While some customs from long ago have remained fixtures in our modern society, there are many that have faded into obscurity and for good reason. We have uncovered the explanations behind some of today’s common and strange customs that managed to stick around.

The Handshake

Dating back to Ancient Greece – a source of many modern Western customs – this greeting was a sign of equality and mutual respect.

Shaking hands replaced bows and curtsies, while also serving as proof that both parties came unarmed.

In medieval Europe, the handshake became a powerful symbol of the bond between husband and wife. It was the final gesture of wedding ceremonies.

Today, a hand shake can symbolize multiple things but mainly it is used to say hello, goodbye, congratulations, and to seal the deal.

“Achoooo. . . . God Bless you!”

It’s almost as much of a reflex as sneezing itself.  Here in the United States, when someone sneezes, “God Bless you” will often be heard immediately after.

But why? We don’t acknowledge any other bodily functions in such a way. So how did this response originate? 

Some point to the Greeks and Romans for starting this fascination with sneezing. They viewed it as a sign of wellness – a means of expelling bad spirits from the body – and would routinely offer blessings unto the sneezer.

Centuries later, widespread fears brought on by the outbreak of the bubonic plague cast suspicion on the sneeze. Pope Gregory VII called on the people of Europe to utter a short prayer, “Bless you”, after every sneeze to protect against the sickness.

Upon reflection, it is a very strange custom - - -that doesn't appear to be fading anytime soon.

Dining Styles - Continental or American Style Dining?

As all of The American School of Protocol’s Certified Graduates know, there is a stark difference in dining styles once you cross the Atlantic.

In the United States, “Zig-Zag” is used, while our European neighbors predominantly eat “Continental.”

It is very surprising to learn that the traditional European method was in fact originally the American style. The "dining style divide" resulted when British colonists sailed across the Atlantic, bringing their multi-step cutting method to the New World.

The colonists retained this dining style, but back in Europe, the Industrial Revolution brought a faster pace of life that left little room for the niceties and courtesies of the previous era, leading to the more streamlined Continental style.

Clinking glasses

After a toast, it is tradition to clink glasses with fellow diners. This iconic act of celebration comes from a dark past.

Clinking glasses originally started with the intention of spilling a little of the other person’s drink into your own to demonstrate that neither party had poisoned the other’s glass. The clink was a sign of good will, a feeling that has endured to today.

Elbows off!

“Don’t put your elbows on the table!” The origin of this classic motherly saying dates back to medieval times.

Feasts were held in great halls and hundreds of people would eat together at long wooden tables. While the food was often plentiful, space was not.

Furthermore, when dining in the presence of the lords and ladies of the realm, it was deemed “peasant-like” to hunch over one’s plate, guarding the food from others. The act gave off an aura of distrust, and has since become a commonly repeated rule.

Today, it is acceptable to have your elbows on the dining table in between courses and when there are no dishes on the table.  Other than that it's a good idea to follow this old rule. 

It is truly interesting to trace our everyday behaviors – many of which we don’t give a second thought.

Writing a thank you note shows the person who took the time to think of you and give you a gift that you value their time. When someone goes out of their way to handwrite a note in our technology driven world, it is memorable.

If you are reading this, then you are most likely writing a thank you note.  Thank you for keeping this tradition alive. 

Sending a thank you note is NOT a thing of the past! Writing thank you notes is still something that people do AND thank you notes are very much appreciated.

Below are 5 sample thank you notes to help you get started.

Dear Meg and Liam,
Thank you for the aroma diffuser. It not only makes my apartment smell great, but it’s so pretty - - a true art piece on its own. Paris is beautiful this time of year so I know you will have the best time. You both have to come over and tell me all about your trip and to see how calming and Zen like my place feels with the diffuser. Best wishes, Penny Parker

Dear Aunt Julie,
Thank you for the warm scarf you sent to me. The fact that you made it yourself makes it even more special. It’s currently 2° here in New York and will be even colder by New Year’s Eve. I really appreciate your thoughtfulness, as well as your talent for knitting!
XOXO Katie

Dear Mom and Dad,
Thank you for being so thoughtful and thinking of me as I buy my first home. Your kind gift will be used wisely during this process. I am looking forward to 2018 and I hope it is a wonderful year for us all. Owning my own home has always been a dream and I can’t wait to share it with you. Thanks again, Miles

Dear Gram and Pops,
Thank you for sending me the complete DVD collection of Game of Thrones. This is my favorite show, so it was a wonderful Christmas gift. I hope you enjoy spending the New Year in Jackson Hole. I am already on Season 4 and plan on finishing the entire series over New Years!
Love, Benjamin

Dear Sean,
Thank you for the stunning terrarium. It is such a great conversation piece for my office. Your green thumb has always inspired me to love plants. Please stop by in the New Year to see how beautiful the succulents are.
Kind regards, Amelia Williams

See how easy that is?

We follow this simple four sentence format which is just the perfect amount to fit on a correspondence card or folder over.

