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Christmas round-robin letters: The revenge
December 22, 2012 5:23 AM   Subscribe

Christmas round-robin letters: The revenge Lynne Truss (of Eats, Shoot and Leaves) battles against round robin Christmas (and in this case fictional) newsletters from people she barely knows.
posted by feelinglistless (54 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite

 
Do people still send these? In the age of social networking?
posted by feelinglistless at 5:23 AM on December 22, 2012


Yes. Yes, they do.
posted by unSane at 5:39 AM on December 22, 2012


What unSane said. I wish I could hate them out of existence, but it hasn't worked so far. Like maybe if we all hate hard enough, we can pull a reverse-Tinkerbell and Christmas Newsletters will vanish in a puff of smug.
posted by 1adam12 at 5:44 AM on December 22, 2012 [2 favorites]


I've always wanted to get a brutally honest round robin. "Tom's drinking continues to worsen, and we have had sex three times in the last nine months. Abigail is now 13 and pregnant by her worthless boyfriend..."
posted by unSane at 5:47 AM on December 22, 2012 [9 favorites]


One of the nicest things I've done for my brother in recent years is re-read one of his friend's Christmas letters through my usual lens of bitterness and misery. He was feeling pretty down because of course she was talking about how wonderful everything was but she said a bunch of stuff that was CLEARLY glossing over some problems. For example, she'd spent her first year out of college teaching at some private school and she was talking about how great it was. There was something kind of off about the tone and when I said "five bucks says the next sentence is about her quitting" my brother's face just LIT UP because yeah, of course she was. It's really exciting when I can help my brother by just being my miserable mean-spirited self.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 5:52 AM on December 22, 2012 [13 favorites]


I've always wanted to get a brutally honest round robin.

I should write a letter about stuff I would be proud of but is maybe not Christmas card appropriate.

"This year we achieved our long-time dream of having sex in the bathroom of not one but THREE dive bars! I have also overcome my aversion to drinking on weeknights. In addition, I've really improved my cooking ability and am now able to microwave popcorn with only limited assistance. In other news, my husband got a raise so we've been able to upgrade our BDSM club membership. All in all it's been a great year for us -- very best wishes to you and the children!"

These things did not actually happen.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 5:58 AM on December 22, 2012 [7 favorites]


Wow, a lot of unhappy people in this thread.

Round robins are fun with people you like. Maybe you shouldn't participate with people you hate. Or at least make them add cookies and candy to the package.
posted by DU at 6:04 AM on December 22, 2012 [2 favorites]


And how exactly do you not participate in a round robin that someone sends you uninvited?
posted by unSane at 6:12 AM on December 22, 2012 [3 favorites]


Also, what makes you think we're unhappy?
posted by unSane at 6:13 AM on December 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


Am I missing something here? What's 'round-robinish' about a newsletter you receive? Are you supposed to read it and then pass it on to somebody else?
posted by woodblock100 at 6:14 AM on December 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


Wow, a lot of unhappy people in this thread.

Round robins are fun with people you like. Maybe you shouldn't participate with people you hate. Or at least make them add cookies and candy to the package.


I AM unhappy and people I like don't send me these newsletters.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 6:20 AM on December 22, 2012


Simon Hoggart does a column every year in the Guardian summing up the 'best' he's had sent to him
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 6:29 AM on December 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


Round robins are fun with people you like.

I have a couple who are friends-of-freinds who lead ready interesting lives and send a letter out most years. Since I only see them every two years or so, this is a small treat.

And how exactly do you not participate in a round robin that someone sends you uninvited?

You don't read it, or, if there may be information you need (marriages, births, etc), you skim it, storing the useful data and forgetting the rest. This may be a skill not everyone has developed, ut I read a lot of internal committee reports, and it is freakin' crucial.
posted by GenjiandProust at 6:37 AM on December 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


In American usage a round robin is a letter you add something to and forward to the next person. Amy sends a letter to Beth, who adds her own comments and forwards both letters to Cara, who forwards all three letters to Dora, and so on. When it comes back around to Amy she takes her letter out and writes a new one and sends the packet on down the chain.

