Among the thorniest of questions posed by the inexorable rise of the worldwide web is that of email etiquette, a minefield that would surely have given the late Emily Post sleepless nights. Back at the internet’s inception, this wasn’t an issue. People addressed emails much as they did the soon-to-be-usurped medium of letters, starting with dear whoever and ending with the standard yours faithfully or sincerely – a level of formality that seems positively rococo today. Familiarity and brevity have combined to create a world of boundary-invasion that, if mirrored in the physical world, would lead to blizzards of harassment lawsuits.
Today, the standard email opens with a curt “hi” or “hello”, or, in an arduous attempt at loosened-tie-style faux-matey-ness, “hey”, or even “hey there”, which, while sounding like something one might cry from a crow’s nest through a thick fog, errs on the acceptable side of offensive. The body of the message is usually hazard-free, unless the sender has dotted it with emoticons, an ugly word describing an even uglier phenomenon, and not only because you’re obliged to turn your head through ninety degrees in order to ascertain whether the “face” is conveying a conspiratorial wink or some kind of raging pathology. The real conundrum comes with the sign-off. How can you be brusque without seeming too, well, brusque? For a while, “best” seemed to cover all options, but then the ante was upped to “all best”, “all my best”, and even “my very best.” Appending your full name now seems impossibly grandiose like something out of Les Liaisons Dangereuses. Initials that would have seemed wantingly important 20 years ago are now de rigueur.
But all this is small beer compared to The Kiss Question. What do you do when a complete stranger – usually, but not solely, confined to those working in the public relations sphere – concludes their missive with a kiss, or multiple kisses, or multiple kisses and smiley emoticons? If you respond – and no-one would blame you if you hurled such floridity straight in the trash – you exercise Trappist-like sobriety; a “best”, a full name and a resounding blank where any corresponding bodily contact would be simulated. A simple rule of thumb when it comes to sign-offs should be: only adorn with kisses when addressing a person you have actually, physically, real-world-style kissed yourself. And then in moderation. Surely even Emily Post wouldn’t object to that.