Experimental feature

Listen to this article

Experimental feature

What is the etiquette of writing thank-you letters in this modern electronic age? Is it acceptable simply to send an email in lieu of posting a letter, or even just a text or voice message?

My overriding concern regarding thank-you missives is their content, rather than their mode of conveyance. I believe that any writing that induces that stodgy feeling of bread-and-butter is never good enough, nor the kind replete with clichés or filled with superlatives that are no longer superlatives because they have been hacked to death: words such as “fabulous”, “amazing”, “incredible” or “unbelievable”. It irritates me no end when I hear the words “incredible” or “unbelievable” being used to describe perfectly credible and believable circumstances.

My point is that we must always take some care in crafting our verbal gratitude, otherwise we are doing something merely perfunctory, and not offering genuine thankfulness, which always requires a little effort. Therein lies the real ingredient of good manners, to wit, making an effort to be considerate.

I have a very simple rule about writing any thank-you letter: never use the words “thank you”. Or at least not until the very end. This simple rule will force the writer to think a bit about what to write. It will also make a difference to the recipient who must be drowned with letters that begin with the words “thank you”. On the whole, you will find that avoiding those two hackneyed words will make the letter much more interesting, or at least less pedestrian, because the writer is then diverted to mentioning observations and experiences, thereby flattering the host or hostess into believing that their meticulous preparations have not gone unnoticed. After all, they will most appreciate hearing exactly how their guests have experienced their hospitality. So coming up with the right content is the secret of a fine thank-you missive, rather than just an expression of gratitude.

Invoking a quote, using litotes or including a witticism are all specific ways in which a missive of thanks could become most effective. Indeed, that should be the eternal aim: to make the reader smile when reading what you write.

On the mode of dispatch, I would have thought that for most occasions, it is now acceptable to substitute a letter for an email. Virtually all my friends use emails although I admire those who still hold out. My friend Jools Holland is one. But he does live in a castle. Another is Dame Fanny Waterman. And she is a spring chicken at the age of 95.

I suppose, on very formal occasions, one should still stick to proper writing paper and ink. If I won the Nobel Prize, which I know I shan’t, but if I did, I think I might write to the academy and its committee to express my gratitude. But how about the Oscar? To whom does a winner write? George Bernard Shaw was the only man who ever received a Nobel Prize AND an Oscar. Of all people, I would love to know if he wrote to thank anyone.

Finally, if I had just stayed with a prime minister, a monarch or the Pope, a neat letter in ink would be called for.

Have you ever thought about procreating with Lucy Kellaway? I ask not for any prurient reasons but rather because I find it fascinating to consider what kinds of journalistic excellence your offspring could offer to the world! I, and I have to suspect many millions of others, so thoroughly enjoy both your and Ms Kellaway’s work that I would simply ask you to consider this request in the interests of future insightful, honest, useful and impactful journalism.

I dare say that both Lucy Kellaway, for whom I cannot and do not speak, and I should feel flattered by your suggestion, although it is a little creepy. At the same time, I should declare straightaway that I, with a replaced retina, an alien liver and an artificial hip, not to mention a bulk of more than 200lb, would be totally unsuitable for anyone to consider having a child with, and certainly Lucy would be infinitely too good.

In any event, the jury is still out on the difference between blood and meritocracy, and, therefore, blood alone does not guarantee enhancement.

Please post comments and questions at the end of this article, or email david.tang@ft.com

Get alerts on House & Home when a new story is published

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2019. All rights reserved.

Follow the topics in this article