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 we’re teaching our little guys to do the same. (Here’s 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: “I’ve 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, you’re violating your intimacy with them and creating formality and distance that shouldn’t exist. They may think that you’re 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. She agreed with Singh. “My parents actually taught us not to say ‘thank you’ to them,” she told me. “Growing up, my aunts and uncles would give us presents, and if I thanked them, they would get offended. They would say, it’s my duty, you’re my niece, it’s not like I did a favor for you, this is our relationship.”

Once, Kavi went to dinner with her dad and blanked on that cultural approach. After her father paid for the meal, she thanked him, as a force of habit, and it made him very uncomfortable. “My dad expects gratitude, but he wants to know that it’s there always, not just for this little dinner, not just for this one thing. My aunt actually snapped at me, ‘Why should you thank him? It’s your birthright.'”

The different communication styles 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. I’m used to words of affirmation or gifts, but quietly showing your thanks through actions or quality time can be just as powerful, if not more.

“I show my parents gratitude in other ways,” explains Kavi. “I help them plan trips, make dinner reservations for my mom, renovate their bathroom. I go home to visit when they want to see me. They would never say thank you. It’s expected: this is what we do for each other. It’s not like, you live this life, I live that life, I’ll ask you a big favor… but instead, I’ll 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 doesn’t make sense.”

This approach inspires me to try to help friends and family more, in both large and small ways. I loved Kavi’s examples.

What are the cultural approaches to gratitude in your family? If your family is from India or China, do these anecdotes ring true to you? I’d love to hear…

P.S. Do you pay for your parents, and how often do you say “I love you”?

(Photo of my dad and me.)