Thursday, 29 November 2012

The Lady Guide to Modern Manners: 30 November

Yes, it’s that time of year again… once more we ponder the jolly annual dilemma: to post, or not to post

Written by Thomas Blaikie
Dear Thomas,
Christmas cards: some people are giving the money to charity, or sending eCards this year. So many issues… Will less expensive cards do? To whom to send them? What should you write on them? Should you send them at all?
Anthea Hale, Lichfield

Dear Anthea,
First and foremost, do please send Christmas cards and, please, not eCards. I know: the expense! And times are hard, but the pleasure given is inestimable. Down with the grim miseries who say: ‘What’s the point if I never see them?’ It’s the whole point. Older readers will understand. Many friends are only ever heard of at Christmas, never otherwise seen. There’s that little spark leaping across the year, keeping something alive. It’s vital. I send cards to often-seen friends as well, to express appreciation and look back on the pleasures of the year.

See Christmas card-sending as a wonderful chance to replenish and revitalise all your friendships and bonds of family – absolutely worthwhile, even if you do it only once a year.

Be abundant with your cards, therefore. Let them pour forth. Economise if it means you can send more cards. Little cards are charming. Very thin, with largely grey illustration, perhaps to be avoided. The National Gallery does a well-priced selection. Annoying are landscape cards that do the splits and knock all the others over. Portrait is better.

What if you get a card from someone you’ve missed off your list? My father used to get in a great flap, but my mother always said: ‘People don’t send cards just to get one back.’ If it’s reasonably in advance of Christmas, you could send a return card. Most of us are familiar with the snowfall on the doormat of reciprocal cards a few days after we’ve sent out our own. That’s how it is. It’s a fact of life. If very near to the festive date, why not wait and phone up the card sender in the New Year?

As much as possible, do write a few sentences of news and solicitation intended for the particular recipient, especially for those you never see. I know some may find this daunting, but, believe me, once you get going, you’ll find plenty to say.

Now we come to the dangerous matter of the envelope. Are address labels printed out from, say, your computer database, acceptable – or are they too impersonal?

Back in the heady days of summer I annoyed quite a few of you with my attack on such means for holiday postcards. So convenient, you said. No need to drag your address book halfway across the world. Well, fair enough. Go on, then, slap your stickybacks on to the festive envelopes. Any effect of mass production will be wiped out by plentiful handwritten messages on the inside.

Please send your questions to Thomas.blaikie@lady.co.uk or write to him at The Lady, 39-40 Bedford Street, London WC2E 9ER

WHAT TO DO IF… you get a round-robin letter

Here we go again, you might be thinking. Indeed, this form of correspondence at Christmas is routinely sneered at and it’s all a bit of a bore. But, in fairness, I do feel that it’s terribly hard to construct a round-robin letter that doesn’t come across as impersonal, self-important and self-involved. The problem is the basic form, the very nature of the thing – a general statement to be read by any number of people, with no mention of individual recipients.

The boasty ones go: ‘The new Bentley’s driving beautifully…’ (A snap of this vehicle preening itself in the front drive will be enclosed.) ‘Our son, Ferdie (totally stellar!), is Goldman Sachs Senior Scholar at St Massively Clever’s, Oxford, reading Nuclear-Quantum microbionomics…’

Otherwise, the round robin is just plain embarrassing… ‘Our daughter, Claribel, is continuing to study for A levels despite falling pregnant. The father is a 16-yearold meat-packer of uncertain status, who is currently working at Tesco.’

A real letter pays attention to the person particularly addressed, among other things. I really do believe a few handwritten lines on each Christmas card is greatly to be preferred.


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