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Remember to say 'thank you'

December 26, 2003|by Kate Coleman

katec@herald-mail.com

Please and thank you.

Those two words are the foundation of every child's etiquette education.

"What do you say?" a mother will ask her toddler before letting go of the cookie she is holding out to him.

If the child is old enough and hungry enough, he will say "Thank you."

That's the correct answer - a simple yet important part of learning manners, becoming civilized.

Etiquette is the only thing that separates us from the animals, says Patricia Weber Wolford, who wrote "Etiquette: Self-confidence in the Making." The Hagerstown resident, who is executive director of The Maryland Theatre, published the book in 1997 as a fun tool for teaching manners to her grandchildren.

Setting the example is the best way to teach children, says Beverly Smith of Hagerstown, and during a recent visit from her granddaughters, her husband did just that.

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George Smith planned to write a thank you note to someone who had helped him with a deer he had shot this hunting season. (Real men write thank you notes, too.)

There must be somebody you want to thank, he suggested to the girls. They did and sat down and wrote notes of appreciation - 16-year-old Jessica Smith to her father, Rochelle Smith, 13, to her horseback riding instructor.

"I think social graces are very important," says Beverly Smith. "If somebody takes the time to be thoughtful, it needs to be reciprocated."

A thank you note is the best way in the world to establish relationships with people, says Lydia Ramsey, a professional speaker and author, who has helped businesses, universities and community organizations polish their etiquette skills.

E-mail is OK to confirm that you received a shipment, says Cat Wagman, author of "Why ... Thank You," a book that uses thank you notes to demonstrate the writing process.

But sending an e-mail is not a substitute for writing a note, Ramsey says.

A handwritten thank you makes people feel valued and appreciated, she says.

When you read a handwritten note, you can hear the writer's voice, Wagman says. Hers is a how-to book that includes advice on the tools you need to do the job right. They include scratch paper, notecards or stationery you like, colored pens, if you choose, a dictionary and a sense of humor.

Wagman advises the writer of the thank you note to use his five senses. Be specific in your thanks: Include a mention of how you plan to use the gift.

A thank you note doesn't have to be a big deal, Ramsey says. It doesn't have to be formal. It shouldn't be stiff. A thank you note can be simple; a few sentences will do. It's a thank you note - not a 10-page letter.

People need to get over being embarrassed about their handwriting, she adds. "It's the thought, not the penmanship."

"There's no wrong way to write a thank you note," says 17-year-old Ali Spizman, author of "The Thank You Book For Kids: Hundreds of Creative, Cool and Clever Ways to Say Thank You!"

Write it with your head and edit with your heart, or write with your heart and edit with your head, she recommends.

Ali's book includes sample sentences, closings and ideas for thank you kits and gifts to accompany your note.

"I love notes," she says. Daughter of Robyn Spizman, author of "Thank You Book," Ali was CEO of an imaginary thank you company when she was 4.

Thank you notes show generosity and respect, she says. A handwritten note is personal. It shows you took the time to appreciate a gift or kindness. And, she adds, you can keep a note you've received.

"It's a very cherished piece of paper," Wolford agrees.

Wolford provided another reason - with tongue in cheek - for writing a thank you note for a gift you've received.

If you do not express gratitude, the gift may be your last, she says.

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