Jane Bradley: Johnny Depp leads way in thank-you etiquette

'How kind, thoughtful and wonderful of you all to produce something so personal and so perfect for my birthday,' wrote Johnny Depp. Picture: AFP/Getty Images
'How kind, thoughtful and wonderful of you all to produce something so personal and so perfect for my birthday,' wrote Johnny Depp. Picture: AFP/Getty Images
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AFTER receiving lovely pressies, shouldn’t we follow actor Johnny’s example and pen a nice response, asks Jane Bradley

There is a legendary tale in my family of some old friends of my parents who dealt with the burden of offering their gratitude to those who had sent them wedding presents in a highly efficient manner.

“Dear Mrs Bloggs,” they wrote (presumably bothering to insert the correct name) “Thank you for your useful and attractive gift. Yours...”

It covered it, I suppose. It was accurate. No-one sends a gift they believe to be unuseful or unattractive, after all.

Yet their sheer brusqueness has gone down in history – it is still being talked about close to 40 years later.

I mention this as we are currently in prime thank-you letter season. I am, at this very moment, bracing myself to have to sit my daughter down and teach her for the first time about thanking people for her generous Christmas presents. The worst bit is, of course, that she can’t write. No, I will be the one who laboriously pens the letters. All of them. My daughter may, if she is in the right mood, attempt to scrawl something that resembles her name at the bottom – or perhaps draw a picture. Or she may not, preferring to wander off halfway through and re-enact the Do You Want to Build a Snowman scene from Frozen for the umpteenth time.

She is only three, to be fair.

But despite bitter memories of being forced to do the same myself every year, I still believe in writing thank-you letters. Short and sweet or long and rambling, it is the fact that someone, especially a child, has taken the time and effort to acknowledge that someone has sent them a present that is most important.

People value thank-you letters. When a celebrity bothers to send a thank-you letter, people are amazed and touched. Hence why, Google “famous thank you letters” and missives by the likes of JK Rowling, Johnny Depp and Ronald Reagan all pop up to the top of the search rankings – published originally, it is presumed, by the excited recipients, keen to broadcast their joy.

A personal, preferably handwritten letter is invaluable. When actor Depp received a handmade quilt made by a group of fans, his enthusiasm was so evident it was impossible to fake.

“The quilt is beyond beautiful... Beyond!!!” he wrote. “How kind, thoughtful and wonderful of you all to produce something so personal and so perfect for my birthday!!!”

Depp, of course, is an effusive human being. Not everyone could get quite so excited about a quilt sent as a birthday gift by people he had never met, however lovely the gesture. Yet his reply will be etched into the minds of the quiltmakers forever more.

Yes, Depp’s decision to take just a few minutes to express his thanks has likely changed those people’s lives.

Another letter, sent from JK Rowling to a girl who touchingly wrote to her, telling her how her own tragic life had mirrored that of Harry Potter and how the character had kept her going in difficult times, will have meant a lot. Rowling’s response was emotive without being over the top and highly personal – “(Jo to you!” she wrote underneath her JK Rowling sign off).

But, like our family friends, of course, some celebrities believe keeping it short and to the point is best.

Having received a bottle of Champagne from the German Consulate to the US, Hollywood starlet Marilyn Monroe famously sent – or more likely, arranged to have sent – a personal thank-you letter. “Dear Mr von Fuehlsdorff,” she wrote. “Thank you for your Champagne. It arrived, I drank it and I was gayer. Thanks again. My best, Marilyn Monroe.”

In this letter – while gently poking fun at the futility of one high-ranking person sending a completely random gift to another, very well-known person, who probably has more bottles of Champagne in her fridge than Mr Fuehlsdorff had Currywurst – Monroe does, nevertheless, thank her benefactor. And for someone who must have been sent multiple faceless gifts umpteen times a day, the fact she has replied at all is impressive.

Most celebrities presumably ignore the collection of severed human ears, tiny coffins containing cat hearts, painted turtle shells and toothpicks (yes, all of these things were indeed sent to unsuspecting famous people by adoring fans). Monroe did not, despite her letter being perhaps less than grateful.

Even this, however, is surely preferable to an e-mail, which is the method more than half of us are apparently planning to utilise to say thanks following the festive period.

What a cop out. An e-mail is a cut and paste job which makes “Thank you for your useful and attractive gift” look almost eloquent.

While few will – surely – go as far as using the bcc (blind copy for those of you not up to date with e-mail lingo) option to save on sending thank-you e-mails, the act of quickly regurgitating words meant for someone else – or worse, for no-one in particular at all – is lazy and impersonal.

What is worse is sites which offer templates for Christmas thank-you letters.

The sentiment behind some of them is admirable – they claim to be “helping” children to write letters. But in reality, what they produce are yes, legible, but entirely emotionless expressions of gratitude.

“Dear BLANK,” says one. “Thank you for the gift that you gave me. It was very kind of you to think of me. Love from BLANK.” Fill in the gaps.

While this might be my daughter’s first year of writing Christmas cards, she has been dictating other pieces of writing, such as postcards, for some time.

And although some of the sentiments portrayed may be slightly self-centred – “Dear A-,” she wrote to her best friend from her summer holiday. “Do you miss me? I’m coming home tomorrow, so don’t worry, you can play with me then. I ate ice cream today and it was delicious” - they are at least from the heart and sincere.

And that is what a good thank-you letter should be.