Category Archives: etiquette

Manners Monday: Reclaiming the fine art of the Thank You note

Ah. The day after Christmas. Boxing Day if you are in a Boxing Day country. Personally I think Boxing Day is a great idea… why don’t we have Boxing Day? Or just celebrate St. Stephen’s Day? I know, it’s just an excuse to go out and shop, but the extra bank holiday might be appreciated by some. Anyway…

Gifts have been unwrapped and put away. Paper and packaging has been cleared away. New play-doh that came out of the can in such vibrant colors are now a sad shade of beige. What’s next to do? Thank You Notes. Time to write the Thank You notes.

What?! You may think that Thank You notes are antiquated and a throwback to the dark ages before we had stuff like email and unlimited minutes and instant gratification but that is what makes Thank You notes (or letter writing and manners in general) is fine art that transcends all social and class lines. It really can be the great equalizer!

Writing a note by hand allows you to put to paper human emotions: joy, sorrow, gratitude, love, nostalgia. And if you think about it, those (and anger) are among the first emotions we learn to articulate verbally.

Before sitting down to write your notes, gather your supplies:

Pen

Paper

Envelopes

Address Book

List of gifts and their givers (if needed)

According to Margaret Shepherd, author of The Art of the Handwritten Note,  your Thank You Note should have five characteristics. It should be: generous, specific, prompt, succinct and personal.

Generous. Send the note even if you’ve already thanked the giver in another way.

Specific. Mention the gift but thank them for the THOUGHT behind it.

Prompt. Send the note right away, but don’t let lateness stop you from writing at all.

Succinct. Keep it short by writing about any unrelated matters in a separate note.

Personal. Write it by hand. No form letters, printouts or greeting cards.

Things to say:

Thank you so much.

It’s just what I’ve wanted

How did you guess I wanted a [the gift]

I am enjoying wearing, playing with, looking at, eating, listening to, reading [the gift]

You were so thoughtful, kind, generous

Things to avoid:

Thank you for the gift [this may imply to the giver that you have forgotten what they gave you or that you lost the gift. EXCEPTION: when the gift is money in some form. In that case, thank them for the “gift” but then be sure to tell them what you are planning to do with the gift.]

You shouldn’t have 

Thank you for dinner. [Was the rest of the evening just awful?]

I’m exchanging it. [Wow.]

IT’S THE BEST GIFT EVER!! [makes you sound a bit insincere.]

Now some of you, like me, are parents. And since you are a parent, that means you have children. If you have taught your kids to say “thank you,” you can teach them to write thank you notes! When it comes to kids, you have a new options. For the first five years, or so, you can write on your child’s behalf. I, personally, write in the child’s voice. For an older preschooler, they could dictate to you what to write or copy a few lines down that you have written for them (if they can write their letters) or they can write their name at the end of the note.

For older children, help them enjoy writing notes by employing some of the following tactics:

Schedule time together to write. We all know how kids fare better when they know what to expect and when, so set aside, in advance, a set an hour or so on a specific day to write notes

Support your child. Give your child their very own stationery and special pen. Make sure your child has all of the needed addresses or address the envelopes for them as they write the note.

Personalize it. If you child likes glitter, stickers, stamps, or the like, let them add the embellishments to their note.

Model. Your child will not want to write thank you notes if they do not see you writing notes. Just as your child sees you saying “Thank You” in person, let them see how that gratitude is translated into a thank you note. Make sure your child sees how enjoyable RECEIVING thank-you notes is by reading the notes you receive aloud and posting them.

Join them. Sit down with your child and write something as well: your own thank-you notes, journal, a letter, etc. If nothing else, it’s helpful for your child for you to be there, to offer support with spelling, advice and phrasing.

Have the gift at the ready. Kids are concrete. They remember the here and now, so it might be helpful for to have the gift in front of your child when they write. Ask your child how they felt when they received the gift. If they were not too keen on the gift, ask them to imagine how happy Auntie was picking out the gift for them.

