Monday, 30 November 2009

Thank you for sending me your thank you card.

Tonight, we are watching Public Enemies, with Johny Depp. Oy, mama.

I was clearing my handbag this morning. Occasionally, it just has to be done.
Out came old receipts, spare contact lenses, a few coins, one headless little girl made out of Hama beads ( No, not Hamas. Hama. Those little coloured beads children play with), a few letters from school asking for more donations, a pair of shades….(who I am kidding?) and thank you cards.

Oh, crap.- I thought. Kept carrying them in my bag for weeks now, forgetting to hand them out.

If you come from Azerbaijan, or any other country that is not so obsessed with sending cards, you would probably think what’s that?

A thank you card is a completely useless, money and time wasting middle class thing to do. What you must understand, Brits are crazy about cards. I remember in Baku, I could not wait for my New Year cards to arrive and it was magical. But that was once a year. OK, for my birthday, too. That’s twice. Also, when we were little girls, we just wrote some cute postcards and secretly dropped them in each other’s mail boxes. Fair enough, we were 10.

In the UK, it is a different story. Adults happily play those games. I spent £8 on 16 thank you cards for all the presents my child received for her birthday. After the party, instead of relaxing with a well-deserved glass of wine, I sat there, equipped with a pen and paper, noting down whose name was on the card, as my child tore the wrapping paper off each parcel. So that I would not embarrass myself later, when I thank someone for a toy they had not given. Because, it would not do to simply say “thank you or your generous gift.” No way! That would be cheating.

But this is just what has to be done around here. And it is not just the thank you cards. Brits love their cards- for any occasion. Went to visit someone? Send them a “thank you for the wonderful time” card. Someone died? Must send their family a card. Someone got sacked? No worries, there are ‘sorry you lost your job’ cards available, too.

And Christmas is the worst. Of course, it is a lovely feeling to see a card land on your doormat. There is something special about it. That element of surprise, that moment of guessing who it might be from. I personally love the stamps.

But there is absolutely no fun in getting Christmas cards from your colleagues- all the way from the other end of the open plan office. The cards are cheap and ugly. The writing is hasty. It is obvious that they do not give a crap about you and your well being during the festive season. Sometimes, someone will forget you. And as you give them their card, you know they will return in a few minutes, sheepishly handing one back. Magical. And then you get to gather all your cards, most of them from people who don’t really care about you, and proudly decorate your mantelpiece with them. Now everyone can see you have a huge lot of friends who love you. A bit like Facebook, really.

Azeries don’t do cards. We prefer gifts. I guess it is a sign of a civilized culture when people are satisfied with just cards. Say, it is your friend’s birthday. Back home, there is no way you would show up with a card. Even if it is a fancy handmade one if you paid £3,50 for. Here, in the UK it is totally acceptable.

Husband does not subscribe to the whole card issuing policy. We went to see our friends who relocated to a new area. The Azeri in me bought them a little housewarming gift. The Brit in me- a new home card to go with it.
Husband was not impressed.
-This is just so middle class wannabe!- he exclaimed, as I balanced the card on my lap in the car, writing quick wishes inside. – You will want some fish knives next!

But since when would any sensible woman listen to her husband when it comes to social etiquette? That would just lead her into a world of shame.

However, there is hope. I understand the latest fashionable thing to do is to declare you don’t do Christmas cards this year, and are actually going to donate the money to a charity instead. I love this one. Think about it! Nobody will know. And you can spend that money to buy more presents for people you actually do care about. Result!


