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damage control

The question

My partner and I have many nieces and nephews who are at an age when they are getting married and starting families. We have been invited to bridal showers, weddings and baby showers and have given generous gifts. In a number of cases, we haven’t had our gifts acknowledged, let alone received a note of thanks. When the offending individual invites us to the next event (i.e., baby shower), I am fuming about the lack of appreciation for the previous gift, but I begrudgingly give again. Do you have any suggestions on how to get the message out that this lack of appreciation is offensive and discourteous? On one occasion when my niece didn’t acknowledge a generous gift, we made a gentle inquiry to her mother and she was surprised and wondered what our problem was.

The answer

It’s a real pet peeve of my wife’s and is slowly becoming one of mine: No one seems to say thank you for anything any more.

Give a waiter or waitress a tip: You get nothing.

Hand a cashier at a retail store some bills: bupkes.

I know the money doesn’t go directly into the cashier’s pocket; but I believe it used to be common for cashiers to say thanks at the conclusion of these types of transactions.

Personally, I think you should thank anyone who gives you money for whatever reason.

Or hospitality. Another pet peeve: No one seems to call the day after coming over to your house for dinner – what my mother calls “the “bread and butter call” – any longer to express gratitude for being wined and dined.

I could go on but you see my point. As a society, we seem to be losing our sense of gratitude.

We should all be grateful for everything – starting with the simple fact of being alive. Not every zygote gets the opportunity.

It’s also a question of manners. Saying thank you for a gift – even one you don’t like – is just so basic.

So I think you are well within your rights to say something to your ingrate nieces and nephews. Don’t just seethe and stew, keeping the resentment bottled up, as it seems you have been. It’ll come out in other ways – ways that probably won’t be good for inter-family relations.

Oh, and approaching the mother was a mistake, by the way: a) too circumspect, b) she’s the one who should have taught them the manners in the first place. The fact she was “surprised” at your reaction to not having your gifts acknowledged, and “wondered what your problem was” tells me everything I need to know about that.

Clearly these rudenik niece and nephew apples didn’t fall far from the tree.

Next time you see one of them, go ahead and say something. It should be in person: E-mail has a funny way of exacerbating even the smallest hint of negativity or confrontation.

Also, you have to take the niece or nephew aside so it’s one on one – a private conversation. Otherwise, you’ll risk embarrassing them in front of family and friends.

From that point, there’s a bit of a performative aspect. I know you’re upset but don’t act upset. You don’t want this thing to flare up.

Just tell the niece or nephew with complete calm and equanimity you were surprised –and you can even say upset (it’s family and you’re allowed to speak a little more bluntly to family than you might to other folks) – they never acknowledged your gift.

Go ahead and say you would’ve appreciated a thank-you note and they should probably send one every time they get a gift. These days, it’s 30 seconds and a push of a button!

(I have a friend who sends actual physical thank-you notes through the mail, and I believe it earns her a lot of goodwill when one of these antiquated artifacts pops through someone’s slot, but it’s a lot to ask these days.)

The niece or nephew might squawk. You might get some pushback. They might, like their mother, become “surprised” and wonder what your problem is.

Look at it this way. You’re teaching them some basic manners, a good manners will help them get along better with friends, family, colleagues, spouses.

Now that’s a real gift. One they may even someday thank you for.

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