when there's no Mother as the middle-man, and you're genuinely wondering if someone received a gift you sent? Is it ever acceptable to check in with a phone call or email?

Odds are, the person got the gift (how often do packages go missing these days?), and just hasn't gotten around to thanking you yet. And let's face it, it's uncomfortable to be on either end of that call: You don't want to feel like a nudge—like you're fishing for a thank-you note or a compliment about the gift—or, as the recipient of such a call, embarrassed about your lack of note and put on the spot to gush about the gift. (Especially since an under-pressure, "Yes, yes, I got it and love it! I've been meaning to write you…" never feels as good as unsolicited thanks.)            

But now that I'm attending parties for toddlers, where gifts get ripped open and scattered like cupcake crumbs, I have wondered if our gift was even registered by the parents in the aftermath of the party. And what about gifts for adults that go unacknowledged for months or longer?

Is it ever okay to check in with the recipient of a gift, and what's the best way to do it?