‘Thank you’ in Hindi and English mean very different things

Is it polite to thank people? Not in all cultures, it seems. From the Atlantic: ‘I’ve Never Thanked My Parents for Anything’.

I grew up in the northern Indian city of Lucknow, in a culture in which saying thank you is not done lightly. I learned to say thank you in English in elementary school, and when I thanked anyone, I said it in English, which was less awkward and more casual than doing so in Hindi. I reserved my thanks for those who had done huge favors for me. And I rarely thanked my friends or classmates. When I did, they either smiled quizzically at me or interpreted the act as a kind of joke—a playful way to practice English. I’ve never thanked my parents for anything. In the Hindi language, in everyday gestures and culture, there is an unspoken understanding of gratitude.

Saying dhanyavaad, or “thank you” in Hindi, would almost be sarcastic. It seems inadequate. When I thank anyone in Hindi, I make sure to look the person in the eye. Saying dhanyavaad to someone without looking at him or her is just as good as not saying it at all. As a kid, I never heard anyone my age say thank you in Hindi. I did hear my father say dhanyavaad to people his age, but he did it as sincerely as possible, with his hands joined in front of his chest in the solemn gesture of namaste. He wasn’t just thanking someone for something, but asking for an opportunity to return the favor. That’s how I came to understand expressions of gratitude.

In America, by contrast, saying thank you often marks an end to the transaction, an end to the conversation, an end to the interaction. It is like a period at the end of a sentence. Only in the United States have people offered thanks for coming to their homes or parties. Initially I was surprised when people thanked me for visiting their house when they were the ones who’d invited me, but then I learned that, “Thank you for coming to my home” actually meant, “It’s time for you to get out of my house.” [continue]

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