Thursday, April 11, 2013

Thank You or Not!

A few days ago, she was asked a simple question, why do we say thank you? Came from a 4 year old  who didn't want to express gratitude and her mom was just being adamant that she should. I am sure you all know who the mom was, so moving on. Mom tried to explain that it's just a way of saying "you liked what you got and are happy."

"But I am smiling, that means I am happy," came the smart response. "Why do I have to say thank you every time?" It was a busy day, so making a mental note to herself, Mom carried on.

Come night time, Mom's "me" time. She is busy texting away with friends in India, when she says "thank you" to her friends for promoting her blog on their FB walls. They all in one voice say, "don't say thank you, that's what friends are for." And it took her back to her college days, when often she was the center of attention simply because she said thank you for an act that was considered intrinsic of the job description.

It took me back to yet another time. A time when my older one had also stopped saying thank you and I struggled at that point too. For not too long ago as a  family we moved from the heart of the USA, Midwest to the Silicon Valley. The Valley where all the magic happens. The Valley where if you can imagine it, chances are you will find like minded folks who will help you make it a reality too.  

Coming to the valley, showed me a US that I never knew existed. Here was a state which was a melting point of ethnicities.  California is ethnic but I am still debating on whether it is diverse or not. Diversity to me is when in a class of 30 students there are a few blends of ethnic flavors, and few is more than three to me. 

Ethnicity is an interesting concept. True, that different cultures bring in new perspectives and introduce us to the world around us. It also brings in something else, variations of the simple "Thank you."

7 years ago when we moved to the valley, my son then 5, stopped using his Please and Thank you's and upon asking why? He simply said, "no one else does." Sadly, he was right. This is something I had noticed too and had hoped that it would escape the innocence of my son. But it did not.

Does that mean that people here are rude? ABSOLUTELY NOT! 

The valley attracts the smartest brains and the most creative minds. It doesn't matter what you wear or look like, you will be accepted for who you are.  But within this ethnic pot is a variation of cultures. Cultures that have the same core values but how those values are expressed is worlds apart. 

My friends in India often joked that I should have been born in the US, not because I didn't know the local language but simply because I did something which was not considered a necessity.  India is a very emotional country.  It has cradled civilizations for centuries and with this age comes the maturity of relationships. Relationships that are taken for granted and yet go beyond the Please and Thank you's. Relationships that tell each other that we are there for you no matter what. 

And similar is the case of other Asian countries.  Like India, they have too cradled civilizations and matured.

The western part, no not western, but the US is a much younger country. A country that prides itself in individualism, innovation and its capability to adapt to change.  The immigrants brought with themselves the cultures they grew up with. The assimilation of cultures has found its balance and the American way of life is very informal.  American culture is not rigid and set in manners, unlike the European countries that brought in the early settlers and immigrants.

This cross cultural drift often leaves our kids "in between" cultures.  In the US, it is good manners to say thank you to a clerk who helps you, a store attendant who answers a question or just about anyone who you talk with, specific relationship ties are not necessary.  But in India, I was never taught to do that. I was taught to be polite and respectful, but not necessarily say thank you. 

©Imperfectly Perfect Creations
Saying Thank You is special
but saying it with flowers is even better. 
I am not a historian or a cultural expert. Just a mom, who sparked by the simple question of her younger one is trying to understand the importance of the two magic words. 

My conclusion, the difference between why some cultures use please and thank you so abundantly while others don't, probably stems from their roots. 

The age differences of the countries.

The United States is a very young country as compared to some of its Eastern counterparts. It's still in its twenties and  defining its relationships, trying to understand what works and what does not. It's been at the brink many times, but its youthful capabilities to adapt help it bounce back like no other country. The pride and arrogance of adolescence coupled with its young energy allows it to reign without mimicking its ancestral roots.

Gratitude is present in every culture. Across the globe we all know and understand the word 'thank you,' however here in The United States, we express it abundantly, because the youthful nature of the country allows it to show gratitude without wondering whether it should or not.

Coming back to my problem, what do  I tell the 4 year old and not let this cultural difference change the values that are important to me. I did the same thing, that I did with my son. When he resisted saying please and thank you, I stopped responding.  

Success rate; Partial.

And I am okay with it. Because part of the trick to survive in a melting pot is blending in. I don't want him saying it so often, that he gets singled out.  Just like him, I am sure my daughter will too find her groove and balance of her please's and thank you's.

As for me, I continue to say "thank you." My friends still remind me in every chat session and I say Oops! every time. I know when I meet them, this habit will entertain them for a few minutes and that's okay, because when they chose me for a friend, they chose me with all the please's and thank you's that come with me. 

Thank you is important to me. I say thank you not because I am being formal, but because I appreciate what you did for me. I say thank you not because I am Ms. Elegant, but because I really like the gift you gave me. It's a simple word but can bring the widest smile on a glum face. 

So, Thank You! 

Thank You, not because it's a befitting ending to this post but because I know you have a busy schedule and yet you took the time to visit this blog, and I truly appreciate that. 


  1. I loved it because I am myself quite liberal with my thank you's. These are gestures you adopt as a habit, it cannot be forced. I've lectured myself hoarse telling my girls to say thanks at the opportune moment but I'm dealing with rhino hides here!!

  2. Well said Ruma. And interestingly the norm of politeness is changing too.

    I have been told.. "its cool", thats awesome are all synonyms of thank you :)

    Have a good week ahead!

  3. Very well written Shilpa! And a wake up call as well. Several times we avoid saying these to avoid showing being formal with our loved and closed ones . I feel that it is important to show that gratitude .