the tamago report

Eggs benedictated

Tag: letter-writing

The Arse of Letter-Writing

by MDY

I wrote a letter last week. An old-school, inked-on-paper, stamp-licked letter. It was a terribly fraught process, for several reasons.

Number One: I am highly insecure about my handwriting. In high school, I used to get taunted by teachers and classmates alike for the hopelessly matted kindling that my letters formed. I was best known for the compactness of my handwriting, which apparently bordered on the pathological. How was I, as a painfully utilitarian Fourth-Former, meant to know that writing a 6000-word essay on A5 sheets of paper – even if they were all I had on the train from Nice to Paris – would be viewed as lunacy by the Music Department and all its denizens? Today, as a result, I only write in caps when writing for other people. But you can’t write a whole letter in caps. Isn’t it ironic that you need umpteen letters to compose a letter? And somehow infinitesimally tragic too, that sometimes no amount of letters are enough.

Number Two: this letter was also an original short story. Usually when I compose on paper, I commit numerous faux pas; scratch out entire sentences or word after word; and, in around 42% of cases, am simply unable to finish the tale because I have plotted myself into an inextricable corner. I couldn’t afford to do any of this here, for obvious reasons. Fortunately, I had the entire story planned out in my head (only happens in around 7% of cases), and I am very good at converting a’s into d’s, b’s into p’s, et c. when I realise that pen and brain are not in sync. Probably owed somewhat to the pathology of my handwriting.

Number Three: You can’t back-up letters. What if my envelope got rained on? What if the ship’s crew accidentally threw the mail-bag overboard? What if the ship got hijacked (I had watched Captain Phillips several nights prior)? What if the receiving Asiatic post-office didn’t understand the address, even though it was in very neat caps? What if the address was wrong, or it went to the wrong flat in the compound, or the owner of the flat omitted to mention its receipt to its intended reader? Releasing a letter into the ether is a leap of faith, and despite my long legs I was always a dismal long-jump failure.

I don’t think the letter has arrived yet. If it had, I would have heard. But if and when it does fall into its recipient’s much-deserving hands, all this arseing around will be worth it.

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Goodbye, hello: the art of salutations

by MDY

The first words are the hardest. Your salutations in written correspondence are a lot like striking up a conversation with the cute guy/girl/amoeba at the bar, or being introduced to the parents of the aforementioned guy/girl/amoeba who just happen to have a net worth with more digits than your hands. Most people think of salutations as stock-standard phrases which don’t mean much, but they can (and often do) say a lot about your professionalism, personality and persimmons.

(We will get to gratuitous alliteration in another post)

How do you say what you want to with your salutations? Here’s a quick guide to help you say goodbye and say hello:

Be polite: Which would you prefer – sounding a bit too formal, or coming across as a inchoate slob? Err on the side of propriety if you’re at all unsure what register to take: a “Dear Mr/Mrs ______” is always a safe option, as is “To whom it may concern” for letters of bureaucracy, administration, etc. Remember, “Hey” is for horsing around at the bar, not professional communication.

Use their name: Most people say “Hi, John” in real life and “Dear Sir” in their letters. I write “Hi, John” in my letters and say “Morning, Sir” in real life. Result of a grammar school education? Definitely. Pompous and off-putting? It works for me, but who knows. However, nobody – particularly executives or C-suites who might be reviewing your cover letter, RFP-response or wedding invitation – likes being called “Sir/Madam”* or “whom it may concern”. Take names and kick ass. Even better – get to know the people you’re writing to first.

Stay consistent: If you start off sounding formal, keep it up through your entire email or letter. Same thing if you lead with a jovial “How’s it going?”** or a comradely “Yo waddup my homie brudda” or my favourite of all passive-aggressives, the “Hi.” No matter how smoothly you may think you’re doing it, changing register in the middle of your email/letter/birthday invite doesn’t establish rapport with your addressee – it makes you sound incoherent. Or schizoid.

Say what you mean: What’s the difference between “yours sincerely” and “yours faithfully”? One means you’re being sincere, the other means you’ll be faithful. Personally, I prefer not to use these stock sign-off lines, and when I do I make sure I mean it.

For example, I’ll say “Warm regards,” if I have a warm and fuzzy feeling about my fellow correspondent.

Or “Many thanks,” if they’ve done something I’m actually grateful for.

Or “Hi.” if they’ve really ticked me off.

My usual line for “first approach” letters (where I don’t know the person) is

Hope to hear from you soon, and thanks for your time,

-M.

A bit long, but it speaks plainly: I’m hoping the person gets back to me, but I want to thank them for reading my letter regardless. In most other correspondence I avoid getting bogged down by degrees of warmth (lukewarm regards, anyone?) and sentiment and stick with the simple

Cheers,

-M.

It’s ugly, but that’s why we drink.

In brief: Approach salutations as any other form of writing – a means to say what you want to. Sincerely.

*Even amoebas.

**You should know by now I’m pretty relaxed about formalities and manners, but this one really bugs me. It’s intrusive, kitsch, and usually signifies some sort of brutish attempt to “establish rapport” in order to sell me some piece of worthless junk or scam me out of my collection of 20c coins***. How’s it going? The same way as the Titanic – because you just sank your chances.

***Yes, it exists. No, you’re not getting any.