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On Ungrateful Relatives

Carolyn Woodruff
Dear Carolyn,

I am an aunt with two adult nephews and one adult niece.  I have no children of my own.  I have been very faithful, I feel, to lavishing these ingrates with gifts and attention on holidays, at weddings, birthdays, baby showers and generally.  There is never a thank-you note from them, much less a gift (not even a small one).  They virtually ignore me unless they are getting something from me.  I am very careful to thank them for every little thing they do for me, but when I thank them, I get the rude comment of “no problem.”  Where did the manners go for “thank you” and “you’re welcome?”  Thanksgiving and Christmas are particularly hard when they are most of my “blood” family.  I am considering simply washing my hands of these unappreciative relatives as I feel that would make me feel the best.  Any advice?

– Tired of the Unthankful

Dear Tired of the Unthankful,

There are two aspects to your problem: (1) differences in generations and how they use language to express themselves; and (2) practical solutions that might make you feel better about your particular situation.

First, the generational issues are apparent from your facts.  My guess from your facts as you presented them is that you are a Baby Boomer (born between 1946 and 1964).  Further, my guess is that your niece and nephews are Millennials (birth years from the early 1980s to early 2000s).  Millennials and Baby Boomers do not usually agree on how to express thankfulness.  Millennials will respond to a “thank you” with “no problem.”  A Millennial would use “you’re welcome” in a sarcastic tone to point out that a person for whom they did a favor did not thank them.  Believe me, the Millennials want to be thanked for any favor they perform.  Other “minimizing” words used by Millennials in response to “thank you” might be “no worries.”

But, why are these Millennials not thanking you for your generous gifts? Society is changing a bit perceived etiquette rules.  In a Vanity Fair poll, only 23 percent of those surveyed considered thank you notes important.  Keep in mind Millennials think breaking up with a significant other can be done with a text message.

Millennial Lizzie Post, the great-great-granddaughter of Emily Post is now a co-author of Emily Post’s Etiquette (18th Edition).  Thank you notes are still “Post” etiquette if a gift is opened outside the presence of the giver, according to Lizzie.  I suggest your next gift to your niece and nephew be a copy of Emily Post’s Etiquette bookmarked to the thank you note section.  Include in the gift, a box of thank you notes, also.  Make this the final gift until you get a handwritten note of appreciation for this gift.

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This blog is a revised excerpt from Ask Carolyn 2, available on kindle. 

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