Monday, February 28, 2011

Etiquette: "Bread and Butter" Letters

My husband and I find ourselves often consulting the copy of The Amy Vanderbilt Complete Book of Etiquette by Nancy Tuckerman and Nancy Dunnan that his mother gave him upon graduation from high school. It is a bit dated, the 1995 edition we own having last been updated in 1978, but we find it an extremely useful guide when we have questions about how to appropriately proceed. I know we are discussing modern manners, not those of Jane Austen's era, but I have decided to start posting when we consult the book, as I just find it so fascinating. Miss Austen, after all, would want us all to be well-mannered, wouldn't she?

Having just returned from my grandparent's house, where I stayed over the weekend, I am confronted with having to write the requisite thank you note in appreciation for their hospitality. Though I have never before consulted an etiquette book regarding this duty, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to consult Amy Vanderbilt and share with you my findings. I learned that this particular kind of thank you note is referred to as a "bread and butter" letter, a term I had not previously heard, but I was gratified to learn that my previous habits in writing these letters has been correct. Vanderbilt has this to say:

Whether you spend a night or a weekend at someone's house, you must always send a thank-you letter to you host and hostess within a week of your return home. Take time to write an enthusiastic and appreciative letter, mentioning something you did that particularly appealed to you or people you met who impressed you. If you did not take a present with you when you visited, now is the time to send one with a gift enclosure card reiterating your thanks.  

Now despite the fact that these are my grandparents I am writing to, I only see them a few times a year (they live in Texas, while I reside in Delaware), so I think a note of appreciation not only highly appropriate, but also very appreciated. However, I will forgo sending a hostess gift. They are my grandparents, after all, and I believe that a gift from me on such an occasion would be regarded as wasteful spending. However, if I were staying with my other grandmother (who I am visiting in Florida in two weeks), I would feel very much the opposite. I will be bringing her a token gift, probably a box of candy (which she always enjoys), along with me. Two weeks latter, when my husband and I are visiting his cousins in New York, we will spend more money and bring them a bottle of wine. It is my thought that when we are dealing with close relatives, knowledge of their tastes and habits should inform our behavior regarding such formalities.

Under the category of letter writing, Vanderbilt gets into more specifics and also includes an example: 

If you're a guest of friends for a night or longer, unless you visit them on a regular basis, when a telephone call is all that's necessary, write them a letter of thanks, known as a "bread and butter" letter. Here are a few helpful points to remember when writing this kind of letter:

- Unless there's a good reason for not doing so, write your thank-you letter no more than three days after the visit.

- The letter may be directed to the wife of the couple or to both. If only to the wife, mention of her husband is made: "Do tell Jim I loved fishing with him," or "Many thanks to you and Jim."

- While only one person writes a bread and butter letter, that person thanks on behalf of his or her spouse and any other members of the family.

- Make a few significant remarks about the visit: the guest bedroom was comfortable; how good the meals were; how much you enjoyed meeting a particular person; what fun a picnic was; or anything that was new or different.

Dear Rachel,
     All the way back on the train, Joe and I did nothing but talk about the weekend and what fun we had. Staying in your cozy apartment is always a treat to say nothing of the gourmet meals you presented with seemingly little effort. Joe particularly enjoyed getting together with the Randolphs and having the chance to see the Matisse exhibition.
     There's no couple we'd rather visit than you and Alex and we send our thanks to both of you for giving us such a wonderful time.

In the section immediately following this, Vanderbilt tells you what to do when you fail to receive a thank you note for a present sent, but as she says nothing about not getting a thank you following the departure of house guests, I assume this is the kind of courtesy to be thankful for when observed but not one to fret about when, as is probably usually the case, it is not. She also says nothing regarding the necessity of writing a thank you for a hostess gift, which makes me assume it is unnecessary. I do, however, frequently write such notes, particularly when the gift is something special.

So now I am off to write my very own "bread and butter" note. I feel thoroughly prepared to do so.  

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