Reciprocity. Help your child understand the pleasure people get from being thanked by making sure they know what it feels like to give a gift and then receive a thank-you note. If you write a thank-you note to your child, it is a concrete example of how thank-you notes make people feel. And how cool is it, as a child, to receive a thank-you note from a grown-up?!

I hope this takes some of the scare out of writing thank-you notes and encourages you to start a new tradition of your own!

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Manners Monday: To email or not to email?

The CCM household is big on thank you notes. We may not be as prompt as we should be, especially during hectic times (i.e. The Dragonfly’s thank you notes from her birthday are still waiting to be written… pass me the Cone of Shame) but we still stick to handwriting thank you notes. It’s funny, some of my friends know how much we like to write thank you notes, that one of them actually forbade me from writing her a thank you note after she brought our family dinner after the birth of the Dragonfly. (Nina, that still makes me laugh!)

There is something about getting that special little note in the mail. After all, we tend to only get bills or junk mail in our mailboxes these days, thanks to electronic communication. You might get lucky and receive a card or two on your birthday, and of course Christmas brings with it loads of mail in the box, but what about the other times of the year?

A letter in the mail, for whatever reason, is personal and thoughtful. It makes the recipient feel special, that you took the time out to sit down and put pen to paper. But admittedly, we are all very busy people and that could lead to unwritten thank you notes and a giver wondering, “Did they receive my gift? Did they like it? Did they notice it?” In that case, you have to think that an email thank you note would really suffice. It takes less than 5 minutes to sit down, type out an email and hit send and you are done. There’s no walking to the post office or making sure you have stamps (speaking of which… another price increase? Really?) No worries about your note arriving mangled or damaged or even worse… lost! But is it the same?

There is debate out there about the merits of teaching cursive handwriting in schools. The thought is that people so seldom handwrite the written word and therefore, is learning how to write in cursive really needed or is it an antiquated throwback to the olden times? Sure, electronic copies last forever in the cloud, but is the romantic nature lost? Could you imagine your great-great grandchildren reading the emails that you and your honey shared and getting the same reaction as reading the handwritten love letters between your great-great grandparents?

There is a time and place for everything and in my humble opinion… heartfelt sentiments and thank you notes deserve ink, paper and a stamp. But that’s just me.

What do you think? To email or not to email? Is cursive a skill that kids should still learn or should it be let go?
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Manners Monday: Parenting with Grace under Pressure

A Facebook friend recently shared this on her Wall:

What would you do? Could you do anything? I’m curious what others do or think. I felt nothing I could do would help, and I was too overwhelmed caring for my babies. But I saw a scandalizing example of why many people develop a dislike for Christians. A mother w/ a 2ish year old and 4ish year old shared the “cry room” with us for a random church session. And proceeded to hiss, yell, slap, pinch and otherwise verbally attack her kids throughout the whole thing. It was very disturbing and I ended up leaving the room to stand in the back w/ my kids.

At the end, she literally physically dragged them into the main church and told them they had to do stations of the cross for being bad while on their tippy toes. She kept twisting the older child’s arm b/c he wouldn’t stop sobbing. I feel bad b/c my reaction was so strong I could not think clearly or think of any helpful way to intervene/redirect/de-escalate. My kids were freaking out and I didn’t want them to see what was happening, too. Mostly I was shocked that she had no filters whatsoever…she didn’t seem to care at all that others saw her and heard her. Ok so there’s my current stomach-turning issue.

Comments ranged from total compassion for the mother (‘you don’t know what kind of day she was having’) to complete and total derision toward her (‘you should have called CPS right away.’) Parenting is full of Monday Morning Quarterbacking moments and this is for sure one of them.

I think that we have all been in that sort of situation to some degree. We have been the mom at our wits’ end with our children and we have been the passive bystander asking herself “What should I do? Should I ask her if I can help? Oh, those poor children!” None of us are parenting experts, even those with a whole alphabet’s worth of letters after their name. We all have great parenting days and we all have craptastic parenting days, but the mark of a Parent with Grace is how you handle those craptastic moments.

