Sheryl Oberman, owner of the Stationery Station in Highland Park, advises her customers to always write thank-you notes on paper. | Natasha Wasinski/For Sun-Times Media
Updated: April 14, 2014 4:50PM
With the season of giving complete, proud owners of new Xbox consoles and North Face gear everywhere are busy as elves writing letters of thanks.
Or maybe not.
In a recent survey commissioned by Cricket Wireless, 85 percent of Americans agreed electronic messaging replaced the traditional pen-and-paper reply.
That’s no surprise. Rifling off dozens, if not hundreds, of notes a day via phones and computers is what we do. We email our bosses budgets, text loved ones when we’re running late, and arrange dinner parties with friends online.
But when it comes to expressing gratitude, does an email with a subject line touting thanks also suffice?
Absolutely not said certified etiquette consultant Patricia O’Brien.
“It’s short, it’s terse, it’s the same thing as texting — it doesn’t take much thought,” she said.
Email, in other words, is tacky. Decorum always trumps digital in O’Brien’s eyes, and that means putting as much effort into a handwritten note as a gift-giver did the purchase.
“You can send an email in two minutes. Then there’s that little thing called ‘delete’ and it’s gone,” O’Brien said. “If a handwritten note is received, the note can be there for a week or two, and can be picked up and looked at again with appreciation.”
O’Brien has been teaching manners and social skills on the North Shore for the past 14 years. She fears communication may fall by the wayside, and with it, civility, if we don’t start picking up a pen.
“People are getting away from communicating with one another,” she said. “People are not going to know how to socialize.”
“You have to instill it in the kids today and the adults who aren’t doing it.”
Eighteen-year-old Sam Noel said his parents made him write cards “all the time” when he was younger. “I hated it, honestly, but I did it,” he said.
Katie-Anne O’Neil, 31, recalled a similar experience, noting: “I was definitely forced to write thank-you notes after Communion and graduations.”
Both said they now appreciate the inherent sentiment of mailed letters.
“The way that I was raised, it’s almost really impersonal to write emails,” Noel explained. “When you handwrite a note, you’re taking the time to think what you want to say and it’s a physical object someone can keep.”
Sheryl Oberman, owner of the Stationery Station in Highland Park, said she has drawers full of penned messages from her daughter. A few years ago, the women discovered they had been saving their handwritten notes to one another.
“I email all the time, too, but anytime I was to tell something important, I sent it in a written format,” Oberman said. “Paper is something that’s permanent, and it shows your personality as well as how much you care.”
Oberman most recently received a card on behalf of her two grandchildren thanking her for Hanukkah gifts. She regularly exchanges letters with her 61/2 year old granddaughter, Abby.
“I gave her a box of stationery and she wrote back and asked for more,” she said.
Molly Lipkin, 24, keeps stationery around when she needs to express her gratitude. She remembered also having to thank relatives in writing while growing up.
“I think it’s more special for the person receiving it,” Lipkin said.
Handwritten notes don’t have to be reserved for holidays, O’Brien reminded.
Job hunters, for example, always should thank potential employers after an interview. Sending a thank-you to a party host isn’t necessary, she said, “but it’s certainly well appreciated if you do.”
O’Neil shared how she recently mailed cards to friends who visited for dinner to acknowledge that their long trip to her house in Bridgeport didn’t go unnoticed.
“When people make the time to spend with me, it’s nice to follow up with a thank you because I do appreciate it,” she said.
Plus, O’Neil added, “no one gets awesome mail these days so it’s even more important.”