Making the Thanks Fit the Favor

By Real Simple Magazine – 12/01/2003 – 12:00am


Making the Thanks Fit the Favor

Some favors call for a note, others for a note and a little something extra, still others for a note and a big something extra.

Real Simple surveyed etiquette authorities and gracious gift-givers about 20 common and confusing situations that mandate thank-you’s.

Here are suggestions for gestures that will strike just the right thoughtful note.

The Favor
Checking in on your pet or your plants while you’re on a trip.

Factors to Consider

How much the kennel or a gardener would have cost. And if Max slept at the neighbor’s, make sure he didn’t damage anything. (If he did, you’ll pay for repairs and cleaning, of course.)

The Least You Can Do

If you were gone for a night or the weekend, bring a nonperishable food gift from wherever you’ve been — a jug of maple syrup, a basket of fresh-picked apples.

If You Want to Do More
If you were gone for longer than a weekend, a good bottle of wine (meaning one that costs more than $20) or a gift certificate for a dinner out is appropriate.

The Favor
Your daughter is invited to go on a trip with her best friend’s family.

Factors to Consider
How long the vacation was, how much supervision your kid needed, and how much the parents shelled out for incidental expenses (and travel expenses, if they insisted on paying them).

The Least You Can Do
“Give them aspirin,” says Letitia Baldrige, author of New Manners for New Times: A Complete Guide to Etiquette (Scribner, $35, www.amazon.com). Sue Fox, author of Etiquette for Dummies (Wiley, $22, www.amazon.com), suggests sending your child off with a box of candy. Afterward, send a handwritten note, and offer to take their child away, too.

If You Want to Do More
A case of wine or (for non-vegetarians) some Omaha Steaks. If you know the parents well, give them something you know they’ll like — such as kitchenware or tickets to a play formal dinner-party invitation.

Factors to Consider
How busy the hostess will be. “Make sure that dealing with your gift doesn’t take away from her duties as a hostess,” says Peggy Post, coauthor of Emily Post’s The Gift of Good Manners (HarperResource, $25, www.amazon.com) . Don’t make her seek out a vase for flowers.

The Least You Can Do
Bring a small, low-maintenance gift (beeswax candles, breakfast items for the following morning) that won’t get in the way. Follow up with a thank-you note or a phone call.

If You Want to Do More
Before the event, New York art dealer Lynn Tesher sends a potted orchid with a note: “Looking forward to a wonderful evening.” An invitation to dinner at your house is nice, too.

The Favor
Neighbors invite you over for a Super Bowl chili party.

Factors to Consider
This is an informal occasion. Don’t go over the top with your gift.

The Least You Can Do
Whenever you go to someone’s house, you should bring something, says Fox. Here, a small contribution to the celebration — a six-pack of beer, your famous three-bean dip — is enough.

If You Want to Do More
If your hosts really knocked themselves out, follow up with flowers and a note.

The Favor
Friends offer you their vacation house for the weekend.

Factors to Consider
If you’re leaving a gift behind, make sure your friends will be back there soon to receive it. Perishable items are not recommended.

The Least You Can Do
A thank-you note sent to their primary address, plus a gift — wine or champagne, a set of cloth napkins, a beautiful salad bowl, or CDs — left at the house.

If You Want to Do More
Engraved stationery with the address of the house, a full set of bar glasses, monogrammed beach towels or deck chairs, a luxurious cashmere blanket.

The Favor
Family friends host you for a night or more at their home and serve as personal tour guides to their fair city.

Factors to Consider
“The choice of gift should hinge on the length of the visit and the elaborateness of the entertainment,” says Post.

The Least You Can Do
A hostess gift on arrival and a follow-up thank-you note. Also, during your stay, take your hosts out for dinner or offer to prepare a meal. And don’t forget to invite them to come visit you.

If You Want to Do More
Notice what they need, suggests Baldrige. Bath towels? A new ice bucket? You could also buy your hosts a membership to a local museum. Or put together a photo album of your visit.

The Favor
Friends offer you their vacation house for the weekend.

Factors to Consider
If you’re leaving a gift behind, make sure your friends will be back there soon to receive it. Perishable items are not recommended.

The Least You Can Do
A thank-you note sent to their primary address, plus a gift — wine or champagne, a set of cloth napkins, a beautiful salad bowl, or CDs — left at the house.

If You Want to Do More
Engraved stationery with the address of the house, a full set of bar glasses, monogrammed beach towels or deck chairs, a luxurious cashmere blanket.

The Favor
Family friends host you for a night or more at their home and serve as personal tour guides to their fair city.

Factors to Consider
“The choice of gift should hinge on the length of the visit and the elaborateness of the entertainment,” says Post.

The Least You Can Do
A hostess gift on arrival and a follow-up thank-you note. Also, during your stay, take your hosts out for dinner or offer to prepare a meal. And don’t forget to invite them to come visit you.

If You Want to Do More
Notice what they need, suggests Baldrige. Bath towels? A new ice bucket? You could also buy your hosts a membership to a local museum. Or put together a photo album of your visit.

The Favor
Friends offer you their vacation house for the weekend.