I will say that I take issue with how this mother handled her craptastic moment in general and specifically at Mass. Pinching, Twisting, and Bopping your kid only teaches this that it’s acceptable to pinch, twist and bop those weaker than you if they don’t do as you say. Mass is supposed to be a celebration and Church should a happy place to be… not a punishment for anyone. If nothing else, this mother has planted the seeds for extreme religious hatred for her children. Instead of seeing the Stations of the Cross as a monument of Christ’s love for us, they will see it as a punishment, something that they had to to when they pissed mom off at church.

Discipline is proactive. Punishment is reactive. There are days that I would love to get to daily Mass, but it doesn’t happen if I know that my children are not prepared for the Mass. That means: well-rested, fed, dressed and briefed as far as my expectations go for them. If I am choosing to take them to Mass and I know they are hungry and tired, I have no one to blame but myself for setting THEM up for failure. We, as parents, need to also drop this facade of perfection that we carry around. We all have bad days and accepting help from a stranger, or asking for help is not a sign of weakness. If someone offers you a hand, do not take it as a personal affront to your parenting skills, as it is only when we accept help from others that we allow them to become Christ to us.

So what would I have done if faced with this dilemma? Honestly, I have no clue. I’d like to think that I would have said something to her but I really don’t know…

What would you do? Should you do anything?
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Manners Monday: Broadcasting your good deeds… yay or nay?

For the most part, we all like to do good deeds. It’s more fun to be on the receiving end of that good deed, but doing something nice for someone else does make you feel all warm and fuzzy inside. But you know and I know that another part about doing good deeds is that feeling of wanting to tell someone- ANYONE- about that good deed. But is that the right thing to do?

On the one hand, your telling another about your good deed could inspire them to do some good deeds on their own. They could then go out and perform more good deeds and the world ends up a better place because you took the time to do something nice… altruistic for another human being.

On the other hand, your telling about your good deeds could make you into a braggart and you could come across as making yourself out better than others. After all, Jesus does tell us “But when you give to the poor, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing,” (Matthew 6:3) After all, the only true judge knows what you are doing at all times.

Maybe the answer is a mix of the two. If someone is looking for a way to help out others, give them some options of works that you have done or that you do. But you don’t have to tell them how often you have done that deed or the last time you did it. I can tell you, one of my favorite good deeds to do is… and don’t laugh… pay for the car behind me at Starbucks.

OK, I know that is not earth shattering or much in the realm of other good deeds… after all, the cynic in me realizes that those who are frequenting Starbucks probably have no problem affording Starbucks. But for me, the action is not one as an act of charity but rather an act of goodwill toward my fellow man. I guess the way I look at it is this: I don’t know what kind of day the other driver in that car is having. They could be having the best day of their life… they could be having the worst day of their life… and the simple gesture of buying them a cup of coffee could make a small difference in their life.

Maybe I am being overly dramatic, but it works well in my head.

So what are your thoughts?
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UPDATE: One CCM reader, Missy, took the MM post about mobile ‘phone etiquette to heart. Before reaching the sales counter at a well-loved St. Louis institution (which happens to be known by another name in other states) she wrapped up the phone call that she was on. The employee was so surprised by her action that she told her how infrequently that happens and happy it makes them, as employees, not to be ignored for the ‘phone. Missy was pleased by that news and even more pleased by the extra little treat she was gifted. Now does that mean that treats will always follow good manners? No, but it’s extra nice when it does!

UPDATE 2: This was posted on FaceBook by a friend of mine: After yet another very frustrating day of dealing with car license renewal, I just felt deflated. When [DS] asked me to go to DQ, I was all over it. Somehow, pumpkin pie blizzards would be the cure. Unbeknownst to me, our treat was paid for by the young man ahead of us. The lady in the drive thru window just said “pay it forward.” I’m sure that gentle soul doesn’t know what it meant to this worn-out, tired old mom. God bless you, kind stranger. It’s the first time I’ve had tears in my eyes while leaving DQ!


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Manners Monday: Mobile ‘Phones. Oy Weh.

I know, I know, I said I was going to throw in the towel on the scheduling, but I think that is just how the creative mind works sometime. So, let’s talk mobile (cell) ‘phones.

