Traditions, however, differ greatly.
Italians, for example, rarely bother to set pen to paper at all. They prefer to express their thanks via a phone call. Thus, if you are an Italian hostess and wish to achieve anything at all the day after giving a dinner party, you are well advised to Be Unavailable for the entire 24 hours and just leave the answering machine on.
I was feeling particularly grateful for this solution just the other day for it permitted me to leave a succinct but hopefully elegant little thank-you message for a particularly voluble friend who had been using me as a sauf-douleur for her matrimonial woes for the past six months. Her temporary absence saved me, at a conservative estimate, a good forty minutes of sympathetic listening. I had reckoned without her most kindly ringing me back to say thank you for my thank you.
The call came just as I was applying my left shoulder, (the one with the torn ligament), to a rusty gate in an attempt to get through it without letting three large and very excited thoroughbred horses escape to the freedom for which they were fighting. Underfoot was a puddle the size of Lake Ontario and a muddy bog which needed some careful circumventing if I were to remain upright and capable of heaving and shoving gate and horses out of my path.
I was also having one of those coughing fits where your eyes stream, your voice disappears and you need to get to a glass of water immediately if you are not to die. A howling north-easterly was blowing a gale across the fields and a recently stitched finger - mistaken for a carrot by afore mentioned over enthusiastic animals, (memo to self: abandon horse riding for less dangerous sport), was aching in the freezing cold without a glove because in that particular hand I was holding the damn cell phone. I mentioned some of this in passing to my voluble friend and some of it I guess she could have figured out for herself by interpreting the various noises hitting her down the phone line.
Did that stop her?
No. She went on for a good half an hour about her recent divorce settlement and I was reduced to saying “I do think you should appeal,” about one hundred times because what else do you say when she isn't really listening to you anyway? And besides, I had a gut feeling she wouldn't dream of appealing because, know what? I suspect she realises she's pushed her luck over the years and doesn't stand a chance of squeezing another penny out of the poor sod.
But times are changing and etiquette has moved on.
Nowadays the younger generation, even at diplomatic level, resort to dashing off an email at any time of day or night to say “thank you for dinner last night/last week”. Or worse still, they actually REFUSE invitations from their own Ambassador (aka God in my generation of dip wives, since his word was most certainly law and his invitations were most certainly not to be refused should he be so magnanimous as to extend one to a mere underling). To add insult to injury, these young whippersnappers do so with the frailest of excuses such as that their mother in law just died, or they have a child in bed with meningitis or can’t get a babysitter.
Can’t get a Babysitter? What do you DO with the taxpayers’ money, for heaven’s sake? What’s £30 an hour compared to an evening basking in the presence of such an august personage as that of His Excellency your very own esteemed Ambassador?
In my day we would have been shipped off pronto as Third Secretary to Ouagadougou on a one way ticket.