Please don’t send me any store-bought greeting cards!

| May 25, 2008 | 13 Replies

I know that pre-written store-bought greeting cards are not the cause of America’s current downfall, but they are a symptom of America’s cultural, moral and educational decline. Really. I know that many of you are thinking that I’m way off base here, but let me give you a few examples based on today’s trip to my local grocery store (the name of the St. Louis grocery chain is “Schnucks”).

First of all, I just don’t get why we need to segregate “boy” cards from “girl” cards. Take a look at these cards for boys and you won’t be surprised at the themes. There are lots of superhero cards and other action/adventure characters and themes.

Now compare the “boys” cards to the “girls” cards, where you’ll find princesses and other characters much more concerned about their looks than with their accomplishments.

As if girls don’t enjoy superhero stories (my daughters certainly do) or anything other than trying to look pretty. This greeting card sexual segregation reminds me of this recent post on America’s rampant sexualization of young girls.

There are also cards for men and cards for women, of course, and they too are segregated. Why do we use greeting cards to instill a message into our girls and women that they should be interested in their own looks and body image to the exclusion of their accomplishments? This destructive message should be stopped immediately, especially when so many girls are getting messed up by this message, which causes them to stop taking their education seriously when they hit puberty.

There are other problems on the greeting card aisle. Consider the sympathy cards.

If someone close to me were to die, the last thing in the world that I would want from anybody would be a store-bought greeting card with a campy message.

Sending a card instead of writing me a note (or in e-mail) tells me that you would rather spend four dollars to let a stranger write a message then taking the time to communicate something meaningful. I suspect that many people will think that greeting cards are perfectly OK because many customers are not professional writers and they are, therefore, and incapable of precisely expressing themselves on emotional occasions. I think this argument is absolute garbage. The purpose of a note should be to take some time to attempt to express one’s own thoughts. If people are unwilling to take the time to write notes of their own, it’s better that they said nothing at all.  Just send a $4.00 gift certificate. It will accomplish as much or more.

I love superhero stories, including the Justice League, but the message in this card annoys me. When I was a kid, I received my fair share of cards with messages like this:

It’s incredibly stupid. Every kid getting this message like this knows that this message is written by a stranger “hired” by an adult that doesn’t care enough to try to get to know the kid.  Instead of sending a pre-printed message like this, why not send a note discussing the Justice League (or other things that the child finds interesting)?   Or, is it that the adult hasn’t really taken the time to get to know the child?

If you doubt this need to author your own notes, imagine any of the heroines in any of Jane Austen’s stories sending or receiving store-bought greeting cards instead of hand-written notes. I guarantee that sending store-bought greeting cards would be the absolute end of any meaningful romance.

Perhaps someone might argue that the store-bought card merely gets you started, and that many people then add their own notes to supplement the pre-printed message. I still think that store-bought cards are insulting and should never be used, ever. Inserting a stranger into the conversation merely distracts and wastes money in the process. I’d rather receive a ten-word note on the back of a used envelope rather than receiving the most eloquent store-bought greeting card ever made.

Greeting cards are yet another expression of America’s addiction to purchasing useless stuff that quickly accumulates in land fills. The more expensive the store bought greeting card, the more insulting it is. I’d much rather receive a simple scribbled note than receive one of those $10 greeting cards that has a little speaker and at that plays a silly song. This one plays the theme song from The Twilight Zone:

And by all means, you should never send a greeting card based on a television persona, especially a card featuring a character from one of those fake educational shows. So many of these cards communicate this message: I watch entirely too much TV or I think that you do.

The concept of the modern greeting card is hopeless, I tell you. Let’s immediately take down the entire greeting card aisle and replace it with nothing at all. That will mean that the average person (who sends 55 greeting cards each year) will have lots of time to do something more meaningful. Then we’ll be saving numerous people lots of money and encouraging them to try to write their own notes. Truly, in a country that makes education compulsory up to 10 grade, can’t we at least try to write our own meaningful messages to mark life’s watershed moments?

Greeting cards are symptomatic of something that is very wrong with America. Pre-written greeting cards are a much-too-visible symptom that Americans would rather throw money at problems than to deal with them in a personal and meaningful way.

“We’re too busy to write out own notes,” you can imagine many people saying. “We’re too busy working so that we can make lots of money so that we can waste that money on things like store-purchased greeting cards.”

[Cross reference: Shopping for Sex: wasteful consumerism and Darwin’s theory of sexual selection]

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Category: American Culture, Communication, Friendships/relationships, Whimsy, Writing

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

Comments (13)

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  1. Carmella says:

    So many things I could write, but why bother talking to one who thinks he has all the answers?

    One thing I will tell you – it's Austen. Austin is in Texas. :)

  2. Erich Vieth says:

    Carmella: Thanks for the typo correction, which shows that I don't have all th answers. I assume that I've insulted you. How many store bought greeting cards do you send in a typical year?

    There was once a Jerry Seinfeld episode that touched on greeting cards. As I recall the episode, the gang decided that one should hang onto these cards for a few days before throwing them away.

    Here's another post that suggests actually REFUSING to accept Christmas cards. http://lifehacker.com/software/holidays/ask-the-r…. Sounds harsh, since the card is meant as a gesture of kindness. The consensus seems to be to throw it away later, not in the presence of the giver.

