Summer's the time for weddings and cottage visits, but stop the merrymaking for a second to learn how to avoid the "ungrateful boor" label. Here's your guide to sending a thank-you note.
1. Better late than never
You spend a weekend up at your partner's parents' cottage and pick up a card to thank them for hosting. But then it sits, untouched, on your desk for a month. Is there any point to sending it now?
Absolutely, says Connie Leas, the Boulder Creek, Col.-based author of The Art of Thank You: Crafting Notes of Gratitude.
She was inspired to write her book after she sent a wedding gift to a friend and never received a thank-you card. That's right - she'll never forget that snub.
If you don't ever send the card, "they'll remember their whole lives," she says. "You wouldn't believe the number of letters that go to advice columnists complaining about not getting thank-you notes."
Ideally, you should send a note as soon as possible (Ms. Leas says notes for wedding gifts should be sent within a month), but even if you don't get to it till several weeks, months or even years later, the recipient will still appreciate the gesture.
2. Be specific
When you're sending thank-you cards, it can be too easy to buy ones filled with stock phrases ( I appreciate your kindness, Thank you for your gift, etc.) and simply write the recipient's name at the top and yours at the bottom, but you should avoid that. Those kinds of cards lack sincerity, Ms. Leas says.
"When you're talking about a wedding gift, somebody has taken the time and spent the money and gone to a lot of trouble. Gosh, the last thing you could do is tell them you're grateful for their effort," she says.
In the case of a wedding, birthday or other celebration, "You must mention the gift," she says. "You need to say something you liked about it, even if you didn't much like the gift."
Mention how you're excited to whip out that porcelain gravy boat at Thanksgiving, or how you're over the moon that the stand mixer you received matches your toaster.
"If it's money, tell the person what you're planning to do with it," Ms. Leas says. "Just put yourself in their shoes and think, 'What would I like to hear?' "
3. Go analog
Ms. Leas says there's a time and place for digital communiqués, but one should avoid them when writing thank you notes for significant gifts or actions.
"E-mail is so slapdash - it doesn't take any effort," she says.
Even if you're sending a note to a group, one handwritten note carries more weight than a group e-mail.
While a thank-you note is a small gesture that can never match the gift or service for which you're showing your gratitude, "the least you can do is go to a little bit of trouble, take a bit of time, spend a bit of money on stamps and whatnot, to at least to reciprocate in kind," Ms. Leas says.
*And don't do this: Ask guests to address their own thank-you-card envelopes at a shower or party - it's very déclassé.