As I was reading David Eddie’s Damage Control column in this morning’s Globe and Mail I had pangs of guilt. A reader asked for advice on how to handle ungrateful recipients of birthday and Christmas gifts who never sent a thank you or even an acknowledgement that the “gift” was received. Grandparents, aunts, uncles and family friends who share this concern are legion. When someone takes the time to tuck a cheque or gift card for a slice of their hard-earned income into a birthday card which they’ve gone to the store to purchase, put in the envelope with a stamp they’ve also purchased and walked it to a mailbox, how difficult can it be for the recipient to email a quick note saying, “Thanks so much for your birthday gift. I’m saving for a new bicycle and your cheque helps bring me closer to my goal.”? After all, young people spend hours a day texting.
My own guilt stemmed from all the years I was an ungrateful young girl who probably also took other people’s generosity for granted. Was I sufficiently grateful for all the people who kindly provided room and board for me when I was traveling around Europe in 1967? I turned up unannounced at the door of a girlfriend’s aunt and uncle in Rotterdam and they dropped what they were doing, showed me the sights and even provided an evening slide show of pictures taken when my friend had visited as a child. I did give my hostess a hand-crafted brooch of a Canadian maple leaf with a native stone embedded in the middle, but was I sufficiently appreciative? What about the couple who lived on an American army base in Germany who put me up for a month? Although I did the ironing and dishes, helped around the house and acted like a nanny for their four children, I worry whether I was appreciative enough of their hospitality.
When my brother and I were growing up we were fortunate enough to have an exceptional older couple who lived two doors down from us, who were so kind and loving they were like grandparents. Did I sufficiently show my appreciation for all the carefully chosen Christmas and birthday gifts they gave us, not to mention an always-open door to their home for cookies and comfort? My parents certainly did their best to instill the importance of manners in both my brother and me but were we always as conscientious as we should have been?
A friend recently drew the line at inviting a teenage European relative back for a visit to Canada this summer. After hosting him for three annual visits that included chauffeuring him to all the tourist spots like Niagara Falls, Ottawa, Montreal, an Indian Pow-Wow (which the relative had specifically requested), and various other time-consuming and costly sight-seeing excursions, my friend and her husband finally said, “No”. The reason? The visiting relative spent most of his time texting or Skyping his girlfriend in Germany and never once expressed his appreciation for the effort put forth by his hosts. My friends also picked up the entire tab for a trip to New York, including tours, hotels and meals, while the visitor spent all his time looking down at his smart phone trying for internet connections. A simple thank you note when he got home would have gone a long way. The parents have to accept some responsibility for this thoughtlessness too.
With the convenience of email there’s no excuse for not taking a few seconds to thank someone who has done something kind for you or remembered your birthday with a card enclosing a cheque or gift card. And when a friend has taken the trouble to shop for and prepare a lovely meal for you or hosted you over a weekend, a thank you is meaningful. It doesn’t have to be elaborate; it doesn’t even have to be a fancy card. A simple email will often do the job. Even when I was working, I always took the time to send a note of thanks for corporate gifts that I received at Christmas but as someone who also gave corporate gifts, I know that unfortunately this wasn’t the general practice in business.
I can’t be sure I was sufficiently grateful for all the wonderful things people have done for me over the years, but you can be sure I’m conscious of it now. Boomers are now aunts, uncles and grandparents which means we’re frequently the giver not the receiver and we appreciate the appreciation. Am I right? David Eddie and I think so.
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