birthday cards.

Reader C.N. asks:

My girlfriend and I were just invited to a birthday dinner for a girlfriend of a friend. We just met her 3 weeks ago. Frankly, I was surprised we were invited to the dinner. I know I’m not expected to bring a present, but should I bring a card? BTW, I really hate stupid Hallmark cards — in my opinion, if you’re going to write a card, it should mean something, and say something. But since I don’t know what to write on the card, I’m conflicted about even bringing one.

Dear C.N.:

Bravo to you for thinking cards are worth more time than a simple Hallmark jingle can convey! I think you’re right. The written word is a much abused, powerful tool that we throw away far too often. Cards and letters can be much more meaningful than emails, especially since they provide a physical means of saying something. What a rare treat they are in this world today.

However, I don’t think you should let your qualms about meaningfulness get in the way of being a good gentleman.


Nobody likes corny birthday cards. Image: Simon Howden / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Yes, you should certainly bring a card. I don’t care if nobody else at the party brings one — your instincts are correct. A card is the proper thing for a birthday celebration, even of someone you hardly know. A present would be forced, not to mention awkward or ridiculous.

“Thanks for this oven mitt. I’ve always wanted one.”

“Oh, a gift certificate to a generic chain store. Yes, how thoughtful.”

Cards, however, do not have to be any of these things.

Just remember in writing your card that the length, depth, and breadth of the message you write in side need only match the time you’ve known the recipient.

If you’ve known her three weeks, your message should reflect that. It should be light and friendly, and filled with hope. And it probably shouldn’t be longer than three lines.

You can, of course, get her a very nice card– a keepsake, even, so that as your friendship continues, it’s something she can look back on. You can find something very nice at any paper store, so you can avoid the hokey messages already printed in the crummy big cards (with the terrible jokes about getting older, ugh). This way, the card actually speaks for itself by being a beautiful object, rather than slathering words and phrases all over the place that won’t be remembered anyway. You hardly have to write anything (although I know you will).

Don’t be afraid to limit yourself in your writing. Most people are afraid of writing anything at all, but you have the opposite problem. Keep it short, sweet, and simple, and she’ll be delighted.


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