Friday, 15 May 2015

The Lady Guide to Modern Manners: 15 May

Is the age of the thank-you note over? A gift should at least be acknowledged. Thomas Blaikie lays down the law

Written by Thomas Blaikie
Dear Thomas,
My question is a simple one. If you give a younger member of your family Christmas and birthday presents and the person does not say thank you in any way, do you continue to give presents and thus build up resentment? Or do you wash your hands of the whole business? Is it petty-minded to expect thanks or even acknowledgement? I am not rich and I give as much as I can possibly afford.
Deirdre Bannister, County Cork

Dear Deirdre,
Or worse. Not only no thanks but the Christmas or birthday cheque not even paid in – months later! I’ve heard of this happening. Just the other week, a lady at our Literary Lunch was fuming about the wasteland of no thanks from the young that we live in now. Lack of thanks was her number-one gripe.

So – what to do? The logical step is obvious, is it not? Cut them off without a penny. All the nieces and nephews and grandchildren can get on without you. Pointless to pour money into a bottomless pit of ingratitude.

There are those who believe that presents do not have to be thanked for. Give and do not count the cost – all that. Then there are the parents who say that they had such a terrible time writing thank-you letters when young themselves, they are going to spare their own children that fate. Maybe we can just about manage to cast our minds back to our own young days when we had to be endlessly nagged into scratching out a few dismally arthritic sentences thanking Aunt Beryl for the 10-shilling note.

Of course presents must be thanked for, let’s not argue about that, and preferably in a letter or email of some length. But it might just be that the young of today haven’t had the training in thanking that older people had. Also they’re young, so more likely to be tonguetied, embarrassed, just a weeny bit self-absorbed and not so interested in their older relatives (to be regretted later). What were we like at that age?

Cutting them off completely is too drastic. Especially if they’re members of your family. It creates a permanent feud-type of situation. I recommend a gentle reminder, ideally face-to-face, where they can’t escape. But there are other channels. You can be ever so slightly wheedling, just a little bit pointed. ‘Did you get something from me on your birthday?’ ‘I see you haven’t paid the cheque in yet. Have you lost it?’ Hope for the best but expect the worst: a mumbled, off-hand apology – sometimes they just don’t know how to thank. It’s their age. Or real regret and convincing appreciation might be forthcoming.

Finally, I suggest you learn to text if you want instant access to the young.

Please send your questions to or write to him at The Lady, 39-40 Bedford Street, London WC2E 9ER

What to do about... technology

Recent surveys have found that half of over-50s feel patronised by technology companies. Yet 75 per cent in this age group own a laptop, 64 per cent have a mobile phone, and 85 per cent agree that technology has improved their ability to communicate with family and friends. Over-50s are not novices in computer use and 77 per cent described themselves as average users – in other words, perfectly competent.

Yet still there is this idea that computers are the province of the young. Ever been to an Apple store? Do, even if you don’t have an Apple machine. You won’t believe it. It’s like a school on mufti day – all the young people who run the place have been allowed to come in their own clothes. Underpants are much on view. But this is just an image that computer companies like to promote. The real dividing in communication technology is between the geeks who write the incomprehensible instructions and the users who just want to send an email. I think everybody of all ages feels talked down to by technology companies.

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