Like them or not, mobiles have becomed engrained in our culture. I mean, there are children as young as 5 with their own ‘phones. (Not mine, mind you!) As with most inanimate objects, the mobiles themselves are not bad… But the behavior some people use whilst on their ‘phones is pretty horrendous.

Rude caller 1: People who continue their conversations on their mobiles while checking out at the market, boutique, mall, etc. Why is this rude? Because while jabbering away to your caller, you are basically ignoring the individual providing you a service! I have worked in customer service, and I know that some can be less than ideal, but does that give you a reason to flat out ignore them, fling your money at them or hold up the line behind you because you are trying to juggle your ‘phone, your possessions and whatever else you have. Do everyone a favor and just hang up.

Rude Caller 2: Those who insist on broadcasting their end of the conversation to the world, AKA, loud talkers. You tend to meet these types when confined on a bus, train, subway, plane or in line at the market. Either they really have no clue that they are talking so loudly, or they know how loud they are talking and don’t care because they really want you to know how important/cool/intellegent/well-connected they are. Really, your fellow travellors do not really care how ragin’ that party was last night, or how that ***** wore the same dress as your BFF to Ken’s house or how the Johnson merger is going. Really, we don’t care.

Rude Caller 3: The hands-free kings. Now I say kings, because nine times out of ten, the offender is a guy. These gentlemen insist on wearing their bluetooth, jawbone or other hands-free device EVERYWHERE they go, even if the aren’t on a call. You’ll see them walking though Home Depot, eating in a restaurant, playing with their kids at the park. It’s even worse when you combine rude callers numbers 1-3 and they are in line, yelling into their bluetooths.

Rude Caller 4: The “Unless you are a text message, I am ignoring you” offender. I am sad to say, usually this type of offender is a woman. Now, I am a text messenger. I love to text, in fact, I prefer texting over voice calls because you can get to the point with a text. But I discovered that I was losing skills in using the fine art of conversation because of my addiction to emails and text messaging. True story here: my husband took the girls to a “family-friendly” restaurant with an indoor play area. Also there was a 5 year old girl and her mom. Mom was glued to her phone. Little girl kept trying to get mom’s attention about something, and soon gave up and asked my 4 year old to play. The bear said yes, but she had to finish eating first. Little girl headed back to her mom and sat there. Soon, one of the employees of the restaurant walked up to mom and daughter and said something to mom. No answer from mom. He repeated his question, still no answer from her as she was texting away. (DH said he was pretty sure he was talking to mom because he was looking right at mom.) He then walked away. OK, here’s the kicker… mom then turned to her daughter and said loud enough for my husband to hear, “That was VERY RUDE of you to ignore that man!” DH said that Little girl just looked defeated.

Now, as you know, I am a mom and I now have my own business so therefore, I am on my mobile phone more often that I used to be. But at the same time, I have to make a conscious effort to be mindful of my mobile etiquette both with strangers and with my family. If my phone rings during meal time (breakfast, lunch, dinner,) the call goes to voice mail. If I get a text message or email during a meeting, or Mass, or when I am giving my girls undivided time (so in all of those cases, the ‘phone is on vibrate,) it’s going to wait. I will text and tweet while waiting in line, but the phone is put away when it is my turn to interact with another human being. I’m kind of spoiled in that The Swagger Wagon has Bluetooth integrated so you won’t see me sporting a handsfree device nor will you see me texting while driving!! (As an aside, I was listening to ‘Car Talk’ on NPR and Click and Clack said they saw a bumper sticker that read: Honk if you love Jesus. Text while driving if you want to meet Him! I was rollin’ on that one.)

So that’s my take on mobile ‘phones. They are a fantastic invention and it’s funny to think that my kids will grow up only seeing corded ‘phones as play objects, but we mustn’t forget the real people that we are interacting with as well.
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What are some of your favorite mobile ‘phone faux pas? Oh, let me tell you this! I was so excited to find out that there is a new addition of Emily Post’s Etiquette coming out soon! Wheeeeee!! You know that could be an amazing gift for this CCM (hints to my family, LOL!)


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