  1. After many years of struggling to balance local customs with my Azeri sensibilities, I decided to do what feels right to me. I don’t do “Thank You” cards, co-worker X-mas cards or any of the other meaningless gestures. I thank people right there and then & I bring sweets to the office around holidays. I do send X-mas gifts to my husband’s family even though they announced X-mas gift moratorium a few years ago. Little kids get toys and grownups get nice holiday treat towers. I just do what I like & don’t care about reciprocity. Everyone seems cool with it. At least that’s what they tell me :)

  2. I see a lot of similiaties between the card culture of the US and UK. Card writing thing is very American too. Cards, cards everywhere, for every occasion possible. Why not just pick up the phone and say hey, happy holidays to you, or hey, I heard you are sick, hope you feel better, or something like this. An Azeri in me is still not quite pro-card, although I have to admit, I do send cards out once a year, and it is a happy holidays card, to a few people I love. But guess what? I also call them to say happy holidays:)))) Very Azeri indeed:) Do, I am with you on the card writing thing. Love the donation idea:)

  3. All so true, and I agree with both you and your husband! Now I have been sitting on thank you cards for TWO WEEKS (!)to thank all my parents friends who've sent us gifts for the twins. All not for me, but for my parents' reputations and good standing.

  4. "Now everyone can see you have a huge lot of friends who love you. A bit like Facebook, really."
    My opinion of Facebook, word by word.
    What you tell us here made me think about kissing greeting, very popular in PerĂº. You HAVE to kiss everyone as you say "hi". It's OK with s friend you don't see that often... but, at work? Every single day, a kiss every time you come across someone for the first time each day.
    By the way, I invite you to read me at Global Voices Online:

  5. @Gabriela:
    Azeries kiss a lot too, but not to this extent- that is a huge lot of germs! :) Swine flu heaven! :) Thanks for the link, will check it out later today.

    I am expecting my thank you card too please. :) But seriously, if the gifts are sent from abroad and, especially, by the older generation, I think it is lovely to send them a card. In fact, I would suggest to use the photo of the twins to personalize it. It is always a nice touch.

    It is all part of this tendency in the west to lose the personal connection, the warmth of relationship with each other...It is like people sending each other emails when they can walk up to you and say hello, you know? Nobody calls anymore, text is the best you can expect. FB, My space...It is all great for people who are far away to keep in touch, but sometimes I FB my neighbour who lives 5mins away. That is a bit crazy.

    @Nata: Why, of course they are cool with it! You send them gifts but they don't have to send any back- who would object to that deal? LOL

  6. Exactly :) The important thing is to keep the Azeri in me happy :)
    Last night I ended up helping my super-polite husband seal a stack of envelopes with the Thank You cards to everyone who donated to support him in the AHA Heart Walk event. I thought it was appropriate use of thank you cards for once.

  7. I was laughing at this: "But since when would any sensible woman listen to her husband when it comes to social etiquette? That would just lead her into a world of shame." So true :-)

    I do not do cards for X-Mas but sometimes sign the ones for coworkers, and I always think it is a load of bull.

    One useful application for thank you cards that I had seen was when I sent them to a bunch of coworkers who gave gifts for my baby shower (another thing they do here in the US that Azeris recoil at, fearing being jinxed). I could not possibly walk into 30+ offices thanking everyone in person--I could barely walk well into my 8th month, so cards proved very useful, but double-checking my gift list and writing personalized cards to so many people was very time-consuming :)

  8. You didn't mentioned about wrapping gifts.I was sending present to UK and it was not easy to find any wrapping paper in our shops , exactly at Azpost office,where this service is not available.People in queue were very curiouse,when I packed my wrapper.It was really fun for them.Why? For what?just take ordinary grey cheap paper...:-)

  9. This year, when we scheduled our daughter's birthday party, there was an option to send an e-invitation. That was a brilliant idea! I saw it before but this time used it myself. Very convenient, without any paperwork, without any RSVP calls. And later we used the same way to send a "Thank you" cards!
    By the way, what do you do with thank you cards sent to you? My daughter loves to keep them! Imagine how much additional paper I have in my home!!!

  10. Ptichkin: I throw mine away. secretly, after a few days.

    @Anonymous: Yes, of course...the newspaper wrapping is still OK back home?