“I’ve Never Thanked My Parents for Anything”

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.

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 can’t 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, it’s my duty, you’re my niece, it’s 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 it’s 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? It’s your birthright.”

Also, now that I’m in my thirties, there have been times when I’ve 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. I’m so used to words of affirmation or gifts, but quietly showing your gratitude through actions can be just as powerful, if not more.

Says Kavi:

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. 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.”

I’m inspired to try to help friends and family more, even in just little ways. I loved Kavi’s examples.

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? I’m so curious 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.)

  1. Yaso says...

    I am a south Indian born American, immigrated nearly 18 years ago. When I grew up in India, thanking anyone in the family was considered very formal and distancing the relationships. So I was never used to thank inside the family. When I thanked my dad over the phone for lending his car and driver during our last visit which made our life a lot easier, he said protested saying that it is his duty to help his daughter but I could read the gladness in his voice. My Mom has now started thanking for the things that I buy for her in the both the countries by mentioning them and how it has helped her. My MIL and FIL manage ro appreciate the things and helpful deeds I do for them. These make me feel wanted and valued. Moving to America, I, my hubby and my kids have imbibed the American common culture of saying thank you and please in the family as well. I am practicing it with both the sides of the family and have seen the difference it makes when you spell it out loud. Now I have got so used to being thanked by my kids and family for the big and small chores I do for them that I was shocked by my husband’s niece’s(who was brought up in India and now got a job in US) behaviour of not only not saying thank you but passing not so positive remarks for the favors that I do for her. I thoufht that, She waa normally not a rude person but this behaviour was very rude. Even after gently mentioning it she vociferously defended her behaviour that she appreciated the help but it is not neccessary/ norm to let me know. That really bothered me and makes me think twice about the next time. But I recognized this pattern of patriarchical behavior from south India, where the DIL of the family is culturally expected to thanklessly lick everyone’s butt and bear all criticisms with out a retort. You don’t hear a thank you or kind words. If you don’t hear anything, then you did a good job! Many educated and independent DILs feel used up and unappreciated because of this uptight culture and increasingly do not want to be in such culturally abusive but accepted paradigms thus increasingly seek either divorce or nuclear families in south India. Saying thank you in the family should be incorporated in to the south Indian society to bring to everyone’s realization of the importance of not only feeling thankful but also realize the value of help and benevolence inside the family. If you appreciate the help why not say it out to the person who did it! After all someone took the time, love and effort to do things for you! If at all the family structure needs to live like it had been just say simple words like thank you! In a world where you increasingly communicate over a distance most of the time, words play a major role. Use nicer words inside the family as well! Communicate fellas!

  2. shannon Lazcano says...

