Do Thank You Notes Really Need To Be Handwritten? (Teach the Controversy)

I mean really every note should look like this, yeah?

I mean really every note should look like this, yeah? [Via]

We’ve already spoken at length here about the value of a thank you note, so before we go any further, you should know that we at Uncommon Courtesy are firmly PRO thank you note. You should always be writing thank you notes, it’s a great habit, get into it.

However, we have previously advocated not just for the thank you note, but for the handwritten-in-ink-on-paper-and-mailed thank you note. But the more I think about it, the more I realize I do it mainly because That’s How It’s Done. This is not necessarily a bad thing–culture is defined by things that are just Done, and many things that are just Done are Done for great reasons. But it always helps to question authority once in a while. So I ask, does a formal thank you note need to be handwritten?

Victoria agrees that for minor thank yous (birthday presents, small dinner parties, among friends who you know don’t care), e-mail or a phone call or an in-person thank you is fine. But can you use email to thank someone for a wedding present? To your grandma? Below are some Pros and Cons for handwritten notes, so make your own choice, and let’s discuss more in the comments!

PRO: A handwritten note shows you’ve put effort into the thank you. Type out two sentences in email with no subject? That comes off as sloppy and lazy. But to write out your thanks on a card, address it and stamp it means there is physical evidence of how much thought you’ve put into it. You don’t even need to read the note to know that the sender is thankful, they spent at least 10 minutes getting the thing together for you!

CON: There is nothing inherently rude about email. I get that the medium is used mainly for sending links of funny gifs, but let’s face it, there’s nothing actually lazy or informal about email. There is nothing inherently formal or informal about any medium (ok maybe Snapchat), and email is our primary mode of written communication now. If you format your email like a letter and put thought into it, it will sound just as thoughtful. For instance, a few weeks ago I got an email from an editor of mine, saying how much she appreciates my work and being able to work with me. I nearly started crying, because it did not matter how that information was delivered to me; I felt appreciated. Of course, some people will ignore the message and judge the medium, but ultimately that’s their problem.

PRO: Supports the postal service. Our postal service is losing money! They’re shutting down branches everywhere! I used to be able to walk two blocks to my post office, and now I have to take a bus to get there, and it sucks. Every time you buy stamps and send letters, you’re supporting America and jobs and making sure your local post office doesn’t turn into another Rite Aid. And honestly, getting mail is great. It’s a small but joyful moment to open your mailbox and see something other than credit card offers and a random Pottery Barn catalog that you never signed up for. You can be responsible for giving someone that moment.

CON: Wastes paper. Handwritten notes require stationery and stationery is made on paper and paper is made from trees. There’s no way around it. Ok, I guess you can use paper made from bananas or hemp or something now, but you’re still taking things from nature, processing them, and then writing on them instead of letting them grow. If you’ve just gotten married, that is a hell of a lot of pieces of paper and envelopes to use just to ensure everyone gets thanked, when you could say what you want to say just as well by typing it out online. Oh and did I mention stationery is expensive? The basic cards I use are still $17 for 28 cards/envelopes, which I run out of fast, and which are not nearly as “formal” as some situations may dictate. Gmail, however, is free.

PRO: The note is automatically a keepsake. I have one thank you note on my fridge, written on beautiful stationery with stamped flowers, thanking me and my fiance for coming to the sender’s surprise birthday party. It’s written so well, and the paper is so pretty, and I couldn’t help display it for a while. And this is just from a friend! I’m sure you have an uncle somewhere who has saved every single thing you’ve sent him, and he would be elated to get another note to add to the collection. And then down the line you can look at these cards with your kids to teach them about manners, and handwriting, and all sorts of stuff.

CON: Your note will most likely be thrown out. I have one thank you note on my fridge, because (sorry) all the others have been thrown out. Not immediately, not before reading them and appreciating the sentiment and all that, but eventually they’re thrown out. Maybe within a week? Certainly when I open my desk drawer and find a bunch of notes in there. This is a fact of life: no matter how good your intentions and beautiful your work, all things decay. Memories fade and the legacies we try to leave behind will surely be forgotten. Best come to terms with this now.

These Pros and Cons will have different weight to different people. Maybe you’re a rabid environmentalist who doesn’t care that your cousin thinks an email is tacky. Maybe you’re a hoarder who doesn’t understand how anyone could throw away a handwritten note. Maybe you hate the Postal Service and want to watch it burn. This is something you have to figure out for yourself. Personally, I’m wrestling with it, because as much as I generally think cards are wasteful, I do enjoy writing, sending, and receiving letters and thank you notes.

I Read a 500 Page Emily Post Biography So You Don’t Have To

Emily Post: Daughter of the Gilded Age, Mistress of American Manners by Laura Claridge is a fascinating in-depth biography of our favorite etiquette expert, Emily Post. Very in-depth and looong. So I have compiled twenty of the most interesting facts about this woman who was so much more than just an etiquette expert.

1. Her father participated in the building of the Statue of Liberty base and she played inside as a girl. She also attended the opening of the Statue.