So the British usage of it for Christmas letters (because they are broadcast to many people or because the whole family signs? I'm not even sure) is odd to American ears. That's why people are confused about "participating" in it.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:54 AM on December 22, 2012 [5 favorites]


someone should, of course, do a Metafilter Family Letter.... Not me, I'm too lazy, I'll leave it for one of you....
posted by HuronBob at 6:55 AM on December 22, 2012


These things did not actually happen.

Never give up.
posted by pracowity at 7:01 AM on December 22, 2012 [2 favorites]


By the end, Metafilter decided not to remodel the kitchen at all!
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 7:02 AM on December 22, 2012 [4 favorites]


Metafilter Family Letter

Let's try:

"This year MetaFilter achieved their long-time dream of having sex in the bathroom of not one but THREE dive bars! MetaFilter has also overcome their aversion to drinking on weeknights...."

MetaFilter is pretty tame, considering the numbers....
posted by GenjiandProust at 7:08 AM on December 22, 2012


Metafilter Annual Family Letter:

Dear Metafilter,

Posted links in 2012. Everyone argued.

Love,

Mefite

PS - I miss MCA.
posted by Fizz at 7:08 AM on December 22, 2012 [9 favorites]


I wasn't able to find a link to the text online, but I highly recommend Connie Wilis' short story "Newsletter," about the irritating pressure of writing your family newsletter and some deeply suspicious behavior the main character encounters during Christmas. It's collected in her book "Miracle and Other Christmas Stories," and also in the alarmingly large "The Winds of Marble Arch and Other Stories."
posted by skycrashesdown at 7:14 AM on December 22, 2012 [2 favorites]


people I like don't send me these newsletters.

So start one.

And how exactly do you not participate in a round robin that someone sends you uninvited?

Don't pass it on? Or pass it on but without reading or adding to it?
posted by DU at 7:37 AM on December 22, 2012


I don't get the concept myself, if I wanted to know what's going on in these people's lives Id be in rather steady contact with them all year and vise versa.

This could be more fallout from being in a large extended yet misanthropic and paranoid family.
posted by The Whelk at 7:55 AM on December 22, 2012


So the British usage of it for Christmas letters (because they are broadcast to many people or because the whole family signs? I'm not even sure) is odd to American ears. That's why people are confused about "participating" in it.

Right, in the US we'd call this a mass-mailed form letter, where you make 1000 copies of your shamelessly self-aggrandizing holiday newsletter and send it to everyone you have ever remotely known. Like a long-form Facebook post, I guess.
posted by FelliniBlank at 8:18 AM on December 22, 2012


So the British usage of it for Christmas letters (because they are broadcast to many people or because the whole family signs? I'm not even sure) is odd to American ears.

I believe the UK usage is closer to the original meaning, actually.

ROUND ROBIN - "The round robin was originally a petition, its signatures arranged in a circular form to disguise the order of signing. Most probably it takes its name from the 'ruban rond,' 'round ribbon,' in 17th-century France, where government officials devised a method of signing their petitions of grievances on ribbons that were attached to the documents in a circular form. In that way no signer could be accused of signing the document first and risk having his head chopped off for instigating trouble. 'Ruban rond' later became 'round robin' in English and the custom continued in the British navy, where petitions of grievances were signed as if the signatures were spokes of a wheel radiating from its hub. Today 'round robin' usually means a sports tournament where all of the contestants play each other at least once and losing a match doesn't result in immediate elimination." From "Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins" by Robert Hendrickson (Facts on File, New York, 1997). via
posted by dhartung at 8:19 AM on December 22, 2012 [3 favorites]


OK - so UK round robin (which is described in the original link) is when a person makes many copies of the same letter and sends it to a long list of friends, relatives and people they happened to swap business cards with when on holiday in Antigua.

US round robin sounds like an arrangement where someone does the same thing but saves on photocopying costs.

Both sound like practices that the internet should quite justifiably stamp out, with great enthusiasm.