    My comment is kinda opposite. I am American, brought up to always say thank you and having to kiss/hug hello/goodbye to my relatives when gathered together for holidays. I always felt uncomfortable having to hug/kiss my relatives. Later as an adult I realized I felt this way because both my parents never practiced this type of relationship with me, meaning they never hugs me or kissed goodnight ect. They were distant, not close so when I was told to hug and kiss my relatives is was a foreign concept.
    All through my childhood and even to this day I tell my mother thank you when it is required and even try to make her believe it by including an explanation as to why I am thankfull. The thing is, it is never reciprocate, just like hugging me to say hello or to show affection as parents do with their children so they know they are loved. I do the opposite of how I was raised and probably go over board with my own 2 girls so they know they are loved and dont go grow feeling awkward when hugging myself and those close to them. They tell me love me just because as I do them and its a normal thing. To this day and my entire life because of the way I was raised, I never get to hear my mother say she is thankful for anything I have done for her or offer her. Instead she will compare me to someone else and say things like ” you should be more this or that ” Being raised this way keeps a void between myself and mother. Even if she is proud of my accomplishments in life like my career, my children ect. I wouldnt know this. In fact as hard as I try to please her or to know I am loved and am important to her, I wouldnt know this and do not feel good enough through her eyes. In recent years I have told her this and made it known by telling her, ” you know mom, its ok to tell me you love me or hug me when we see eachother or talk on the phone, because youve neglected to say/do these things all your life” Even after making it clear she lacked these skills and then attempting to correct these mistakes, it feels very forced because I know she is uncomfortable. Also, she can tell me I am more important to her than for example a new boyfriend. Its the decisions that follow that comment that makes it untrue or not felt to feel real. Such as, spending Christmas holiday with the boyfriend and his family while her only living daughter and 2 grandchildren sit home alome as they werent invited and have no other family to be with.
    So, with this said, in my American upbringing…it is not a way of life to live or believe it is the duty of the parent to things for your child as a given and thats how it should be. Sounds wonderful though. If you dont have to tell your parents thank you for their kindness it is because it is a known fact the child is thankfull and the parent lives for their child. And thats the way it. This brings the child consistent knowing they are important to their parents and are truley loved and wanted in their parents eyes. Saying thankful is a way of simply showing respect to my mother. My current relationship with my mother is having to please her, make sure she knows I appreciate her and that she deserves to be happy. It is the opposite way around. It is very hard this way. There have been great periods of time I wouldnt be able to keep a relationship like this with her as it was becoming very stressfull day to day and it was easier not having her in my life. Now I realize I have to accept what I can get from her and thats it. Ive tried talking, she refuses to see a therapist with me, if there is anyway to make her see her daughter aslo needs to know she is important and appreciated I would love the feedback to try with her. My father was never close to me growing up but today after years of prison d/t alcoholism he shows me more acceptance and love than anyone else. My mother looks at this as a betrayal to her and she tells me not to speak to my father. She doesnt approve of myself keeping a relationship with him and remains very vocal about this. When I lost contact with my father last year because he was back in jail for breaking his probation..when he was out 6 months later he called my mom to obtain my number to contact me. She refused to tell him so I couldnt keep any form of a relationship with him. Another 6 months went by and by coinsistence I learned where he now lived and was able to speak with him again. This is how I learned this. Her side of the family, well according to her all feel I am stupid if I want to continue to maintain a relationship with my father. She doesnt get it that even though he messed up a big part of his life and suffers from alcoholism that he by far goes out of his way to keep in touch with me by simply calling me on a weekly basis and is persistent. He tells me he realizes he was only their for my brother as kids and is sorry for this but wants to make it up to me and keep a close relationship with him now if I allow him this. He tells me I am important to him and being a grandpa is the most important thing in his life. My mom would simply tell me im stupid to believe him. Thanks for any comments or suggestions to gain appreciation by my mother.

  3. Teslasays says...

    I have a different take on this. I also grew up in India and was constantly told by relatives that I didn’t need to thank them. But my parents always taught me to thank people and I agree with them. Thanking does not create formality and distance. Instead it reminds people to be grateful. Kindness in any form should not be taken for granted. Saying thank you reminds people that they are receiving kindness from another person and that they should acknowledge this. My parents and I continue to show kindness to each other in every way possible, even though they live in India and I live in Norway. Each act of kindness is always rewarded with a thank you. The more one says “thank you” and reflects on it, the more gratitude one feels.

  4. That’s true I never said thank you or sorry to my parents.. it sounded so weird but now it has changed most of the kids in Indian cities say thank you and sorry to parents … my son does that all the time..

  5. christine jones says...

    I am Jamaican. We follow the typical training of children: teaching them to say ‘thank you’ and “I am sorry”. My mother was a strong believer in this; however my father believes that children do not owe their parents anything except just being good children. Growing up and even now that I am near 50 he still complains when I use the words ‘please’ or ‘thank you’ to him. He says children are not obligated to parents but parents are obligated to children.

  6. I have a 19 month old boy and we talk a lot. Lately he has been saying thank you to people when we are out in the world and I always smile and feel happy about it. I had this slightly uncomfortable interaction with him today though when I bought him a new thermos and he seemed to really like it. I told him to say thank you….but as I was telling him I felt really silly. It was as if I was telling him to do it out of habit(this is how my parents treated me sort of thing) and when I heard myself telling him to thank me it felt really wrong. I much prefer what I read in this post(:

  7. So interesting! My husband and I started learning Hindi and someone asked us what the word for please was, we had no idea. Even when we were India no one had taught us what it was. Whereas if someone came to Canada to learn English please, thank you and sorry would be some of the first words you would be taught!

    Even the sub cultural differences between how my husband and I were raised is so different in this area (despite both being Canadian). In his parents home if you don’t say thank you for everything, multiple times it is rude. Where as in my parents home we were taught to do things without expecting to be thanked.

