Because You Are Polite

by Ginger Philbrick

My nieces and nephews, who are late teens to young adults, have not generally been diligent about sending thank you notes upon receiving gifts from me and have even more rarely sent me cards or gifts.

Last Christmas I sent them a gift, a book I had recently published based on our common ancestors. They never acknowledged having received it. It appears they are telling me they really aren’t interested in having a relationship with me which hurts but, of course, is their prerogative.

I wonder if I should let them know my feelings, or just “ghost” them? The latter response seems awfully modern and cold hearted but maybe that’s the most appropriate?

Unhappy Aunt, Kilmarnock

Dear Unhappy Aunt, with great surety I tell you there are multitudes of people who share your hurt because of others’ failure to show gratitude. Whether it be for favors, invitations, or gifts, it seems we are a culture that has largely forgotten how important it is to say thank you.

The advice columnist at The New York Times recently wrote, “I am drowning in emails from gift givers who are hurt or annoyed by the failure of young recipients to acknowledge gifts.”

So, let’s stop having unreasonable expectations and give a serious look at why we give gifts. Primarily, it is because we want to give a person something that will please them.

If we keep giving without any evidence that we are pleasing them, then the rational response would be to stop causing ourselves, and possibly the giftee, not-so-pleasant feelings by sending unappreciated gifts…right?

If you have a close enough relationship with your nieces and nephews, I encourage you to tell them directly that you enjoy giving them gifts but you need to know whether they like them. Tell them that hearing back from them in a note means so much to you. If the relationship is not a close one, stop giving gifts and perhaps send special cards each year. That way, they will still know you are thinking of them. Giving more gifts is just not the solution to the problem.

To any young person who may read this column: Once I had a sweet Great Aunt who, when I was a pre-teen, kept giving me nylon stockings for Christmas. I had a drawer full of them. I wasn’t into stockings yet and would have preferred a paint-by-numbers kit or a diary with a lock and key—I had a younger brother. Despite my feelings, in response to my mother’s annual nudging, I always wrote a thank you note for those stockings. My Mom was right in her nudging of course, she always was, it seems. That was confirmed for me when several years on, my Aunt praised me for my politeness and told me I was a lovely young lady. I think I was wearing stockings at the time.

UA, I want to thank you for your letter to me and wish you and all my much-appreciated readers a Merry Christmas and a new year marked by the happiness that respect for each other brings.

Ginger Philbrick is the owner of Because You Are Polite LLC. You are invited to email your manners questions to her and she will respond as time and space allow. You may contact her at