When I receive a gift, I reciprocate with an immediate gift in return: my thanks. I never thought I'd post on the etiquette of receiving, it seemed so evident to me: say thanks promptly, and unless there's an exceptionally casual relationship, send a handwritten note.
We once gave my brother a fine pocket knife, bought on a trip to Paris. He recently told me he'd lost it, and requested that we replace it on our recent return. (He even specified the brand.) We chose carefully, and in fact gave the project an upgrade.
This morning I received his e-mail: "Thanks for knife for winos." (The knife includes a corkscrew.)
So, brotherino, I am outing you here as an inelegant thanker, which rhymes with wanker. Let's review the basics our mother taught us:
1. Mention the actual object, never refer to it generically, e.g., "your gift" or "my birthday present" unless you've received money (see #3). If you have a box of Thank You notecards, you can use them, but don't let a printed verse stand in for your own words.
(As for the custom of bridesmaids or friends writing Thank You notes to "help" the bride: indescribably tacky.)
2. Include a word that reflects your positive emotion ("delighted", "thrilled" "pleased", "happy to have"); if you have a negative emotion ("mystified", "appalled", "disappointed"), don't express it. Do not mention a gift's shortcomings; I once received a note that read, "Thank you for the ring but I am allergic to silver."
3. Describe how or when you will use or enjoy the gift: "I'm taking it on my next fishing trip" or "I'll be reading 'The White Tiger' lounging before the fire at Vail".
If someone gives you money or a gift card, say how you will use it (or think you will). But if your plans for the money would be abhorrent to the donor, tell a tiny white lie: "Aunt Eloise, your gift is a wonderful contribution to my Bali travel fund", rather than "I have to use the money to pay for a math tutor because I'm flunking calculus, must be the partying."
4. Show the donor he or she has some meaning to you other than as a font of gifts: "Grandmaman, when you visit us I hope we can see the new Art Gallery", "Fred is baking your peanut butter cookie recipe!" or even the minimal, "I'm looking forward to seeing you next time I'm home from school."
Today, sister sulks, feeling unappreciated. Next time buy your own pocket knife, Denny.