    Also interesting what A.Madhavan said, I wonder how the gender issues play into saying thank you in India as well and what women there are really feeling.

  8. Oh yes, we Indians don’t believe in formal “thank yous” and sorry, we are expressive in that way!

  9. joanna! i am SO glad you posted this! i just began nannying for a family that comes from India and i was just saying to my partner, “she is just the sweetest little girl, but she never says ‘thank you’ and i can’t figure out why!?” i’m so pleased to have a different perspective on this, and now i know that i’m truly considered part of the family as it’s not expected for her to express her gratitude to me. also such a relief that it isn’t something i feel the need to address any longer. xoxo

  10. My husband is South Indian so I am very familiar with this concept. By the time I came along into my husband’s family, I thanked my Telugu mother in law for everything, especially when she cooked for us. She told me that she had never felt so appreciated in her life. She also complained a lot about how nobody appreciated her hard work, nor did anybody ever think to thank her for it because that’s what she was culturally “expected” of her to do. In India, many women of that generation are born into families and taught that they are inadequate for being born female, and that men somehow are superior. All the housework and child-rearing duties fall entirely on the women because they are viewed as lesser than men, and nobody is ever entitled to thank them.
    I wanted to point out one thing as well, the article writer is a man; and India is also a culture which is just beginning to come out of patriarchy. Many times women and their non-stop hard work within the home is not appreciated nor acknowledged – and not thanking them for all they do…only benefits men who believe they are entitled to it because they were lucky enough to be born men.
    While I do appreciate the article, there is a lot of gender based cultural context to it.

  11. Lavi says...

    We moved 3 years ago from England in Finalnd I it was shock for me that in finnish langauge they don’t have the word “please” and don’t use “thank you” at all! my daughter is 4 and she is not using “please ” she is just saying : ” mummy give me that!” Like ans order ! So I can relate with your article a lot! Great reading!

    • Katia says...

      I’m a finn, and we do say thank you! Not saying it is just bad manners.
      But we do not have the word “please”, which causes some problems for the traveling finns I guess, as we can come across as rude if not paying attention and remembering to add the please. This lack of please is often softened though, so instead of saying “give me that”, which would sound like a command even in finnish, we rather say “could you give me that”.

      Also, we do not say “I love you” all the time, that would be really awkward if someone did. And hand written thank you notes? If I ever received one, I would think this person has either lost her/his mind, or is actually making fun of me somehow!

  12. Ana says...

    I say ‘thank you’ many times… I’m in my thirties but with no kids yet and still I realize more and more how lucky I am to have my parents as my parents. So I also tell them that and let them know they raised us well and prepared us good for life and to be kind people. I also give them presents that they would not get themselves, like a fancy romantic dinner or flight tickets. If you do it for Christmas or their birthdays, they are not so good at refusing. ;)

  13. Sowmya says...

    Hi Joanna,
    I live in Bangalore and even now as a 30 year old, whenever I am at my mother’s home, my dad will get gas filled in my car, my mum will get my clothes washed(and ironed!) and pack dinner just so that I don’t have to cook when I get back to my apartment – all without expecting to hear a thank you.
    On the flip side, I am expected to go to their place (20 miles away) and water their plants when they are travelling, pay for dinner if we go out, buy a new microwave oven because they want it and not expect to hear a thank you from them. Its more a system of “doing-your-duty-towards-the-ones-you-love”. That way LOVE is implied and not told.

    In hindsight, this does lead to quite a bit of take-for-granted and be-taken-for-granted scenarios. This are definitely changing in recent times and just last month I heard my mum thank me for paying for her vacation. Now if you ever see pigs flying – go right ahead and assume that my staunch Indian mother used the word LOVE ;)

  14. I love this piece so so much and find other cultures’ perspectives on this issue fascinating. I struggle with how to express my gratitude. For example, I know that thank you notes are polite and expected where I live, but I sometimes feel insincere writing them–especially when I’ve already had an opportunity to express my gratitude in person. I also struggle with how to thank my parents. They do SO much for me, and I want them to know that I’m aware and appreciative. But I also know that they wouldn’t have it any other way. I took the opportunity this Mother’s Day to thank my mom (or at least try):

  15. Chandana says...

    I was born in India but brought up in the UK and I think I mostly agree than in Indian cultures there is less of an emphasis on verbal manners and more of an emphasis on showing appreciation through actions.

