How often do you say thank you? 20 times a day? 50? Back in Michigan, my parents taught us to thank people for every gesture, large and small. As an adult, I send my parents handwritten thank you notes after we visit, and were teaching our little guys to do the same. (Heres one from Toby, ha!)
So, I was fascinated to hear Deepak Singh, who grew up in the Indian city of Lucknow and now lives in the U.S., say: Ive never thanked my parents for anything. In an Atlantic essay, he explains…
In India, people especially when they are your elders, relatives or close friends tend to feel that by thanking them, youre violating your intimacy with them and creating formality and distance that shouldnt exist. They may think that youre closing off the possibility of relying on each other in the future.
Curious, I spoke to my friend Kavi, whose parents moved from India to New Jersey a few years before she was born.
My parents actually taught us not to say thank you to them. It puts a formality into the relationship and makes it seem like you cant expect to ask favors of each other. Growing up, my aunts and uncles would give us presents, and if I thanked them, they would get offended. They would say, its my duty, youre my niece, its not like I did a favor for you, this is our relationship.
My husband and I once went out to dinner with my father, and after he paid for dinner, I said thank you as a force of habit. It made him very uncomfortable. He expects gratitude, but he wants to know that its there always, not just for this little dinner, not just for this one thing. And taking us to dinner is how he shows his love. My aunt actually snapped at me, Why should you thank him? Its your birthright.
Also, now that Im in my thirties, there have been times when Ive wanted to treat my parents to a special dinner or a plane ticket to come visit. But often they try to refuse it. It reminds me of that popular book, The 5 Five Love Languages, which says people express (and crave) love in different ways: Words of Affirmation, Quality Time, Receiving Gifts, Acts of Service and Physical Touch. Im so used to words of affirmation or gifts, but quietly showing your gratitude through actions can be just as powerful, if not more.
I show my parents gratitude in other ways: whenever they need favors, whenever they need me to come home. I help them plan trips, make dinner reservations for my mom, renovate their bathroom. They would never say thank you. Its expected, this is what we do for each other. Its not like, you live this life, I live that life, Ill ask you a big favor… but instead, Ill just do it, no problem.
Deborah Fallows echoes that sentiment in the piece How Thank You Sounds to Chinese Ears:
Good friends are so close, they are like part of you, [my tutor] Danny said. Why would you say please or thank you to yourself? It doesnt make sense.
How do you say thank you in your family and culture? If your family is from India or China, do these anecdotes ring true to you? Im so curious to hear…
P.S. Do you pay for your parents, and how often do you say I love you?
(Photo by Sophie Burie)