  3. Erika Price says:

    And the silly spectacle that must occur when a card is given! I remember especially how grueling it was to suffer through a birthday or Christmas card as a child when a stack of presents loomed, waiting to be opened. But in any event where a card is presented, we are expected to carefully feign reading it, open the thing with some mock-wonder at the contents, finish reading the inside slowly, and then thank the card-giver for the considerate message. Both parties know what garbage this is. The reader never actually reads the card- after all, you can look over the first few words and automatically glean what the rest is going to say- and many times the card-purchaser didn't even read the card they bought in the first place.

    I have a confession: Years ago, I used to work in a Hallmark. I've seen the people who really care about these slips of schmaltzy paper. I've seen countless well meaning, misguided grandmotherly women, the types who only know how to buy the affection of their grandchildren, sift through and endless array of greeting cards for their loved ones. These people buy cards for every occasion- birthdays, christmas, earth day, graduation, valentines day, sweetests' day. But the recipients all respond the same way, I'd guess- the tear through the card without a thought, looking for the money granny has no doubt enclosed. It's pathetic.

  4. Dan Klarmann says:

    But Erich, this is a store-bought age. I've known people who let apples rot in their yards while they buy apples (appropriately wrapped and labeled) from the store.

    In Austen's time, one not only wrote her own notes, but made their own clothes and cooked their own food. Or had servants who did these things expressly for them. As with sewing and cooking, a certain skill is involved in expressing a sentiment. Arguably, pre-written cards are as false as pre-made shirts or pre-cut meats. Or sliced factory bread in a plastic wrapper.

    That all (unnecessarily?) said, I basically agree. On the rare occasions that I give a card, I usually make it from scratch. I admit that I usually use store-bought papers and inks and implements (pens, knives, scissors). Although I have made paper (from old clothes). But the only ink I've concocted has been the invisible kind.

    Another argument might be that there is pleasure to be had in reading a rack of colorful and clever cards. My wife enjoys spending time at card racks. One can consider the price of the few cards that she found clever enough to want to share as a payment for the privilege. Plus, some tiny fraction of the fare goes to the artist and author. Supporting the arts, that's what it's about. :roll:

  5. Mary says:

    I have never found a greeting card that says exactly what I want to say. Instead, I either use cards with a nice image on the front that are blank inside, or I buy completely blank cards from the scrapbook section at the store and make my own. Much more satisfying, plus it gives me a chance to really think about the person I'm giving the card to.

  6. Judy says:

    What do you think about a guy (my boyfriend) who sends "Thinking of You"/"Missing You" type cards to his female friends?

  7. Judy Z says:

    First of all, do you know that greeting cards can be recycled at nursing homes and senior centers, or many other similar places? They make other things from them! So can paper towel and toilet paper tubes which elementary schools, youth camps such as YMCA, CYO, rehab centers, MRDD places, and the like to make things for art classes, or projects. So instead of throwing them away, which adds to landfills, recycling them with the newspapers, give them somewhere where they're reused!

    Secondly, aren't relationships worth it? There are people who get upset when they or their situation aren't acknowledged whether it's a personal note, a phone call, or a card. I don't know about you, but I sure appreciate it when I get a birthday or thinking of you card, or sympathy card. It's just a form of communication. Is it worth getting so upset about how it's done? Isn't it just the fact that the sender cared enough to take the time to get a card to send it to you either through e-mail or even more through "snail mail" that matters? I have a two sisters-in-laws who send "snail mail" letters all the time. And how about sending cards to the troops? Betcha they appreciate them, and don't care if someone other than the sender wrote it? Again, it's the thought that counts!

  8. elle mac says:

    I happen to agree with you. Although subtle, the undertones of sexism and shallowness are hidden in greetng cards, certain tv shows, music videos, store front windows, magazines, music, and I can go on. The problem is, is that since it is so subtle, people tend to think that your crazy or over sensitive when bringing this subject up. My quirk was people telling me how cute my son was over and over and over again. My thing was, can't we think of other compliments to give our children? No one even thinks to say "he looks so strong, or smart, or gifted, well-behaved,etc." This is why we have a society of young "cute" teens with no self-esteem. When being cute is no longer carrying you, you suddenly have nothing to fall back on!

  9. Angela says:

    I know this is overdue, but I was researching and came across this. —How do you feel about handmade cards? Say for example you know that your sister loves the color yellow and collects things from Paris-would have someone make this card for her? You don't have to search for it, only tell the creater what you want and they make it happen: Just the right card at just the right time?

    Let me know what you think. I am trying to see who buys cards and why men typically don't. Also through my research I have seen that a lot of people don't even read the inside. Would you be inclined to read it if it appeared to be made just for you?

  10. Erich Vieth says:

    Angela: I have received a some made cards over the years and I really do like them. Many of them are from children, and they are delightful. Some are from adults, too. I've saved many of them. I've thrown out most store bought cards immediately, unless they had a heartfelt note on the inside. If I receive a store bought card that is simply signed, it stays in my possession only until the person handing it to me leaves the premises. Please do consider sharing some of your research findings regarding greeting cards, if you'd like.

  11. Sympathy says:

    I agree with your opinion on sympathy cards. A personally written message, an email or even a call is better.

  12. Nothing will ever replace a personally addressed message. I personally don’t buy store cards. I simply make my own and craft my own message.

    • Thank you for this post. I do agree. My wife sells artist’s cards on-line in the UK.

      I think blank cards are more accepted in the UK than in the US, but we still personally receive pre-written cards from friends and family.

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