    Whilst I think excessive uses of please and thank you and other formal words do create barriers between family members (I see this in my boyfriend’s white British family), I think the Indian system of behaving in a certain way to show appreciation links a family together too much – if such a thing exists. By not saying please and thank-you, you instead have to give your parents and family an overly large influence on your life. To be specific, my parents want me to marry another Indian and if I don’t then they will see it as me betraying them/not paying them back for all the effort they put into raising me. There are of course other examples – choice of degree at university, choice of job…all the way down to more mundane examples.

    Another poster put it just right – modern Western cultures are more about individualism and Eastern cultures are about collectivism. Both have positives and negatives. The negatives of Western cultures are that sometimes you don’t have a comprehensive family network to care for you and you feel you can’t ask certain things of your parents. The negatives of Eastern cultures are you’re very much expected to toe the party line with regard to marriage, sexuality, social life, even dress code – which can be restrictive. I’d love to be able to give my children a happy medium – Eastern style support and unconditional love whilst still allowing them to make their own decisions.

  16. Jenna says...

    I recently lived in France for a year and was completely fascinated that they didn’t have a word for “You’re Welcome.” Which is what I automatically say in response to thank you. Even the phrase “De Rien” wasn’t often used, instead a nod or a small smile in response to Merci. I’m from the South though and Thank You’s and thank you cards are a huge part of the culture. I have to admit I do find it bizarre when my best friend writes and mails me a thank you card for a bridal shower gift or the like, but its just what you do! Interesting topic though!

  17. Hanne M says...

    Interesting! I’m Norwegian and we say thank you to our parents (but not I love you, at least not in our family! That would be soooo strange!!) My parents help us a lot, and I say thank you and try to help them back as much as I can. I have a two year old son, and I’m so proud when he says “thank you” when he gets something from someone. I feel like I’ve done my duty by learning him to say it. <3 cultural differences <3 :)

  18. I grew up in India, and yes, I find it odd to say a thank you every time. Saying a thank you hasn’t been imbibed in us, however, I make it a point to still say a few thankyous – every time I am touched by another person’s actions – even if it is my mom.

  19. Kim says...

    I think that’s so true… I’m Chinese but was raised in a Western environment my whole life but my family and we still rarely say ‘thank you’ or ‘I love you’ – we’re a unit, a family, we are together and always will be there for each other, it’s almost something that doesn’t need to be acknowledged, which always makes me feel like I have a super supportive, safe cloud of people around me, regardless of circumstance :)

    • Jen Jiang says...

      As an American Born Chinese, I wholeheartedly agree with this comment. In my lifetime (I’m 23), I rarely remember hugging my parents or showing physical signs of affection either.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      that’s really beautiful, kim.

  20. Erica H. says...

    LOVE THIS. I feel like “thank yous” between close family members, like parent and child, create distance and formality; it starts to feel like loving actions are conditional. I was raised to say “thank you” for EVERY THING, but that’s not how I’m raising my kiddos. Thanks (haha) for sharing this.

  21. Growing up in North America (in Canada), my parents taught me that saying thank you was part of being polite, and was necessary for human interaction. I can understand the cultural differences though. I feel like my parents have done so many things for me, and continue to do things for me, that I could say thank you non-stop for the rest of my life, and it would never be enough. I try to be there for them when they need me, I spend time with them, and will continue to do all I can to keep our relationship strong.

    Kristi | Be Loverly

  22. Mekhala says...

    I am Indian, born and raised there, and now live in the United States. I completely understand the sentiment echoed in this article, it would be embarassing for me to say please and thank you to my parents and close relatives. Raising a child in America comes with some intersting challenges in these departments, especially when you don’t want your child to be perceived as rude. Agree with the “I love you” echoed in comments too, my parents rarely said it to me and I felt completely loved still! But I say it 1000 times a day to my own child.

  23. Kate says...

    I’m a life-long Wisconsinite (and raised by life-long Wisconsinites) so thank you is probably the phrase I say most often throughout the day. (Once when I was out for drinks with friends, they laughed at me for saying “thank you” to the ATM when it dispensed my cash :D) I believe firmly in the importance of saying please, thank you, you’re welcome (I judge dates on whether they say “thank you” and “please,” especially to the waiters and bartenders), but I can certainly see the other side of things.