2. Her father was a famous architect who basically built Tuxedo Park, NY.

3. Was called the best banjoist in fashionable society when she was young. Banjos were trendy in the 1890s.

4. Motto was “toujours la politesse, jamais la verite” meaning “always courtesy, never the bare truth.”

5. She had a terrible loveless marriage and was divorced. As a dissatisfied wife, she took up writing and was a successful novelist.

6. She was a guest at Mark Twain’s 70th bday party.

7. After her divorce, she helped with interior design for her father’s architect friends and was somewhat of an amateur architect herself. She even wrote a famous book on architecture.

8. She started writing non fiction as an advice columnist but she was originally discouraged from writing about etiquette publishers thought it would be tedious for her.

9. She took a road trip across the US in 1915 with her sons and wrote about it. This was before there were good roads and they were constantly getting stuck in the mud.

10. Her son received the first award conferred on an American pilot during WWI.

11. Emily liked to claim that everyone had begged her to write etiquette, it was more something that was offered to her and she took on bc she found the existing books so bad.

12. She wrote the first edition Etiquette longhand in a year and a half. Published in July 1922, Etiquette originally cost $4 (abt $45 today).

13. Emily was listed as one of Life magazine’s 100 most influential people of the 20th century.

14. Statistics say that Etiquette was the second most stolen book from public libraries, after the bible through the end of the 20th century.

15. She was an activist against prohibition.

16. She hosted an etiquette radio show during the 1930s and loved being on the radio.

17. Was not above some snobbishness: when the Duke and Duchess of Windsor were touring the US, she said he should be addressed as royal highness and she should be addressed as “you.”

18. As an older woman, she had a closet full of red shoes.

19. After WWII she worked to bring Jewish orphans to the United States.

20. Didn’t care about elbows on the table and would regularly put hers on the table at fancy parties.

How To Politely Reveal Your Fetish (Yup, We’re Going There)

Everyone has a thing. I want to get that out there before we go any further. Everyone, in bed our out, has a thing they like to do that maybe isn’t a thing a whole bunch of other people like to do. Or maybe a bunch of people like to do it but it isn’t “normal” or something like that. But at some point you will need to reveal this thing to another person. I mean, you don’t need to; you could hide it forever and become overwhelmed by anxiety and then start expressing yourself in dangerous and destructive ways. But that’s not very nice, is it? No, let’s tell someone.

As with most practices of etiquette (and this is one!), it’s all about making other people feel comfortable while at the same time not sacrificing your own needs. Just as there’s a way to ensure a guest will RSVP or a way to properly thank someone for a gift, there’s a way to reveal your innermost desires in a way that makes your partner feel safe and trusted.

When to Bring It Up

The trick of when to reveal a fetish is weighing the “normalcy” (I really hate that term but can we just go with it? And you can all know that I don’t want to shame anyone? Ok.) of what you want to do against how necessary it is for you to indulge in it. It looks something like this.

Generally, the closer to blue, the earlier you want to mention it, and the closer to orange, the later you can wait. Let’s go through four hypothetical scenarios to illustrate this a bit more.

Common and Unnecessary: This is where your fetish is something that’s known to the general “vanilla” (ugh, that term) world, and is not something you need to indulge in all the time. For instance, if you enjoy getting blindfolded, but you don’t need it to enjoy yourself, this is your category. This can really be brought up as early or as late in the sexual relationship as you want, depending on the others involved and your comfort with them.

Common and Necessary: This is where you have a similar fetish as above, but you need it to happen often or every time. If you need to use a vibrator every time you have sex, this should be talked about earlier, ideally before you have sex but after it’s been established that you’re both interested. This could be any time from dinner that night to while you’re already in bed, but it should be mentioned explicitly, so your partner doesn’t start getting confused about why you’re pulling out this toy every time you’re together.

Uncommon and Unnecessary: This would be a situation where your fetish is something a little off the beaten path, or maybe isn’t even a fetish at all, but just something you’d like to try. Maybe you want someone to learn a really elaborate knot system and tie you up. Maybe you’ve, on occassion, enjoyed being in a latex body bag . Maybe you like sitting naked in pies. I’ve seen Real Sex, I know what’s up. Anyway, if it’s something you’re casually into, it might be best to test this out later on. Wait until you’re already sexually comfortable with your partner and test it out

Uncommon and Necessary: If you need to have someone cover you in chocolate pudding and then run a knife over your stomach every time you have sex, I’m gonna guess your dating needs are best served within a specific community and not on OK Cupid. Use the internet, find that community, and go nuts. But if you do happen to meet someone in a bar you absolutely need to have sex with, then it’s best to bring this up before you get to the bedroom.

How To Bring It Up

Ideally, you will just totally own whatever fetish you have like the badass you are. I actually love Dan Savage’s idea that it’s best to share your kinks as if they were “added bonuses,” but here are a few tips on how to mention it.

1. Make sure that’s actually part of the conversation. It shouldn’t be “Hey, how do you like your spaghetti?” “It’s great, and I also need to eat it during sex.” If need be, make it part of the conversation. Once you’ve established you’re attracted to each other and interested in sex, ask your date what they’re into, and then you can bring yourself up.

