When I think of the proper, polite, and poised woman, images of beautifully written thank you notes and demurely murmured thanks upon receiving compliments immediately come to mind. Showing proper gratitude is essential to the well bred woman, and she goes a step beyond rendering thanks by valuing the contributions of others. The way to value other’s gifts and services begins with the proper attitude, followed by the proper reception of the gift, in addition to merely saying the words “thank you.”
To begin with, a well bred woman never belittles the contributions of others. Some months ago I read a news article a blog author whose family had fallen on hard times and chose to participate in food stamps. One day the food stamp machine was not working and a stranger paid their $18+/- bill in cash so that she and her children could get some lunch. She then wrote an effusive blog post to the woman in the line behind her at the grocery store, purporting to thank her but mostly extolling to the public how pitiful her own situation was. To my surprise this woman’s blog post was held up in other news articles, as it dashed through its fifteen minutes of fame, as a wonderful example of deep gratitude and heartfelt thanks. While initially appearing to be a heartwarming post, I found myself taken aback by the author’s presumptuous dismissal of the act of kindness rendered her. Her post, written letter style to the person who helped her, referred three times to her assumption that the act of generosity was no big deal to the benefactress. Essentially, the letter said the woman knew it did not hurt her benefactress to help her; that the kind stranger helped because it was easy and painless for her, not a sacrifice. I understand that the author was probably trying to overemphasize how grateful she was to make the benefactress feel gratified, should she ever read the post herself. However, it is not anyone’s place to assume how much or how little another’s charitable act may have cost them. To assume that those mere extra 18 dollars was pocket change for the person who helped her was to assume that only wealthy people are generous and that common, middle class folks never help those less fortunate. But the truth is that the person who donates $5, $10, or $20 dollars is often choosing to forgo something themselves in order to be a blessing to others; maybe they will eat soup for dinner instead of a meat or fish meal, or perhaps they will not be able to have dessert for a few days or go on an outing on which they had planned to purchase convenience foods. Also, studies have shown that poor to middle class people—those who can least afford it—actually donate a higher percentage of their money than higher income earners. Therefore, I found the exaggerated references to how it must have really been no big deal to be insulting and most likely false according to statistics. The well bred woman does not assume that someone is helping her out of excess or ease. Most people who help do it out of a genuine desire to give their time, talents, and treasure, not because it is easy or effortless.
Make a good faith effort
The well bred woman puts good faith into another’s effort by making her own efforts to accept the gift thoughtfully. If someone offers to help or contribute, she makes it as easy for them as she can. For example, I recently volunteered to play the piano at someone’s wedding; when I requested that I be included in the rehearsal, I was told that I did not need to come because my “job would be easy.” The lack of a proper rehearsal not only caused stress on the ceremony’s participants but also made the ceremony go contrary to the plan. A few years ago I volunteered, several weeks in advance, to arrange flowers for another friend’s wedding; about 6:00 on the night before the wedding, the bride’s mother called me to accept the offer; they had not even started yet. The groom’s mother and I were up until 2 AM arranging the flowers! Another wedding a couple of years ago at which I promised to arrange flowers, the groom was supposed to be my assistant but instead of helping me he dealt with a personal issue with the bride the entire day. I helped out of a genuine friendship for the brides, and it is inappropriate to complain about how it went. However, I could not help but notice the theme in all three cases, one that is all too common in many places, is that people are not showing gratitude to the gifts and services of others by matching the efforts of those helping. While it is true that people do not help just because it is easy, someone receiving a gift or help should try to make it as easy as possible for the one helping them. Especially in cases where a well bred woman accepts the help of another’s services, she should make her best effort to provide the proper time frame and opportunity to her helper. This goes farther than any form of thanks after the fact.
The well bred woman thanks in a timely fashion and makes straightforward remarks instead of falling all over herself in effusive thanks. I know some people are naturally bubbly and everything they say is extra heartfelt, but it is highly unattractive for the average person to react in an exaggerated fashion to another’s kindness. Statements such as, “Oh, I can’t believe you would do that for me!” or “You shouldn’t have!” or “You are too kind!” would best be eliminated from a well bred woman’s vocabulary. On one hand, she is implying that the benefactor is acting out of character, which is insulting, and on the other hand she is displaying false humility, as if of all people to walk the earth she were the least deserving of a kindness. Such extreme statements, though unintentional, skew the fact that all people are equally capable of rendering a kindness and deserving of one.
When thanking, a well bred woman focuses on the point of her gratitude: a simple expression of thanks for the gifts or services she received. She realizes that not everyone needs to know about the transaction and therefore keeps public thank you’s to a minimum; personally, I do not feel there is ever a place to acknowledge a private contribution publicly but nowadays people often expect that. Church announcement times are half consumed at times by reading the latest list of volunteers and givers, while special events bulletins have a page or two of names written in thanks. I am sure some people think this is just a nice gesture—”what’s the harm?”—but as a deed or gift passed between two people should be between them, so should the thanks. Too often I have seen people print perfunctory notes on the back of their wedding bulletins or flash a Facebook status of tagged names without even personally thanking their benefactor themselves. Some other things to consider about public thanks is that it
A) exposes the giver to others who may be looking for a handout;
B) brings attention, often unwanted, to someone who wanted to stay in the background, and
C) elevates competition and drives the social politics in so many circles today.
The thank-you note: to send or not to send?
I was raised in a family where thank-you notes were next to godliness. Well, not quite, but it was a cardinal sin to not send a written thank-you note for each and every gift, experience, or act of service received. To show the extreme some people I knew went to, if a kind and generous benefactor didn’t receive a thank-you note for the Christmas gifts sent that year, next year there would be no gifts from said person! This was even in the context of a huge family gathering that involved all the gift givers and receivers being together, providing ample opportunity to thank in person. Before I was even 10 years old, I experienced a family member’s telling my mother that my thank-you notes sounded methodical and boring. So from then on, my mother had us use a different adjective to describe every present we got; instead of “Thanks for the great Christmas presents!” or “Thanks for the nice socks, puzzles, picture book, and sheet set” it was “Thank you for the comfortable socks, the interesting puzzles, the colorful picture book, and the soft sheet set.” Bonus points if you used different color pens for each phrase. It was outrageous! So naturally I have been a bit leery of thank-you notes since entering adulthood, though I have withdrawn from all guilt ridden relationships involving gifts with strings attached. However, the thank-you note seems to be a popular thing and you cannot deny that people love receiving them. Not to mention, it can be a genuine form of expressing thanks. After a few years of not sending any at all, I have tried to get back in the habit of writing them, especially for physical gifts and to people who live far away. I do not write one for every little kind act or even every gift, but for birthday and holiday gifts I attempt it. I often stick to thanking in person for people I see regularly and I consider that just fine for a well bred woman in progress.
In summary, the well bred woman cultivates an attitude of gratitude throughout the process of receiving gifts and services from others and expresses her thanks in a genuine manner reflective of her unique personality, not simply to check off a “good manners” box or to earn points for more gifts in the future.