    What’s funny to me is the fact that my mom balks when I ask if I can come home to visit. I’m asking as more of a “If I come to visit, will you be free to spend time with me?” but she worries that I don’t feel as though it’s my home.

  24. Lisa says...

    One interesting cultural difference I’ve noted between my family (South African) and my husbands (French) is the frequency with which we say “I love you”. In my family, we say it all the time, it’s how I end calls to my mom but for my husband’s family, they never say it; it’s just understood that of course he loves his parents and they love him. They know it by how they act towards each other rather than through words

  25. Kathryn says...

    I think my parents really appreciate whenever my husband and I say “thank you” because it directly shows our gratitude. Everyone wants to feel needed and when we show appreciation for what they do it validates these feelings. Some of my family members show more entitlement than others and it’s rare to hear them say “thank you”. My parents notice that this “birthright” attitude is more taking than giving and it wears them thin.

  26. Rebecca says...

    How insightful. Both my family and my husband’s family are American, but I am from the South where manners include a huge emphasis on “please” and “thank you.” His family, Westerners, don’t tend to use polite phrases. That has always made me a little crazy, but now I realize that they show their gratitude by their actions, by these “favors” as the articles you linked to call them. The way that they care for each other so easily is one of my favorite things about them. So, this post has helped me finally see that they aren’t lacking in “manners” – they just show their gratitude in a different way!

  27. Preeta says...

    I’m South Asian and yes, I can relate to the not-saying-thank-you within the family thing. We never said it growing up, though there were certainly very strong ideas of showing gratitude and respect in other ways. For example, when we went to see my grandmother — whom I adored and was very close to — I would always kneel down and touch my forehead to her feet upon arrival and upon departure. But please and thank you were not words we said, and I do still feel very weird saying those words to my parents and partner. My mother has a memory of going to visit a cousin of hers when she was a child, and being struck by how that family said thank you to each other — so yes, there are exceptions, of course, but they’re just that, exceptions.

    I have to disagree with the poster who said there’s no word for thank you in any Indian language except Hindi — sorry, that’s just not true! I am a Tamil speaker and we do have a word, nandri, but it’s reserved for very formal exchanges and almost never used within a family.

  28. Ellen says...

    Very interesting topic!

    I’m Norwegian and was taught to say thanks. We don’t use please very often, though, that’ very formal. We say “may/could I” instead.

    I say thanks for dinner (“takk for maten”), thanks when I receive a gift, thanks when someone helps me, does me a favour and when I get my change back at the shops. I thank my kids for clearing the table, fetching me things and cleaning up toys. It’s both politeness and a genuine sentiment from my side: the polite remark is a sign of my gratitude and/or respect, the two go together.

    I would never, though, write thank you notes. Only a few major events during my life calls for that: confirmation (at 14, assisted by parents), my wedding, my children’s birth/Christening and after my own funeral.

    I thank my mother when she helps me or buys stuff for the kids, I say “thanks for coming to visit us”, meaning “it was nice to see you”, when she’s leaving (she lives far away), but in no way do I feel like I owe my parents anything for what they gave to me growing up. That’s just the natural order of things – you choose to have children, you have to provide for them. They don’t owe you anything other than respect (if you treat them well, that is). This whole “they gave me life” is just corny in my ears. I guess I’m just not grateful by default. :-)

    And I never say I love you to anyone except my wife. In Norwegian we have more than one word for love. “Elske” is how I feel about my partner, the love of my life. And while I clearly also love my children, more than my partner if I had to rank them, I express it with “glad i deg”, which is not as strong, but is completely void of anything romantic. But that’s just my personal preference.

  29. Carol says...

    I love all these interesting comments!

    I’m Australian and I was raised to always say please and thank you for everything – gifts, someone passing you the salt, someone giving you a drink, someone holding the door open for you, to whoever had cooked dinner etc. Thank you notes weren’t a big thing though, except to relatives who sent birthday gifts by post – my Nanna always made sure we wrote a letter.

    My siblings and I were raised by a single parent Dad to be quite independent and not to feel too entitled to things from anyone. For example last time my Dad fixed something on my car I cleaned his house while he was doing it and we both said thank you to each other.