Factors to Consider
If you’re leaving a gift behind, make sure your friends will be back there soon to receive it. Perishable items are not recommended.

The Least You Can Do
A thank-you note sent to their primary address, plus a gift — wine or champagne, a set of cloth napkins, a beautiful salad bowl, or CDs — left at the house.

If You Want to Do More
Engraved stationery with the address of the house, a full set of bar glasses, monogrammed beach towels or deck chairs, a luxurious cashmere blanket.

The Favor
Family friends host you for a night or more at their home and serve as personal tour guides to their fair city.

Factors to Consider
“The choice of gift should hinge on the length of the visit and the elaborateness of the entertainment,” says Post.

The Least You Can Do
A hostess gift on arrival and a follow-up thank-you note. Also, during your stay, take your hosts out for dinner or offer to prepare a meal. And don’t forget to invite them to come visit you.

If You Want to Do More
Notice what they need, suggests Baldrige. Bath towels? A new ice bucket? You could also buy your hosts a membership to a local museum. Or put together a photo album of your visit.

The Favor
Someone gives you an over-the-top present that makes you squirm.

Factors to Consider
What this person really wants from you. There’s a reason many politicians and diplomats accept only token gifts — anything more is tantamount to buying favors.

The Least You Can Do
When New Yorker Diane Pachetti got a cashmere-and-mink wrap from a well-to-do favor-seeker, she accepted it with a polite phone call: “She wouldn’t have understood if I gave it back.”

If You Want to Do More
Post recommends a handwritten note gushing with sincere thanks. Baldrige, however, suggests returning the gift with a note explaining why: “It’s just too generous of you.”

The Favor
Someone pulls strings to get you concert or sports tickets or restaurant reservations.

Factors to Consider
How well you know your rainmaker.

The Least You Can Do
Send a thank-you note.

If You Want to Do More
If someone pulled off the impossible — World Series tickets, front row for Bruce Springsteen — send champagne or the most stunning flower arrangement money can buy.

The Favor
A party thrown in your honor.

Factors to Consider
Whether a fine toast to the host would be more meaningful than a gift.

The Least You Can Do
A handwritten note and flowers, sent the next day if possible.

If You Want to Do More
New York City psychotherapist Rachel Kalvert stresses that the host will need to unwind after pulling off a major event. “I’ve sent friends for a spa treatment to relax,” she says.

The Favor
A friend or a family member gives you a “loan” but won’t accept repayment.

Factors to Consider
If you need a loan, do you really have money to spend on a gift?

The Least You Can Do
Write the most beautiful thank-you letter you’ve ever composed. And in the future, recognize your benefactor’s generosity by really thinking about every gift you give him or her.

If You Want to Do More
Take on a home-repair or cleaning project for the lender — the more unpalatable, the better. Or insist on baby-sitting — not once, not twice, but repeatedly.

The Favor
A party thrown in your honor.

Factors to Consider
Whether a fine toast to the host would be more meaningful than a gift.
The Least You Can Do
A handwritten note and flowers, sent the next day if possible.

If You Want to Do More
New York City psychotherapist Rachel Kalvert stresses that the host will need to unwind after pulling off a major event. “I’ve sent friends for a spa treatment to relax,” she says.

The Favor
A friend or a family member gives you a “loan” but won’t accept repayment.

Factors to Consider
If you need a loan, do you really have money to spend on a gift?

The Least You Can Do
Write the most beautiful thank-you letter you’ve ever composed. And in the future, recognize your benefactor’s generosity by really thinking about every gift you give him or her.

If You Want to Do More
Take on a home-repair or cleaning project for the lender — the more unpalatable, the better. Or insist on baby-sitting — not once, not twice, but repeatedly.

The Favor
Your boss gives you a present.

Factors to Consider
Some sort of response — any sort of response — is probably a career-enhancing move.

The Least You Can Do
An e-mail is acceptable, Sue Fox says.

If You Want to Do More
Send a handwritten note to her home.

The Favor
An employee gives you a gift.

Factors to Consider
What is the employee’s motivation? If it’s a case of blatant sucking up, you may prefer not to respond, or to do so with restraint.

The Least You Can Do
If you receive a gift from a group, sending a group e-mail is fine. If it’s a gift from one employee, send a note.

If You Want to Do More
For a group, handwritten notes sent through internal mail would be the classiest way to go, says Sue Fox. To thank an individual, anything beyond a note is asking for trouble.

The Favor
Someone sends you flowers for a special event — a new job, a new baby, your birthday.

Factors to Consider
When the sender’s next special event is coming around.

The Least You Can Do
Patricia Shroyer, a real estate agent in Manhasset, New York, makes a thank-you phone call, “and I remember when something special comes up in their lives to send them flowers.”

If You Want to Do More
If it’s a really spectacular arrangement, take a photo and send it along with a thank-you note.

The Favor
Someone sends you a thank-you note or gift.

Factors to Consider
Whether you have way too much free time.

The Least You Can Do
Doing nothing is fine. Really.

If You Want to Do More
If you receive an especially thoughtful gift or a note with, say, a snapshot of the festivities you hosted, a phone call or an e-mail wouldn’t hurt.

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