Let Inga Tell You: Thanks but no thanks for the no thanks

Inga wonders what happened to the art of giving thanks for gifts.

Welcome to Auntie Inga’s Curmudgeon Hour, Thank You Note edition.

OK, so I’m getting old. And grumpy. But apparently, I’m not alone. An exceedingly common gripe from readers to advice columnists, including Miss Manners, Dear Prudence, Ask Amy and Dear Abby, is the failure of young relatives (nieces, nephews, grandchildren) to even acknowledge receipt of a gift, never mind thank them for it.

Generally, the advice columnist gives them permission to stop sending gifts to the little ingrates. But this isn’t a very satisfactory solution on either side. Generally the senders have genuine affection for the giftees and wish to make them happy. Not to mention, it’s truly fun to buy gifts for kids, so it deprives the aunties and grandmas of the pleasure of doing so. And stopping sending gifts just makes the oldies look petty.

According to the advice column mail, parents (we’re not letting dads off the hook here) of the non-thankees will defensively respond that if a relative wants to send a gift to their kid, send it. Demanding a thank-you note, they insist, makes the gift about the giver rather than the recipient. And by the way, they’ve got “a lot going on” at their house and thank-you notes are waaaay at the bottom of their list.

So the senders will counter, “OK, but could you at least acknowledge receipt of the gift so I know it got there?“

But the parents of non-thank-you-note writers claim this is merely a not-so-subtle dig that no thanks have been forthcoming. Even the U.S. Postal Service doesn’t lose packages that often, they maintain. (Debatable point.)

A friend in my age group sends all her young relatives a gingerbread house every Christmas. The ones who thank her get one next year. She is unapologetic about this. Retired from a successful business career, she maintains that expressing appreciation is a skill put to good use later in acknowledging client referrals or thanking someone for a job interview.

The irony is that thanking someone is easier than ever. In even my own sons’ youth, pen, paper and stamp were required. Now all you have to do is send a text. (“Thx 4 gft.”) Minimalist but gets the job done. And yet, as it has all gotten easier, it seems to be a habit that has fallen out of practice.

I gave my sons until midnight on New Year’s Eve to write Christmas thank-you notes, otherwise life as they knew it was over. The notes had to be handwritten, at least three lines long and say what they liked about the gift, even if they didn’t like anything about it.

I saved copies of some of Rory’s oeuvre.

Dear Uncl Peter and ant lucy - thank you for the telescope. I will use it to hit henry with. love, rory. (Draws picture of himself hitting Henry with the telescope and adds, ha ha Not really! I think that was supposed to qualify as the required third sentence.)

Dear aunt elizbeth, thank you for the chemistry set. I like it. I am trying to make a pocion to turn henry into a frog. Love rory

Dear grandpa henry, thank you for the dire straits tape. And the pencil sharpener and the jeepers creepers thing. I like the pencil sharpener so I can sharpen henry’s head. (Draws picture of Henry’s head labeled “before” and a pointy head labeled “after.”)

I am happy to say that both of my sons still thank people for gifts.

I tend to give one group of grandkids gifts in person, so I’m not sure how good their thank-you note skills still are. The other group’s efforts have become … sporadic.

So is it selfish to want to share in the joy of giving a gift? Especially if you’ve put in a lot of time and energy and money to select and send it?

Fortunately, most of the gifts I give my grandkids are charitable donations of their choosing made in their names, a custom started when each kid was around 3.

As preschoolers they were largely interested in fishies and horsies (also ‘phants). The problem, initially, was that the kids wanted to take physical possession of their adopted animal, not quite understanding virtual adoption. One year, my 5-year-old grandson opted to adopt a humpback whale named Mars from Whale and Dolphin Conservation. I sent the contribution and notified my son and daughter-in-law to have a 50,000-gallon tank ready on their patio by Wednesday.

The kids gradually have been branching more into people: food banks, desks for kids in Malawi, cleft palate surgeries in third world countries, potable water.

The nice thing about gifting charitable contributions is that it is its own reward. Thank-you notes not required. I know the gift got there. I’m pretty sure they call me Grammy Tax Deduction behind my back. But I’m OK with that. And the whales couldn’t thank me more.

Inga’s lighthearted looks at life appear regularly in the La Jolla Light. Reach her at ◆