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Give thanks to get thanks

Dear Miss Manners: I spent the Christmas afternoons of my childhood at the playroom table, writing thank-you notes, and am currently putting my own children through this ritual. Until this year, they have been reasonably good sports about it, but thanks to a very good friend that has all changed. This year they are actually positive about the experience.

What changed? They received a thank-you letter.

Every year, they make or choose presents for a number of relations and close friends, for which they are thanked, either in person or by phone. But this year, a friend took the trouble to write each of them a brief but very nice letter of thanks.

It made me wonder why nobody in our family had thought of it sooner. Of course it is easier to understand why you write thank-you notes when you have been the recipient of one yourself.

A few of us have agreed to see that each others' children get at least a couple of thank-you notes, by way of encouragement. This year, I managed to get my own mother -- who would have seven kinds of fits if the children didn't write her a thank-you note, but who had never written one to them -- to do so. The children were thrilled by how much Grammy had clearly liked the presents that they had chosen for her, and pleased with the idea that they could give somebody else the great feeling that a thank-you letter can bring.

I can't say that the moment lasted very long, but it lasted long enough to get their letters written, and it's something to build on.

Gentle Reader: Of the various solutions proposed to the widespread no-thanks from-children problem, Miss Manners likes this the best -- and not only because it reminds the etiquette-conscious not to expect politeness without practicing it.

Others in desperation have tried sending boxes of writing paper, or even self-addressed, fill-in-the-blanks forms. This does not inspire many children to shout, "Wow! Let's go write some letters!" Parental shame followed by parental cooperation will do it, but parental shame is in short supply among those who haven't already taught such lessons.

Rather, they have been known to repeat the blatantly self-serving canard that true generosity expects no thanks -- as if any religious or ethical system countenances grabbing blessings and running without acknowledging their source.

Miss Manners has always believed that people who ignore their benefactors are (in addition to being rude) unhappy with the benefits, and therefore the kindest reaction is to stop conferring them. But she is not insensible to the argument that this deprives children who have never been taught to thank, rather than the parents who failed to teach gratitude.

So she is especially glad to hear of others' stepping in to support the efforts of parents who are doing the difficult job of teaching gratitude, which requires not only setting out the rules, but imparting a sense of empathy with which we are not born.


Of newlyweds and guests

Dear Miss Manners: I have heard of a rule saying that newlyweds should not have overnight guests for one year -- not even parents. Do you know of this rule? If so, what is the purpose of it?

Gentle Reader: You will have to ask the people who told you about it, because it does not appear in the annals of etiquette.

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