    Now I live in Spain and all my Spanish friends think it’s so silly how I say please and thank you for every little thing. They say that with friends and family you don’t have to say please and thank you for small courtesies (like passing things at dinner), it’s implied by the tone you use. Bigger things will get a thank you though.

    • Pilar says...

      Hi Carol,
      I’m spanish and I say thank you and please for everything and I teach my children that way. I also have an australian BIL who barely says thank you and please just like his family… ;)

    • Carol says...

      Don’t worry Pilar I wasn’t trying to generalise about everyone :) You’re right to comment though as we have to remember that with all of these cultural observations it depends on individuals and their family’s preferences. (In Australia I was often shocked at the way some friends spoke to their parents when we were younger, as it would never have been allowed in my house!)
      Here I’ve noticed some people do say please and thank you a lot, especially with strangers. But among the people I know it seems many think it’s not necessary to say please and thank you every time something is passed at the dinner table etc.

  30. In Korea, there are formal and informal usages of ‘thank you.’ The formal one is used when receiving gifts (usually cash) from elders (usually grandparents) at holidays (usually New Year’s Day) — it’s accompanied by a solemn head-to-floor bow. The informal one is common among peers for flirting, joking, furthering casual intimacy.

  31. Pemmy says...

    India speaks 780 languages. Unfortunately there is no word for “thank you” in any of those languages *gasp*! Except in Hindi of course, which is dhanyavād/shukriya.
    As of July 1 2014 the population of India was estimated at 1,267,401,849 and roughly 425 million of them speak Hindi as a first language (and I’m pretty sure they “say” thank you when they mean it). But this guy-Deepak Singh probably speaks Punjabi (judging by his last name) and not Hindi. So I mean, come on, what can we folks do if it doesn’t exist in our lexicon?! But doesn’t mean we don’t feel or express appreciation and gratitude. Because we do.

  32. Lane says...

    This is fascinating! I say thank you probably one hundred times a day. It was definitely ingrained in me to express appreciation for everything. I say I love you a lot as well. I wonder, though, if by saying these words so much their potency dwindles a little. Maybe it’s sometimes better to only say thank you and I love you when you really mean it, rather than out of habit. Really interesting post!
    xx Lane

  33. SB says...

    Having been raised in an average American home, I come from a very different school of thought. My father thrives off of helping and pleasing others, so when we received gifts as children, we were always expected to express our gratitude. If we didn’t make a display of excitement about our gift, I could tell that he was worried we didn’t like it. I suppose that’s carried over to me as well. When my husband acknowledges that I’ve done something for him, even if it’s something expected, like the dishes or laundry, it always makes me feel good.

    All that said, I find it fascinating to see how other cultures handle such exchanges. Thank you so much for the lovely article :)

  34. Casey says...

    I loved this post! I come from a conservative American family and my husband is from Argentina. We spend a lot of time in Argentina and I noticed a similar tradition there. It is not as intentional–where it is considered rude to thank family members–but there is definitely a far more apparent sense of community where help and favors are a given. When reminiscing with ANYONE about Argentina, you can be sure that “the people” are what we miss the most about this beautiful country. We feel deeply supported by my husbands friends and family. That is not to say that we do not feel supported by my American counterparts, but dare I say, there is a lot less guilt involved (even if that’s on me to feel guilty)!

  35. This is such an interesting idea and highlights a cultural difference I did not quite realize existed. I’m from Ohio, and we did verbal and written thank-yous for everything, including things from parents. I remember a time in college when a few friends from my Turkish language class and I went out to dinner at a Turkish restaurant. Our teacher (who was a Turkish native) just happened to be there as well, and he sent over a dessert to our table. We wrote him a thank-you note and gave it to him the following week. He just stood there laughing at us, as if this note was the goofiest and most mystifying tradition. He even said, “you Americans!” I hadn’t really made those connections until now. Thanks for writing about this intriguing topic.

  36. Katie says...

    Thank you for sharing this! I’m American and my mom always expects me to say please and thank you for EVERYTHING. I told her before that it seems way too formal and makes me feel uncomfortable. She never understood, but I’m glad to hear that so many other people do.

