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Thanks Oh So Very Much

Well, it’s that time again. In fact, maybe a little past. Time to do those holiday thank-you notes you’ve been putting off writing because you’re too busy not keeping New Year’s resolutions. Thank-you notes, thoughtful expressions of gratitude for recent gifts from friends and relatives outside the house, are so last century. Once they were required duties even for youngsters, especially if they wanted a repeat gift next year.

The parent would stand by the child’s chair to ensure that one note per gift was dutifully jotted, even for a distant cousin you never saw, didn’t remember and didn’t want any more belts from. Writing thank-you notes was what once was called polite, from the Latin politus and Middle English polyt, meaning polished, smoothed.

No one has done a formal study for us to thank. But we might expect the journal Nature or the Gracias Center for Public Ingratitude to issue a new report showing fully 80% of Americans no longer bother with thank-you notes, and most of the rest didn’t bother answering the survey. Naturally, now that e-mail has made written correspondence so much easier, quicker and essentially free, fewer Americans make the effort when it comes to saying Tks or, more formally, Thk U.

To be sure, actually sitting down and using something called a pen to express gratitude is a chore, requiring thought and time, especially if many care about you. Then there’s the address to find and -- can you believe it? -- the need to purchase a postage stamp. Darn it, why bother, since you never get thank-you notes for thank-you notes? Those gift mongers, who purchased or made it, wrapped it and paid to ship it in time to you with proper postage, can go thank themselves for all we care. Who asks for belts anyway? Not obese Americans.

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Thank-you notes are one of those considerations for the people who didn’t get to see you open the gift, and so often seem passe in this age -- like saying, “Excuse me” or not sharing cellphone conversations with an entire restaurant. Whom to blame? Besides our blameless selves, of course. Is our society coarser, ruder, more confrontational? C’mon! Is it? Can we blame it also on television whose plots can’t waste precious moments on etiquette? Or on parents too busy to teach and enforce minute politeness protocols? Ask schoolteachers about student behavior.

Manners, after all, are just silly strictures, often artificial, created by social consensus and family reinforcement over millennia to minimize the inevitable frictions and conflicts that arise from living together in increasingly crowded, doggedly competitive urban societies. Who needs strictures today? As any rude idiot can see, we’re way past that. Obviously, modern America is getting along just fine, thank you very much, with fewer minor manners like thank-you notes. So don’t thank us for this reminder.


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