Is that about right?
posted by YAMWAK at 8:19 AM on December 22, 2012


Bah - clicked on preview and was still beaten by two other nearly-identical comments.
posted by YAMWAK at 8:21 AM on December 22, 2012


Sorry for the round robin

(RSPB)
posted by Flashman at 8:30 AM on December 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


There's a whole lot of bitterness in this thread. I don't mind receiving an update from distant friends and relatives who I don't care enough about to talk to regularly, but I do care enough about to like to want to know they're still alive once a year. Like a hipster facebook.
posted by blue_beetle at 8:40 AM on December 22, 2012


Never knew these things are called round-robin letters. I have always called them "brag letters."
posted by bz at 8:41 AM on December 22, 2012 [2 favorites]


I didn't know folk did these in England, and thought they were a North American thing. The only time we've ever received one was from some distant relatives in Canada. I was kinda nice to hear about their life farming the Alberta grasslands, but given that we hardly know who the hell they are it was a bit random. But then, I wouldn't want to receive one from somebody I actually know either, as why?
posted by Jehan at 8:49 AM on December 22, 2012


I came upon a lady at work writing her family newsletter last week. It's not my kind of thing, but it seemed to give her pleasure. They had a bit of a rough year, so if it helps them to have a cheery newsletter go out that glosses over the details, then it's not bothering me.
posted by arcticseal at 10:14 AM on December 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


YAMWAK, an American round robin wouldn't be used for a Christmas letter; it's more the sort of thing kids do with cousins or camp friends, or used to, before email. It's fun, though; I did one with some college friends a few years ago and it was really exciting to get the big packet of handwritten letters and spend a couple days writing my own that responded to the ongoing conversation in all the other letters. And it was more interesting to get 4 months of letters than a two-line email with a life update for just this week.

I like Christmas letters because its either nice to see what people are up to, or fun to roll my eyes at. But I hardly got any this year; everyone has gone to photo cards and Facebook. Which of course is what we do too, but I like getting other people's letters so they should put in more effort than I do! :)

One year I got a Christmas letter where the mother made her teenager write a paragraph apologizing to Jesus and everyone the family knew for getting a girl pregnant. It was pretty awesome in the WTF way. Now that guy makes his kids apologize publicly to Jesus on Facebook when they screw up so I guess he thinks it works?
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 10:15 AM on December 22, 2012 [2 favorites]


We have some friends and family who do these and mostly mock them. I think the impulse to do them is something my family just doesn't understand; to us, the kind of matter-of-fact recounting of achievements and good fortune that happens in these letters reads like begging for a little bad luck and comeuppance. I was raised to knock wood whenever I acknowledged that something was going well and to write a whole letter to send to everyone you know doing just that just seems like asking for trouble.

That said, they're definitely entertaining! It seems like most people who write them own dogs that they're fully convinced are the best possible dogs in the world.
posted by town of cats at 10:19 AM on December 22, 2012


people I like don't send me these newsletters.

So start one.


I think you've misunderstood the cause and effect; the issues is not that I am not getting cards from people I do like. The point is that if someone I thought I liked sends me one of these newsletters, I realize I do NOT like them.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 10:38 AM on December 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


Well then I am insufferable to the power of 12 - I do a pdf newsletter every month and send it to friends and family by email. The reason is I no longer have a blog but most of said friends and family live on the other side of the world and want to know what we (actually, to be honest, our son) have been up to and I don't call everyone on a regular basis, nor do I have a Facebook account.
Frankly I would rather not do it - I'm fairly lazy - but people kept asking what I was going to do now the blog was finished. So I guess this is my long winded way of saying that there are actually people who read these things by choice, and there are those of us who aren't just writing them to make you think our lives are full of middle-class striving.
posted by Megami at 11:16 AM on December 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


They're like Facebook on steroids, where people puff themselves up and leave out or euphemize away all the bad stuff. This means that they make many people feel insecure, in the same way that models with no body fat do. You secretly wonder: why doesn't my life— or butt— look like that? And when there are things like infertility or death or mental illness which are largely out of your control, being reminded of everyone else's apparently perfect lives at a time of year when there's already an incredible amount of pressure to "have it all," well, it's not so great. If the people who were sending them out were talking to individual friends who are having problems, they wouldn't boast like this because they would be more sensitive. So, the impersonality makes it feel even more of an insult. So, yay, Lynne Truss: I love your work.
posted by Maias at 12:06 PM on December 22, 2012 [5 favorites]


Man, and I thought I was insecure. I really can't imagine the depths of self-loathing you'd have to have sunk to to be sent into such a rage-spiral from hearing a bit of slightly polished-up news about the best bits of a friend's/relative's year. If your response to hearing that a friend is doing well is to A) loathe them for telling you and B) assume that they're lying and they're actually miserable then there's a pretty good chance that you are not in the best place.

