Are Handwritten Thank You Notes Becoming Obsolete?

April 7, 2011 | By | Comments (2)


Part of me can't believe I even have the gall to ask that question. My grandmother would be turning over in her grave if she read blogs. But the other night, at a restaurant where I was sitting at a big round table with six other women—a mix of old friends and new acquaintances—the topic of thank you notes came up.

  Thank you note

OK, it was actually me who brought up the subject. 

Me: Do you still write thank yous?

Six other women (simultaneously): Of course!

My friends are so polite. But what does "polite" mean these days? A phone call has become an interruption. An ungrammatical text message is a perfectly acceptable way to invite someone to coffee on the spur of the moment (“u free? if so, meet in 15 min”). And the mail is full of paper that used to be trees.

So maybe it has become wasteful—or, dare I say, impolite?—to cut down another forest so we can mail anachronistic paper thank you notes.

At the restaurant the other night, the conversation continued.


Me: What about paper notes? With stamps? Do you mail them?

This time, everybody had a different answer. Here are some:

Sue: Yes! Absolutely!

Deana: Depends. If someone does something particularly nice, or thoughtful, then yes, you have to send a paper note.

Joan: Hit or miss. If I don’t write a thank you every time, I will do something else, later, that’s just as nice.

Lisa: Email can be OK, depending on what you are thanking people for.

Sheri: I write thank you notes all the time. On paper. It’s etiquette. You have to follow etiquette.

Which made me wonder: what exactly is “etiquette?” The dictionary defines it as "conventional requirements as to social behavior." Many decades ago, self-proclaimed “experts”—including wives of wealthy Victorian-era lawyers and turn-of-the century divorcees like Emily Post—realized they could make nice livings by writing books of rules for the rest of us to buy. Some of their advice parroted the conventional wisdom of their time; in other cases, they made up rules based on their whims or the norms of their upper-crust social class.

These days, we’re more likely to follow our own consciences than someone else's arbitrary rules. The main requirement for polite behavior in the 21st century seems to be: Avoid behaving in a way that makes others feel bad. Modern manners are a moving target, as the way we communicate with people changes….So, what does that mean for the future of thank you notes?

Maybe it’s OK to text: “thx, had great time w/ u.” If not, why not?

 (image courtesy of