  37. Jasmine says...

    I’m Indian (born and raised in Canada) and this is very true. We tend not to say please and thank you to our family members or close family friends. It does put a strange, very awkward formality on the relationship and any time my parents have said thank you to me it’s been embarrassing for all of us. There’s an unspoken expectation of doing things for each other and expecting certain things to be done for you, that underlies our familial relationships and are themselves expressions of love and devotion.

  38. This is fascinating and kind of wonderful. For some reason, I have ALWAYS felt a little strange saying “please” and “thank you” to my family members (and even my husband). It’s always bothered me a little, because I consider myself a very well-mannered person! After reading this, something hit me hard. I think it might be because it really does add a sense of formality to a a very close and intimate relationship! When I thank my parents for anything, they always say, “You don’t need to thank us; we are your parents. This is what we love doing!” Thank *you* for putting my mind at ease and giving me some insight into myself. :)

  39. Karen says...

    I used to pay for my parents travel to see me and family vacations, even when I was a struggling college student. Ten years of planning every trip and taking care of every detail ground to a halt this year, when I realized they had come to take this for granted in order for them to visit. I realized this was a small part of a bigger family dynamic where I was bidding for their love and bending myself into a pretzel to have my father accept and like me. When the waiting-on-them-hand-and-foot service stopped–along with the big bills for flights, car service, and restaurants when they visited–my father stopped coming around. Very sad. My mother still makes the effort to come, and even help me, and I love her for it. I am glad that my newborn daughter will see a model of her mother (me!) acting with dignity and self-worth instead of trying to buy a distant father’s love.

  40. I think the American “habit” of profusely thanking is a little bit gender biased too. I also profusely apologize…”thank you! thank you! sorry. excuse me, sorry, thank you” and I find that my husband is a please & thank you mute.

    Furthermore, I also was brought up with the expectation to show gratitude…as in it’d be devastating for me NOT to write a thank you card. I get weekly check-ins from the mother in law as to how far I am on the thank you cards for our wedding and who’s gotten one, who’s not…but this pressure is put on me, not my husband who I’m having write his family’s cards. Is it more a female American thing than a wholly American thing?

    • Yes, agreed! Gender definitely plays a role in this. I feel like once you are married there is an unwritten rule that women are in charge of all the thank you notes, emails etc. not to mention correspondence of any kind on both sides of the family.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      That’s true for our family, too. It’s funny, sometimes you don’t even realize the gender roles you’ve fallen into until you step back. The same thing happened for us after Toby was born; I got up every single morning with him before realizing that, wait, we should share that duty. It’s good to remember to analyze these things sometimes!

    • E says...

      Yes! I really loved that In Sonya sotomayor’s book she mentions that after her divorce, her former MIL mentioned that she now noticed how many gifts, letters and correspondence had been sent by SS rather than her son because post divorce she stopped receiving thungs. :)

  41. Jean says...

    America put a lot of value in individualism while Asian cultures emphasis collectivism. In my family, (my mother immigrated from Taiwan and my father is American) my sister and I don’t typically say thank you to our parents (and vice versa) because it is expected that you do things to benefit the family as a whole even if it is of some inconvenience to you. However, my sister and I, being born and raised in America, say thank you to each other all the time. While my sister and I would never hesitate to help each other no matter how it may affect ourselves, I really feel like there is less of an obligation to and thus we always say thank you.

  42. Kate says...

    This is a very fascinating look into gratitude in other cultures, but I’m glad that I was raised to write thank you notes – not just to say thank you, but doesn’t getting a little card in the mail put a smile on everyone’s face?

  43. I come from a family that was taught to always always send thank you notes. It has surprised people and often I get gratitude in return – just knowing that the gesture wasn’t overlooked. A thank you card after an interview helped land me a job and a thank you card to a coworker for a christmas present made her really pleased that I appreciated the gift.

    On the flip side, my family rarely says I Love You to each other. Perhaps if we are feeling particularly sentimental, but not often. To me, saying I Love You all the time makes it lose its meaning.

    • Meredith says...

      I’m actually like this with my husband. We say it rarely, but because of that it makes a huge impact when we do. We have other ways to express affection towards one another on a day to day basis.

  44. Renee says...

    I was astonished to discover the differences in Indian, Chinese cultures com-pared with American customs pertaining to Thank You, Please, I love you since I was raised with so-called American good manners. Is it any wonder that the world’s people cannot agree on so many really important things?