If the letter is from someone you don't care about, don't read it. Otherwise, why wouldn't you be grateful to know how they see the year in review, regardless of whether or not you've been iregular contact with them? I have friends I see every week and I still look forward to getting their Christmas letter each year.
posted by yoink at 12:39 PM on December 22, 2012 [7 favorites]


I don't know whether I am more taken aback by the use of the wholly inapplicable term "round robin" or by the widespread hate for the practice. The "family christmas letter" is an old tradition in my family, though I doubt it's still practiced by anyone under the age of 50, and when the letters do come they're often sent by email. Never seemed braggy to me - it's just a pre-internet way to keep in touch with an extended family which has grown geographically diffuse. And it's not like people don't mention the bad stuff, either - surgery for weird medical problems, broken limbs, car wrecks, etc. It's just that you only have a page or two, so why waste it griping about the same kind of pointless problems everyone has to deal with?
posted by Mars Saxman at 12:44 PM on December 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


Well put, Maias, that's how I feel about them too.
posted by antiquated at 12:50 PM on December 22, 2012


Yoink, you're missing the point. People don't like these not because they aren't happy when their friends have good fortune: they are. What they don't like is when their friends are smug about their good fortune at a tough time for many people. It feels insensitive and cruel.
posted by Maias at 1:31 PM on December 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


Well, I know who in this thread isn't getting a card from us this year...

(And you're not getting any fruitcake either!)
posted by madajb at 1:37 PM on December 22, 2012


Also, this Lynne Truss sounds like a deeply unpleasant person, the kind of person you invite to a Christmas party because you're friends with her spouse but really hope she can't make it.
posted by madajb at 1:40 PM on December 22, 2012


I have a friend who does a long letter early in the new year every year. It runs pages and pages and covers her whole year--it's like all the chatty letters she didn't send all year rolled up into one. I like hers; when I get my fat envelope, I make a cup of tea and settle in to enjoy it. But she tells actual stories, delves thoughtfully into issues that came up for her, talks honestly about both the good and the bad. I can imagine that not everyone loves it, and if I got a bunch I wouldn't have time to appreciate them, but it always makes me think that part of the problem with year-end letters is that they're usually one-page highlight summaries. But then, I always wish more of my friends blogged--they're all doing such interesting things and I never hear as much about what they're up to as I'd like.
posted by not that girl at 2:17 PM on December 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


"This year we achieved our long-time dream of having sex in the bathroom of not one but THREE dive bars! I have also overcome my aversion to drinking on weeknights. In addition, I've really improved my cooking ability and am now able to microwave popcorn with only limited assistance. In other news, my husband got a raise so we've been able to upgrade our BDSM club membership. All in all it's been a great year for us -- very best wishes to you and the children!"

My actual newsletter could be not much off from that.
posted by not that girl at 2:24 PM on December 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


I used to make up my own, faked ones, with snippy and horrible things happening to make believe family and relatives ...then I would randomly mail to names pulled from phone book.
posted by Postroad at 2:45 PM on December 22, 2012 [3 favorites]


Oh boy. My dad sends these out each year. While I believe he does so with a genuine wish to communicate they without fail kick off at least one slap down, drawn out family holiday argument and twelve months of backbiting, sulking and snide comments. He seems honestly bemused by the reaction and stubbornly persists in the tradition. Or maybe he gets a thrill out of it and is just a much slyer bastard than I give him credit for.

