20-40-60 Etiquette: How long does it take to say 'thank you'?
QUESTION: When a wedding gift is given or flowers are sent to a funeral, what is the appropriate amount of time within which the recipient(s) should respond with an expression of thanks? Is a verbal "thank you" as acceptable as a written one these days?
CALLIE’S ANSWER: Those are very specific. For a wedding, they say to give the bride six months from the wedding date. For a funeral, give this person grace. Did you send something for a thank-you back?
LILLIE-BETH’S ANSWER: According to the etiquette experts at The Emily Post Institute, couples have three months after the wedding to send thank-you notes. For a funeral, the institute notes that expressions of sympathy should be acknowledged, but if it’s too much for the bereaved to handle, it’s OK to send printed cards with expressions of thanks initially or let another family member help with the thank-you notes. In either case, if you are the giver, try to give everyone grace. If you are the recipient, write the notes and send them, even if you’re late. Thank-you notes are the appropriate way to acknowledge a gift, and a verbal or emailed thank-you isn’t quite right, but both are better than silence.
HELEN’S ANSWER: It is still important to acknowledge a person’s kindness towards you. Brides usually get their thank-yous in the mail three to six months after the wedding, or sooner, if possible, since some of the gift givers worry about their gifts arriving. A simple thank-you card is sufficient for funeral flowers and food.
GUEST’S ANSWER: Adrienne Nobles, assistant vice president for university communications, University of Central Oklahoma: For me, acknowledgement of a gift for a wedding and flowers/memorial gifts for a funeral have different expectations. For wedding gifts, I would send a handwritten thank-you within three months of the wedding. This allows for some time to enjoy a honeymoon and recover from the extra demands of such an event. It is important to acknowledge a wedding gift with a written note, not just a verbal, email or texted thank you.
For a flowers or memorial gifts for a funeral, the recipient is likely in a place of grief, the depths of which we may not understand. If I get a verbal thank you, that is fine by me. A written note is very thoughtful. If I don’t get an acknowledgement, I am not going to worry about it. Grief is a personal journey that can impact an individual in ways they may not anticipate. People heal in their own ways and in varying time frames. Taking the time to write a note could be very painful. Flowers and memorial gifts honor the life of the loved one lost and offer comfort to their family.
GUEST’S ANSWER: Yvette Walker, assistant dean for student affairs at Gaylord College, University of Oklahoma: It's important to remember that these gifts are given in completely different occasions for completely different reasons.
We give wedding gifts to celebrate and make official a relationship. We give funeral flowers to commemorate the life of a person. With celebration comes appreciation, and a thank-you note is required. Etiquette experts disagree on the exact timing, but the thank-you should be sent roughly within a month. Traditionally, that is a physical card sent in the mail. These days, the giver may be receptive to a thank-you letter via email.
When you send flowers to a funeral, you tell the family how much you loved the individual. I break from the experts here. If I express my love for someone I don't need to be thanked. I also don't want to add additional burden to grieving families. A verbal thank-you should suffice. However, know your audience: send a card within a month if you know they expect one.
Callie Athey is 20-something, Lillie-Beth Brinkman is 40-plus, and social columnist Helen Ford Wallace is 60-plus. To ask an etiquette question, email firstname.lastname@example.org.