With a degree in sociology under her belt, Diane Gottsman knew teaching etiquette was a logical career path. She started out teaching abused and neglected children the art as a way to empower them, then moved on to helping the professional sector. As if to emphasize her love for the cause, she now boasts her own line of stationery (welcome to the club!). Here, the purveyor of all things proper talks stamp love, Amelia Earhart and the etiquette rule she’ll never break.
How long have you been teaching etiquette and how did you end up doing so?
I’ve been teaching etiquette for 15 years, starting with children in the beginning and later evolving into the corporate and university arena. I was shocked at the number of successful professionals that I interacted with daily that were truly gifted in business but lacked social skills.
Why do you enjoy handwritten correspondence?
Although I find great value in corresponding by email and I couldn’t live without immediate gratification from a text, I am equally committed to the written word. It is more common for us to receive electric bills and coupons in the mail, rather than a handwritten, heartfelt note saying, “I’m thinking of you.”
What is your favorite step in the process of written correspondence?
It is fun and appreciated when the letter is packaged with an unusual stamp or multiple stamps, a colorful envelope and any other unique adornments that make it personalized by the sender. I have a friend that makes it a point to place several stamps that complement each other on the outside of the envelope, even though postage only requires one. She writes in the most beautiful handwriting and always uses a gold ink pen. As soon as I see her letter in my mailbox I immediately smile.
If you could be pen pals with anyone in history, to whom would you write and what would you say?
Amelia Earhart would make a great correspondent. I would love to ask her how it felt to fly (literally) in the face of all of the opposition. And I would ask her what she thought of Hilary Swank playing her in the movie and if the movie was an accurate account. Another would be Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. Not only did she have a love for the written word, she was strong and resilient despite many hardships, and I admire her strength and grace.
To whom do you most often write?
I write to everyone! I exchange cards and letters with colleagues, I send congratulatory cards to clients when I see they have been quoted in the media or have been acknowledged in some way. I absolutely adore sending cards to friends and I leave little notes to my teenagers when I leave town for business or I know they have a big test coming up and need a special boost. I truly get as much out of writing a note or card as I do receiving one.
Describe the most memorable letter or postcard you have ever received.
I have a friend who crafted some stationery with all of my favorite fall images, hand drawing one image on each card. On the back was a special note, and the inside was left blank for my personal note. I was given six cards five years ago and I still have five left. I love them so much that I can’t send them out — the thought, appreciation and memory is just too precious for me to part with.
What makes a particular letter stand out from a stack of cards?
Quality, creativity and attention to details. You have to know your recipient, pay attention to the quality of the card and envelope and put forth effort in writing something that is inspiring, heartfelt and genuine. Personalizing it with a little stamp, drawing or quote is always an extra special touch (socially).
What makes your correspondence distinct?
Good correspondence has many parallels to the art of etiquette. It involves building a relationship by sharing yourself and showing a sincere interest in others. Correspondence truly sets itself apart when it expresses how much you value the recipient. Some of my favorite notes are from friends who simply took time to write and express their appreciation for our friendship or from a client who shared how my training made a difference in his or her life.
What do you think classic correspondence will look like in a decade or two?
As our lives become increasingly more reliant on electronic communication, the handwritten note will make even more of an impact in the future. I still think classic correspondence will have a substantial feel to it and a lovely envelope. I’m always impressed when I receive a letter written in calligraphy. Is it in or out? Retro and vintage stationery is so popular today, and in the future, what is current and hip will be labeled accordingly. Everything old is new again!
What etiquette rule will you never break?
I will always stand up when someone walks up to speak with me, and I will never refuse a handshake. Personally, it doesn’t matter to me which side of the chair your enter from (the right side is the correct answer), but it matters tremendously how you treat another person — with kindness, dignity and respect.
Have a question for Diane? Email the Crane Concierge at firstname.lastname@example.org.