Etiquette Questions, Answered: Tricky Conversations
How Do I Tell My Aunt to Stop Sending Me Chain E-mails?
Q: My (otherwise lovely) aunt has a penchant for forwarding petitions, crazy political rants, and “Send This to Six People
in Five Minutes!” chain e-mails to me. How do I politely tell her to stop this behavior without ruining our relationship?
A: I have a couple of not-quite-elderly aunts who do the same thing, and I heave an involuntary sigh every time an e-mail from one of them arrives bearing the telltale “Fwd” in the subject line.
Part of me feels irritated as I stare at the screen. I know that if I click on the chain letter, I will be confronted with weirdly random nuggets of “wisdom” that run the gamut from Will Rogers’s favorite sayings to animated greeting cards of kittens that meow in unison, “We wuv uuuu.”
But I confess I’m also oddly touched. I don’t know where your aunt lives, but I don’t live within 1,000 miles of either of mine. I haven’t seen these women, who were comforting, everyday presences in my childhood, in a long time. It’s sweet that they still think to include me, even though there’s a cast of thousands in their address books, when they want to share some snippet they consider funny, profound, enraging, or inspiring.
It’s up to you how to proceed. If it’s vitally important to get off your aunt’s mailing list, it should be easy enough to do so. Just telephone her to chat about what she has been up to, ask how your cousins are these days, and then explain, “I’m trying to limit my e-mail correspondence, because responding cuts into the time that I spend catching up with family and friends in more personal ways, like making this call.”
Or you can put the matter in perspective. After all, there’s no real harm in dotty e-mails. And it doesn’t take a huge effort to click Delete to get rid of an unread message instead of forcing the issue with a relative. You may ultimately think it’s better to hold your tongue than to escalate the situation into a family drama. Or as Will Rogers put it (according to an e-mail I recently received from one of my dear aunts), “Never miss a good chance to shut up.”
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