After being graced with a sneak preview I cannot fucking wait for the fallout this year. I get a whole paragraph to myself (I did get married, but still), Mum's choir gets two paragraphs and even the cat, who dad professes to despise gets one. Two elder siblings get to share a sentence and the third gets the three word content of a parentheses even though my dad knows she is the one that will count this shit up and store it up as a grudge to be deployed for maximum devastation at the most inappropriate moment possible (this one managed to start a family fight during the proceedings of a bail hearing, I wish I was making this shit up).

My dad would be THRILLED to receive a snarky, even menacing response to one of these missives. I would do it myself, but it would only encourage him.
posted by arha at 3:04 PM on December 22, 2012 [5 favorites]


My parents send out one every year. I really have no idea how large the distribution list is - I like to think that it's only going to people who genuinely care (they have a lot of previously-close distributed friends), but based on the size of the stack, who knows? They probably do skim over the negative aspects a bit, but my sisters and I always make sure it's not too upbeat.

They are often quite fun to read though - I'm not sure why some people are *so* negative about them. There are some letters which arrive without fail from people we don't really know with glowing accounts of their every move that year, and I'm fairly sure one of my dad's cousins simply writes a paragraph for every week in their diary, but they are by and large quite entertaining to read.
posted by leo_r at 3:30 PM on December 22, 2012


Also, this Lynne Truss sounds like a deeply unpleasant person.

She's also a hack. She had a cute title for a book a few years ago, in which she encouraged the idea that ancient prescriptivist ideas about English usage still applied. Plus, there was an example on the cover of her own book about the exact same kinds of errors she was prating on about.
posted by anothermug at 4:10 PM on December 22, 2012


Hell, we don't even do Christmas cards in my family. A newsletter would be weird and frankly, unwelcome. We all get along better when we don't really know much about what the other ones are doing and/or thinking.

Every time a new woman marries in to the family, there's a brief spurt of attempts at get togethers, cards, pictures, and birthday greetings. But in the face of our continued indifference, it eventually goes away, and we all go back to mostly ignoring each other.

It works really fucking well.
posted by emjaybee at 8:19 PM on December 22, 2012 [2 favorites]


Next thing you know, someone's going to snidely remark that the author is ugly, fat, and leads a loathsome existence.

Calm yourselves and eat some damn pie.
posted by DisreputableDog at 9:15 PM on December 22, 2012 [2 favorites]


Really? I don't see Lynn Truss as a hack at all. I think she comes off as more of a comedian who purposely plays up that "hysterical snotty aunt" vibe to get laughs - you can tell by her wry sense of humor, and how she always pokes subtle fun at herself too. Plus, in her books, she always ends up explaining things in a fun and easy-going manner, so she does have that cool grade-school teacher thing going for her behind all of the pretentiousness. I can't read someone that down to earth when it comes to the serious stuff as unknowingly snotty at all.

And I think her chosen comedic persona really works with the type of subjects she tackles - slight annoyances like etiquette, social manners and grammar. It's the pet peeve type of stuff, and while we'll never end up ranting and raving about it, Righteous Old Aunt Truss does, and somehow, it feels just a little bit justified because she's doing what we wish we could do when the 90th person that day uses their instead of they're.
posted by Conspire at 9:52 PM on December 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


I love living in a country where Christmas letters aren't a thing. I send cards, because I like doing that; I make them myself.
There's a wish on them, it's generally something about pleasant holidays and a prosperous new year, and my partner and I both sign them. That's as far as we go.

As far as I'm concerned, Christmas is not a time for letting people know how your year has been, or rather how you wish others to think it has been; it's a time to send them a pretty picture to hang on their wall for a week or two.

Some people send us a card of their own. I hang those on my wall for a week or two.
The end.
posted by Too-Ticky at 5:09 AM on December 23, 2012


She wrote a wildly bestselling book on *grammar*— if you can manage the same feat, you get the right to call her a hack.
posted by Maias at 2:55 PM on December 23, 2012


I am American and I have never heard of round-robin letters or Christmas newsletters.

I almost wish someone would send me one so I could laugh at it with the rest of my deeply unpleasant family members.
posted by inertia at 8:39 AM on December 24, 2012


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