I really didn’t expect it from this couple.

After two months of planning, sending invitations and receiving RSVPs, making dozens of follow-up telephone calls, and spending many hours in preparation, my husband and I hosted a farewell barbecue for a couple–social friends–who were moving (in one-and-a-half months) from our borderline desert climes to the decidedly moister Southeast Coast.

Forty well-wishers joined us for the late afternoon and evening festivities.  There were fresh flower arrangements, balloon bouquets, and color-coordinated streamers.  Even an elaborately decorated and inscribed cake prepared by the couples’ favorite bakery chef.  There was special music–their favorite soloist–and a couple of heartwarming mementos, like an album of shared memories captured in photos from through the years, and a duplicate disk for their computer viewing from the 20-years of life with these special friends.  Then the soloist delivered a beautiful farewell serenade. The evening ended with a sung sendoff of “May the Lord Bless You and Keep You.”  Hugs, kisses, and tears all around.

The following morning, after depositing the last of the crepe paper streamers and wilting flowers into our wheeled trash container, I returned to my office, signed onto the Internet, and tuned into my email.  Scanning the missive “senders,” I spotted the feted guests of honor’s combined online signature.  Opening it, I  read: “Thank you for hosting the party, we really enjoyed ourselves.  We’ll forward our new address when we get moved in.  Love…”

My reaction wasn’t disappointment.  What I felt was a sensation closer, I’d suspect, to what a victim of a frozen walleye clubbing feels.  A rather large walleye.

Why?

Let me tell you, Dear Reader, if you haven’t guessed.  Two anemic sentences delivered by email to the host (my husband was copied) and hostess (the addressee) is beyond rude!   Far beyond. In fact, you can’t even see the ashes of rude from here!

The first and elementary basic rule: always respond in kind, or in the spirit in which the gift was given.  If, in fact, it was a party given in your honor, a host and hostess gift would also be in order.  (Mind you, I’m not trolling for gifts here.  But…)

Yes. An E-thanks to someone who has sent you, by email, the name of a store and a salesperson who may be able to give you information on that designer scarf, is fine.

Yes. Hitting the “response” button and keying a “thanks” into an explanatory sentence to the sender of a series of web site addresses about organic gardening, which she found especially helpful, is thanks enough.  (Although if you find that one she noted as great turns out to offer you a grant, you should thank her at this later date with something more substantial.)

No. To send an E-thanks to Aunt May for the pair of Waterford crystal bedroom lamps she purchased from the fine china store for your wedding gift, and had specially wrapped and delivered, is inexcusably boorish.  In fact, to send an email thank you for any wedding, anniversary, birthday, housewarming, or other gift is, well, simply unacceptable.  Even in today’s cranked-up cyber world.

While email offers the combined wonder of immediacy and intimacy, it is also inherently coupled with that characterless attribute: anonymity.  And worse still, it smacks of the extremely casual, even cavalier, when stacked up against a deed that took an investment of a serious amount of time and real, exerted effort.  Not to mention an expenditure of considerable cash.

Another cautionary note. Even in the best of circumstances–because email is faceless–the problem of e-\mail communication is often one of a lack of nuance; the kind of read you get in direct conversation, like knowing when someone has said something in jest.  Getting the voice inflection that tells you this is trivial.

Or, like when a speaker weighs in on an issue with direct eye contact that tells you that this is an important point!

Email is tonelessIt’s obtuse.  It very often suffers from the lack of a sense of humor.

Taboo Territory. When the subject matter is personal, financial, confidential, or a personnel matter, communication shouldn’t be conducted via email on an unsecured message board, or chat room.  And, when the subject matter requires a human moment, because of its emotional content, make sure direct eye contact is part of the exchange.

Or, when there’s a need for negotiation, or there’s a benefit to be gained from having a discussion or “brainstorming” session, use the telephone, or–heaven forefend–a face-to-face meeting.

So, what and when shouldn’t you Email?

Don’t Email It…

1.  Until you consider the options–face-to-face; phone call; voice mail; and written memo or letter–and have determined that email is the best vehicle for your message.

2.  If you wouldn’t say it in person.

3.  If you need an immediate answer.

4.  If you want to insure confidentiality.

5.  Unless you know your recipient is email savvy.

6.  If you’re upset.  Cool off first, park it, then reread it.

7.  By hitting forward when it’s a chain email, a string of jokes, or someone else’s message, without first getting his/her permission.

(Each email is the creative property of the author.  You’re infringing on his/her copyright when you forward it without explicit permission.)

8.  If it’s a rumor, or information you haven’t carefully checked out.

9.   Until you know your message is error-free.  Always run your spell check.

10.  If in doubt,  Reread your Email aloud to yourself; and park it if you are 100% certain about sending it.