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A matter of thanks – the lost practice of written notes

Posted in Style & Travel

thank-you-french-friesYesterday I received a thank you card from my auto insurance company. My name and address were handwritten on the envelope and, inside, a stock printed card let me know how much they appreciated my business. It went straight from the mailbox to the recycling bin.

But the insurance behemoth I pay to protect me in case of an accident is clearly tapping into a practice that is falling in disuse: the handwritten thank you note; and the excitement of opening the mailbox and finding something other than spam and bills.

I love sending and receiving thank you notes. It makes me feel slightly old-fashioned, proper and not entirely at the mercy of technology. If you have taken the time to shop for a gift for me or prepared me a meal, or if you have gone out of your way to do something special for me, I feel a simple thank you over the phone, an e-mail or – horror! – a text message, simply is not enough.

Apparently, I am not alone. Anna Wintour is a famous writer of thank you notes, a custom that, apparently, is alive and well in the fashion world. Schools and colleges are also indoctrinating students in the art of the interview and I have received thank you notes from very many young people a couple of days after I interviewed them. I can’t say anyone was ever hired on the basis of that thoughtful (or college suggested act) but it didn’t hurt, provided there were no spelling mistakes.

I am also not a fan of the electronic card: I appreciate the sentiment behind it but I would rather receive a personal email with a few lines appropriate to the occasion rather than dancing ducks or panda bears. Am I turning into a curmudgeon?

Union Jack toolbox
My Union Jack toolbox – let’s just say it was an impulse buy

Human interactions are becoming more detached and impersonal as technology allows us quick and easy exchanges. I truly appreciate being able to drop an e-mail with a question or communicating via text message without having to pick up the phone. There are times when a phone call can be burdensome and issues can be resolved faster. But for anything that involves thanking another human being, wishing them joy or luck, I expect, of myself and other, to take a few minutes out of my cluttered day to take pen to paper and scribble something heartfelt. Which is why I keep a stash of cards in a Union Jack toolbox near my desk – I also think it’s important to keep in business stationery stores, those havens of thick paper sheets and heavy envelopes that conjure days gone by.

My favorite one is in Venice: it’s actually a three generation book-binding operation in Campo San Rocco. Upon entering you might or might not be greeted by the owner, his wife or son, usually hidden behind stacks of tomes and rolls of paper. Everything is arranged in a haphazard fashion and you have to wade through bins and boxes to get to the store’s side line of writing paper, notes and blank journals, all hand-made. Whenever I go, I stock up: everything is wrapped in plain brown paper, and those little plain packages never fail to make me happy.

One of the last of my Venetian cards - time to go back
One of the last of my Venetian cards – time to go back

Maybe because it’s becoming an endangered species, sending and receiving handwritten missives and notes still feel special. It creates an intimacy between the writer and the reader that an e-mail, quickly disposed of with a touch of a button, cannot. Even if many of my recipients probably have a hard time deciphering the chicken scratch that passes for my handwriting. Penmanship, another trait of excellent manners, I am still working on.

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  1. silvia

    Your attitude to pen friendship brought us one of the dearest and funniest recollections I have about our summers in London when we had a very peculiar guest at our place.
    You are right writing with a pen should be preserved in any way, so from now on double cross on ecards and all the like.
    Maybe in a few years we’ll get melancholic about old handwritten shopping lists!

    April 15, 2014
  2. I would expect nothing less from you 🙂 Your little thoughtful notes will be much appreciated by all the recipients. If Ms Wintour does it, well, surely it’ll catch on again…
    Now if only she didn’t put Kimye on the cover of her magazine…no thank you note for that! 🙂

    April 14, 2014
    • sofagirl feels differently about Kimye, I have mixed feelings but, hey, the issue sold a ton. So Anna is laughing all the way into the advertisers’ pockets.

      April 15, 2014
      • I’m a subscriber and it arrived in its plastic. I threw it on the floor where it still rests, in its plastic…like a porno mag that I’m ashamed of! I only subscribe because it costs $20 a year otherwise I wouldn’t be bothered with it. I believe in the long run the only people that won out of it are the two cover stars…Rant of the day, brought to you by Conde Nast 🙂

        April 15, 2014
  3. Agree with you about hand-written notes; ditto electronic cards – they don’t really do it for me. And as for the Venetian paper shop, it sounds like heaven!

    April 14, 2014
  4. You’ll be shocked and appalled to learn that Canada Post is proposing to abolish mail delivery! 🙂

    April 14, 2014
    • I read about it a few weeks ago. A bit mindboggling if you ask me but I understand. The US Post office is hanging by a thread and they are planning to close the smallest offices. Our advantage is that there are a lot more of us than there are of you so the numbers are probably not as bad over here and way more mail carriers are being employed here that would be too difficult to eliminate.

      April 14, 2014

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