- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 8, 2005

Q:I know it’s polite to send a thank-you note to a host after a dinner party, but what is the time period allowed? Sometimes I forget, or I write the note and neglect to send it the following day and then feel too stupid to mail it two weeks later. I know thank-you notes are always appreciated, but what is the protocol? Also, is it tacky to send a card bought in a store or to send an e-mail instead of a handwritten missive?

A: You are to be commended for knowing that hosts must be thanked for their hospitality. Others seem to have forgotten this essential rule of social conduct, or, sadly, never learned it. Ask random hosts how many of their guests never write to express appreciation and you might be surprised to learn it could be more than half, even in the more exalted circles of what used to be called “polite society.”

It is, of course, preferable that you write immediately, i.e., within the first couple of days following the event. If you forget to do so within that length of time, by all means send your letter anyway — even if it is two weeks or a month later — with a prefatory apology for your tardiness. Any host would rather be thanked late than not at all.

While it is both elegant and proper to write your sentiments in neat penmanship on fine, personalized stationery purchased especially for such purposes, a supply of plain white, gray or blue letter paper and envelopes should do. (I am sure you already know better than to have selected lemon-yellow or tangerine-colored writing materials or anything covered with cutesy little logos: animals, flowers, birds, etc.) If you don’t have any stationery, many beautifully designed art cards can be purchased, especially in the city’s excellent museum shops. Note, however, that this type of card has a blank space on the inside where your personal sentiments can be written. No one, of course, should ever send a commercial “greeting card” with a pre-printed message as a thank-you note for dinner.

Regarding e-mails: Once again, any thanks is preferable to none. If you know that an “instant message” is all you can possibly manage in return for an evening of hospitality, then go ahead and send it — especially if you are reasonably sure your host not only will be satisfied but probably would respond the same way. If you are both comfortable with such minimal gestures of appreciation, by all means go ahead.

Q: The father of a Chinese-American friend of mine recently died in another state, and I wanted to send some flowers to their family home here. Another friend advised me not to do this because it would be taken as an insult. Is this true?

A: Your friend was right. Sending a floral display to the home or workplace of many Asian people is taboo because flowers are regarded as death objects that bring bad luck to the living. If you cannot send the arrangement to the funeral home or mortuary, choose another way to express your condolences.

Address your questions on etiquette and protocol to Kevin Chaffee, The Washington Times, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, DC 20002 or send e-mail to civilities@ washingtontimes.com.

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