There is a story that is in connection with this topic I wish to write about. It happened during a birthday of one of my friend’s former colleagues during his teaching days at Dresden. Martin was hosting the Wednesday night English roundtable with a dozen students and one other colleague and were drinking to his birthday- with beer, hard liquour, and other concoctions. He had been receiving birthday wishes on his Smartphone from his friends, colleagues and family members, when all of the sudden, he received a rather weird birthday message from his boss named Charlenè, which stated:
“Happy Birthday Herr Stöhr. Wishing you a thousand blessings and may your wishes come true. Love, Charlené.”
Now to better understand the story, Martin and Charlené were on formal terms, by the book as the Germans do, behaving professionally, using the formal second person greeting “Sie” instead of “Du” when speaking in German, and not having much to do with each other except for correspondence in connection with English classes and course planning. But the closing took Martin by surprise, for normally, if there are formalities between the two, one would answer with Best Regards or Best Wishes, right?
Wrong! Martin confronted Charlené the next day, asking her why she used love instead of other closings. Her response was simple: “I don’t know of other closings apart from love.” And this from a married woman. 😉
Speaking from the point of view of the native speaker, my first impression of the story was whether Charlené had been intoxicated while texting the message, found a unique feature of Martin worth pursuing despite not being on informal terms, or had no clue about closing a message in English and wanted to “test him.” But if we look at the real aspect of this rather unbelievably weird story, there is a point which I want to address: We just don’t know how to say good-bye in written terms, properly.
Germans have a rather simple way of opening and closing. We open with Sehr geehrte, Lieber, or Hallo (formal, semi-formal and extremely informal, respectively) and close with Liebe Grüße, Gruß aus Flensburg (informal) and Mit freundlichen Grüßen (formal). And while we open with Dear or Hi, we have way too many closures in our correspondences, resulting in the utter confusion of which one to use.
So how do we straighten out this misunderstanding? After doing some research, I conducted an experiment with a group of students to find out how they would close their correspondence, using a long list of closings in English to be placed on a line of extremity ranging from most formal (sincerely/regards) to the most informal (love). Then I divided it into three categories: the informal closings, the grey area and the formal closings. The end result:
If you close with formal, then the best options are with Sincerely, Regards, Best Regards, Best, and Yours faithfully, whereby Sincerely is mostly used when you don’t know the person whom you’re corresponding with, Regards and Best regards are perhaps the most formal if you know someone, and Yours faithfully is closer to the grey area, but it is formal because it implies that you are offering some sort of peace to the recipient. In the grey area, where you can use the closings for both formal and informal settings, we have Best (for more formal terms), Best wishes (if you know someone well enough where you wish something good) and All the Best (if someoneis leaving and you want to wish him/her Bon Voyage). Then we have the informal closings, where we have Take Care and Greetings (for the level of friendship), Love and lots of love for that particular lover you are writing to. Of course you can use Love for a family member, but the closing is more for the romantic type. 🙂 ❤
There are other examples of closings that can be found in the English language, but these are the ones that are found most often in letters and correspondences via e-mail. If you want to simplify your closing, then choose your top ones in each of the categories and use them when appropriate. This is my strategy with my written communication, as I use sincerely for strangers, best wishes for people I know on a (semi-) professional level, greetings for my friends, love for my family.
Some of you however may think that this is not a big deal. However it is, and if you want to try it for yourself, I suggest this experiment:
Present two letters, a formal one (like a letter of application) and an informal one, a love letter, leaving the closing open. Then present a list of closings on an extra sheet of paper and ask them which ones would best fit one of the two letters. While this experiment was done with only one letter (the letter of application) most recently while teaching a class to a group of college students, the results ended the same, and should too, if you try it yourself.
To close the story, there was somewhat of a happy ending between Martin and Charlené: While Charlené caught her husband with a cat in the bed and dumped him on the spot, there was no love fling between the her and Martin and eventually they became friends, with Martin inviting her to his wedding, when he married a girl from Denmark. Yet she understood the difference between love and greetings, when Martin explained it to her.
Sometimes English teachers are the best doctors because they provide the most unusual remedies for mistakes that may be considered small at first, but have a huge impact on the way we communicate. And this is speaking from experience. 🙂
Greetings and Best wishes,
Jason D. Smith