Sometimes Brands Send Emails Apologizing For Mother's Day Now And That's Worse Than Before: We Need To Return To A Culture Of Small Talk

I take it as a matter of course now that whenever I purchase anything I have also committed myself to receiving friendly emails from the purveyor from now on, even if I haven't given them my email address. I don't dispute this; it's simply how we live now. I dedicate a few minutes out of every day to unsubscribing from various listservs and move on. But at some point in the last year or two, these chipper little announcements about upcoming sales have taken a decidedly intimate tone.

Why am I seeing subject lines like "We know Mother's Day and Father's Day can be tough. We wanted to give you the option..." from a candle company I bought fancy hand soap from last Christmas? Why is my neighborhood Spanish-import grocer emailing me to say "At La Piscine, we understand not everyone has an easy relationship with their parents – click here to disable updates on this weekend's sale"? Why are brands sidling up to me, twisting their hats in their hands, as if to apologize for an intemperate remark over cocktails last night? And always darkly hinting at what cannot be said! "We at Spindrift hope you'll overlook what may or may not have been said last Wednesday evening. At the time, we had not been brought abreast of your – unpleasantness – and certainly would never have said anything of the kind, had we known it would touch you so nearly. And we do hope this discount code, entered at checkout, will prove just how serious we are about making things right between us."

"Normally we only try to sell you socks a few times a year. But today, we thought we'd talk to you about a painful moment in your personal life, in the misguided belief that this would enhance your sock-purchasing experience from us."

We had a solution for this! Polite small talk! Polite small talk smooths over a multitude of bumps and evils! It's very true that not everyone enjoys Mother's Day, but that was as true one hundred years ago as it is today. This is not a new problem that requires new solutions. This calls for polite small talk. One might expects one's friends to speak of mothers with gracious tact, but not for the Post Office to issue an apology for coming out with Mother's Day-themed stamps. There is no way to make a holiday so anodyne, so generic, that it cannot fail to bring up bad memories for someone. But there is a time and a place for discussing one's deepest feelings about mothers. Those bad memories and personal feelings do not require soothing or cagey euphemisms for a startup shirting company that will cease to exist in eighteen months!

Let brands be guided by Cole Porter's "Well, Did You Evah?" as sung badly but gallantly by Burt Reynolds in At Long Last Love:

"When you're out in smart society/ And you suddenly get bad news,/ You musn't show anxiety/ And proceed to sing the blues/ For example, tell me something sad/ Something awful, something grave,/ And I'll show you how a Racquet Club lad would behave."

"Have you heard? That poor dear Blanche got run down by an avalanche?"

"Well!" = A noncommittal expression of mild dismay. On-the-surface agreement for the purpose of avoiding open disagreement.  

"Did you ever?" = Bland surprise, refusal to rise to the bait or get suckered into a personal conversation.

"What a swell party this is!" = Firm, insistent return to the surface-level.

"Well! Did you ever? What a swell party this is!" This phrase will never let you down as you attempt to steer your battered skiff away from the shoals of the too-personal, back into the safe and sunlit waters of polite small talk. Let it be your guide and watchword, when corporations try to come to talk to you of grief.