• First Sentence – Says thank you for the gift
• Second Sentence – Says something about the gift
• Third Sentence – Says something unrelated to the gift
• Fourth Sentence – Says something about the gift

Don't forget to . . .

⇒ Sign on and Sign Off

⇒ Write clearly

⇒ Date it (bottom left-hand corner)

⇒ Proofread

During our Children’s Etiquette Certification Training that is held in Atlanta, Georgia, participants travel from all over the world to partake in the five-day course. Through interactive activities and hands-on instruction the trainees gain the knowledge to teach life skills and etiquette to children.

Children attend each day so that the trainees can see the lessons unfold and experience teaching the curriculum.  One of the activities that takes place is instructing the children how to write a thank you note.

Etiquette Certification

The children are learning ASP’s four sentence format for writing thank you notes. They are also learning what it means to be appreciative.

Peggy Newfield created the program and developed the curriculum. She has taught more than 10,000 children and certified more than 700 individuals worldwide.  She knows that this activity teaches more than just how to write a thank you note.

“Being grateful and learning how to be appreciative is the underlying message. It is more than just putting pen to paper” proclaims Newfield.

Sara Thank you Notes

In the photo above Sara Vizcarrondo, from California encourages a young student to think about a person who has done something for him.

Below Christina Womack from Atlanta, Georgia listens to a student explain the reason why she would like to write a thank you note to her grandmother.

Christina Thank you

This activity gets the children to actively reflect and think about someone who has done something special or nice for them. Talking about being thankful, then writing down the reasons why they are grateful, and thinking about someone else, helps them understand the true meaning of being appreciative.

Below Kathryn Haynes from Sydney Australia helps two middle school girls construct their thank you notes.
Thank You Notes

"Most children do not think of where things come from or who is paying for it, which often creates a sense of entitlement" states Newfield.

Studies have shown that children who are thankful and show their appreciation to others have greater self-esteem and a positive outlook.

Other studies state that children who actively practice being grateful not just with their words, but with their actions are happier and become more productive adults.

Newfield  strongly believes that we must teach our children when they are young that it is just as important to show they are thankful through their actions as it is to say 'thank you'.

Below Peggy Hoshall from Oklahoma helps two young students write their thank you notes.

Thank YOu

“When we encourage children to focus on being grateful and help them understand that all the things they have were given to them, it makes them more self-aware.  Which in turn builds respect.”

writing thank you notes

A young student and Reshma Patel from New Jersey work together on formulating a thank you note.

Each trainee has different goals and reasons for attending, but the primary purpose is so that they can return home and be able to contribute in some way that will improve the life of another. Writing thank you notes is a simple activity that may seem fairly easy - putting pen to paper - but by having students write down what they are thankful for paired with the dialogue creates an impression that we hope lasts for a lifetime.

In honor of January as National Thank-you month, we thought it would be fun to let you check your correspondence knowledge with a QUIZ. Good luck!

TRUE OR FALSEReceiving a Letter

  1. Thank-you notes should be written within one week, preferably three days.
  2. When you receive an invitation with an RSVP, you should respond within twenty-four hours, if possible, and definitely within three days.
  3. "Regrets" need not be attended to with the same speed as acceptances.
  4. An invitation that is made orally, either in person or via telephone, requires a handwritten response.
  5. Start the note off with a salutation followed by the person’s name. ex: Dear John
  6. A “proper” thank-you note has four sentences.
  7. Write the date at the bottom of the note in the right-hand corner.
  8. Always sign your letters and postcards with your first and last name.
  9. An envelope should be addressed with just the person’s first and last name. ex: Molly Cooper
  10. A return address on an envelope is not really necessary.
  11. A return address should always appear on the back flap of the envelope.



  1. TrueLetters
  2. True
  3. False
  4. False
  5. True
  6. True
  7. False
  8. True & False
  9. False
  10. False
  11. False


Writing holiday thank you notesAre you are still procrastinating about getting your holiday thank you notes sent out?  Here are a few tips that can help ease the process:

Keep your note short and simple. Follow the four sentence rule:

  1. First Sentence – Says thank you for the gift.
  2. Second Sentence – Says something about the gift.
  3. Third Sentence – Says something unrelated to the gift.
  4. Fourth Sentence – Says something about the gift.

Write clearly and carefully in your very best penmanship.

Always include a salutation: "Dear Mark."  It is the same as saying hello.

For a closing, write "Sincerely," "Best regards," "With love," etc, depending on how well you know the person.

Write the date at the bottom of the note in the left-hand corner.

Proofread your note thoroughly before sending.

When addressing the envelope, always use Mr. or Ms., never just a first and last name.

Try to send out a thank-you note within 24 hours of receiving a gift.   If you have let some time pass and still have not sent out a thank you note, you should still send it out.

Thank-you notes are not an out-dated gesture. They are still in practice, easy to write, and very much appreciated by the recipient.

If you still have not sent out your thank you notes for gifts you received last year, time is ticking. Get those thank you notes sent out ASAP!