E-cards vs. handwritten notes: etiquette experts weigh in on the ‘rules’

Etiquette experts say modern technology shouldn't be a replacement of an age-old practice, especially heading into a prime season for celebrations with engagement fetes, showers and weddings.
Etiquette experts say modern technology shouldn't be a replacement of an age-old practice, especially heading into a prime season for celebrations with engagement fetes, showers and weddings. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Amy Sancetta, File

TORONTO – Cara Paiuk and her husband Alex sent thank-you cards following their engagement and wedding, but she candidly confesses she’s not a fan of the handwritten missives.

“Generally, I hate them. I don’t do them,” says the writer and photographer, who hails from Vancouver and now lives in West Hartford, Conn. “After my bat mitzvah 30-odd years ago, I wouldn’t do them, and my mother had to write them.

“It’s a generational thing, and people over a certain age — maybe over 40, over 50 — it’s expected. And I just think an email is easier,” she adds. “I think when you personally thank someone that should be enough. What’s better than to thank someone face-to-face and tell them you appreciate (their gift)?”

While digital natives might feel there’s nothing wrong with sending an electronic note of thanks, etiquette experts say the age-old practice of mailing out handwritten notes is still expected by many.

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“Somebody gets an email, they’re opening it up, they’re deleting it instantly. It’s nothing, it’s not special, it’s not personal,” says Tracey Manailescu, co-founder of The Wedding Planners Institute of Canada.

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“When you get something personal and handwritten, that means they’ve taken the extra time, they’ve written it from their heart, and it’s sent out to you. That’s something you’re going to keep.”

Despite her aversion to thank-you cards, Paiuk hasn’t completely nixed sending them.

In a 2013 blog post on Jewish parenting site Kveller, the mother of three recalled the outpouring of generosity from her community following the birth of twin girls.

Paiuk was so moved by acts of kindness — which included gifts of hand-me-down clothes and meals — that she felt compelled to write notes of appreciation to those “who deserve special recognition for going above and beyond.”

“One day, I hope that I too will be granted the opportunity to do onto others as they have done unto me, and I just want to say in advance: don’t worry, no thank-you card is necessary,” she wrote.

Paiuk argues the digital thank-you notes she usually sends are anything but boilerplate.

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READ MORE: Thank-you notes still deliver traditional show of gratitude

“It’s not a ‘thanks very much.’ I do try to make the email heartfelt and genuine and authentic because I really do appreciate it.”

Digital services have popped up allowing users to send e-cards or video messages to friends and family.

Civility Experts Worldwide president Lew Bayer likes the idea of sending videos, and favours a personalized approach rather than distributing generic e-cards. But ultimately, individuals should be conscious of what will be most meaningful to recipients when expressing gratitude, she adds.

“Maybe I have an older boss who still expects some face-to-face (communication),” she says.

“To just send a text thank-you, I’m just thinking about myself. I’m not thinking about what is preferred or expected by the other person.”

“When we say that ‘it’s the thought that counts,’ it’s not just saying that I thought of doing it. It’s that: ‘I thought about the person and I thought about what the gratitude should entail. I thought about how I want them to feel after.'”

Both Manailescu and Bayer agree that thank-you notes after milestone events like showers and weddings should still be on the to-do lists of expectant parents and newlyweds.

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“People are going to travel, they’re going to take time off work, they’re going to find $100 or $200 in their budget to give a gift of money or otherwise,” says Bayer.

“The very least you can do to show appreciation for all of that is take a couple of minutes out to send a proper thank-you card.”

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