2. Don’t be ashamed! There was this part in one of Helen Gurley Brown’s books about how to reveal to your date that you’re wearing a wig (and hey, maybe wearing a wig all the time turns you on, whatever!). You’re just supposed to flat out say “hey, you may be surprised to hear this, but I’m wearing a wig!” and then you take off your wig and if your date runs away then it’s their loss. Don’t let anyone shame you.

3. If you’re in Quadrants 2 and 4, bring “suggestions” of your fetish into your normal sex routine. I found this advice on lots of fetish blogs. If you have a foot fetish, touch your partner’s feet during sex before launching into full-on foot play. If you enjoy bondage, test the waters with blindfolding. That way, if your true fetish lies in the more “uncommon” territory, it won’t come as such a shock later.

So now, go forth and do your thing! And if you have any other tips, let’s talk about them!

Etiquette Urban Legends

There are no alligators in the NYC sewers, so don’t believe these etiquette urban legends either. By Ludovic Bertron from New York City, Usa (Urban Legend? Uploaded by russavia) [CC-BY-2.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons

It’s amazing to us how many etiquette “rules” there are out there that have no basis in any etiquette book nor which are particularly logical. Here are some:

  • You have a year to send a thank you note after the wedding. Though guests have up to a year after the wedding to send a gift, a year for thank you notes is not true. So get that out of your head! Thank you notes should be sent promptly after receiving any gift, though with a wedding you have a bit more leeway because of the volume of gifts. Make it easy on yourself and send thank you notes for gifts received prior to the wedding as they come in.

  • At a fancy dinner or restaurant you will be given ten different forks and won’t know how to use any of them. This legend is a holdover from Victorian times when people did indeed use tons of silverware. Nowadays you will only have a couple of pieces, or the waiter might bring you something new for each course. When presented with multiple forks, start from the outside and work in.
  • You need to buy a gift/give money that is equal to the cost of your dinner at a wedding reception. AKA cover your plate. This is ridiculous. How are you supposed to know how much the dinner cost? And why should someone’s choice to have a lavish wedding result in a more expensive present than someone with a more modest affair? Buy within your budget and according to your closeness with the couple.

  • You should never talk about money in polite company. This is true to a degree, maybe don’t talk about it at a dinner party with strangers. But certainly discuss money and finance with your children- how else will they learn? And we should all be discussing salaries and rent with close friends so everyone will know if they are getting ripped off. Secrets help the man keep us down.

  • At a dinner party, you must try some of everything, lest you come off as rude to the host. Trying everything is good eating advice in general (you might like new things!) but “rude” might be pushing it. If you are allergic to endive, or know for sure you don’t like it, don’t eat it! And if someone asks you can say you just don’t like endive. That’s not a comment on the host.

  • RSVPs: some people think you only need to respond if you are coming, some people think you only need to respond if you are not coming. You must RSVP yes or no to any invitation, how is the host supposed to know which method you are following otherwise? And unless it’s a super informal get together that you’ve been invited to through Facebook or something similar, do not RSVP “maybe.”

  • You should stick your pinky out when drinking tea. You may think this looks fancy and proper, but it’s not! While it’s one thing if your pinky naturally juts out a bit when you hold a cup, sticking it straight out is considered an affectation (damn that New Money) and honestly, just looks ridiculous.

  • Etiquette is all about following rules and if you forget something you are an awful person. Etiquette is more about helping other people feel comfortable, and one of the most important etiquette rules is that it is more rude to point out someone’s rudeness than to break whatever rule in the first place.

Thank Goodness We Don’t Have to Do That Anymore: Bundling

Bundling is another fun and folksy tradition that seems pretty strange today.

Bundling: because people have different mating practices than pigeons.
By Aomorikuma (あおもりくま) (Own work) [GFDL ( or CC-BY-3.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons

The basic idea is: a boy and a girl like each other and want to get to know each other better. However everyone lives in tiny houses with tons of people so there is no privacy. Also it’s winter and the house is cold. So what do you do? You throw those two crazy kids into bed with a board between them for propriety’s sake and let them chat all night. (It also helped to conserve candles and firewood- practical!)

An alternate version was tying each person up in a sack to their necks so that no hanky panky could happen.

How well the practice actually worked at upholding good American morals is anyone’s guess- Washington Irving noted “that wherever the practice of bundling prevailed, there was an amazing number of sturdy brats born” so maybe it didn’t work so well after all.

There were even popular songs about it:

Nature’s request is, give me rest,

Our bodies seek repose;

Night is the time, and ’tis no crime

To bundle in our cloths.

Since in a bed, a man and maid

May bundle and be chaste;

It doth no good to burn up wood

It is a needless waste.

Let coat and shift be turned adrift,

And breeches take their flight,

An honest man and virgin can

Lie quiet all the night.

It seems to have been most common in colonial America and had pretty much died out everywhere by the 20th century, after being practiced by the Amish for some time beyond everyone else.

It seems like a kind of warm and cozy first date- maybe I will add it to my OkCupid profile. What do you think, would you like to bundle up with someone this winter?


You can read a LENGTHY 1930’s treatise on the practice here if you are interested.