  45. Wow, this is really interesting. Definitely something I’ve never thought about! I say thank you constantly, and my parents are extremely generous. I think there is a lot to learn from this perspective, although in our culture I think just not saying thank you any more wouldn’t really fit. My mom raised us to express gratitude and to always write thank you cards. It’s interesting though; I grew up partly overseas but in a very international setting, and we had a lot of baby and wedding showers in our community. One (also American) woman still thanks me every time I see her for writing her a thank you card after my baby shower (we moved shortly after). It was the only thank you note she had ever received from all of the showers she had gifted at over there. I wonder if it’s partly for this reason…although there were a lot of westerners too, it may have just not been at all on the radar of the other cultures present. So many sides to it! I love that. (But I also think it’s awesome when everyone at a baby shower demands that the new mom NOT spend time writing notes!! Even if she ends up doing it ;)

  46. this is so fascinating. i love learning and reading about different cultures, it’s so interesting!

  47. What a different perspective! I think I was raised on the opposite spectrum in that my parents/family/husband don’t have to do the wonderful things they do for me. The older I get, the less I think of kindness as a “duty” and more of a gift. I’m one of those people that tells my husband I love him 500 times a day, ha!

    Danielle | D is for Dreamer

  48. Lais says...

    That´s fascinating Joanna!
    I say thank you, please and Sorry a billion times a day. To me is a way of making sure the other person knows I aknowledge whatever they are doing for me and that I appreciate it. For my parentes speacially, Im like the thank you maniac. They did and do so much for us!
    One time I was studying with my (twin!) sister and kept asking her to pass me the eraser or something. Each time I asked I said please and each time she handed me the eraser I said thanks. By the 5th time she snapped and said laughing: “Lais, it´s ok. I know you are very polite and thankful for the eraser. Stop saying it.” hahaha
    It´s a tiny example but reading how the chinese feel, I can relate. It can feel like a lack of intimacy. We absolutely would do anything for each other and it would never be considered a favor, just love. xoxo Lais

  49. Esha says...

    Being born and raised in India, I feel I have to chime in and add to this conversation. Like most countries, India has sub-cultures so it is not fair to paint it with one broad brush, however romantic the notion may be. In my family (and my school), we were taught to say thank-you. Yes, even to parents. No matter how close you are, no matter how much you love each other, expressing your gratitude is not just good manners, it’s expected. So this post surprised me, to say the least.

  50. Pam says...

    This is so fascinating, Joanna. I am South Asian, and I absolutely agree that my parents would be outright offended if I were to formally thank them for anything they do. They go out of their way for us and literally spend every minute thinking of what their kids need (even though we are all grown ups now!), so certainly, I ought to shower them with appreciation. However, I’m pretty sure that if I said “thank you,” my parents would laugh it off! What Deepak Singh writes really resonates with me. Thank you for sharing!

  51. Melanie says...

    I am Indian and this is very true. My husband is very uncomfortable to hear our children say “thank you” to us, and feels that I am too Westernized to think it’s okay. It’s a balance – showing gratitude while also maintaining the intimacy between relatives which affirms the expectation that we DO for each other because that is what is right and natural. And as others have noted, there are many ways of showing gratitude besides saying “thank you”. I think it’s important for our children to be grateful, and beyond the words, recognize what others do for them.

  52. Jackie says...

    As there are a few comments here touching on the differences between Mainland China and Taiwan, I wanted to add that there is an ancient Chinese saying (one that very much precedes the China/Taiwan political divide) that speaks directly to this: JIA REN BU XIE. This translates roughly to: ‘it is inappropriate to thank your family members’.

    My parents are Shanghainese, but they ended up fleeing to Taiwan. It was actually considered bizarre in our family to thank each other — not rude, exactly, but something only ‘Westerners’ would do. Ditto for ‘I love you’.

    These days this is more an issue with friends — I’ve probably inadvertently offended some people by not saying ‘thank you’ readily enough. But whereas it seems rude not to say ‘thank you’, consider that it is, in actual fact, a compliment! It means you’re considered family!

    Food for thought — thanks for this post, super interesting!

  53. what a timely post! My parents spent their entire weekend at my house (an hour away) to come help me paint, cut, and install baseboards for my ENTIRE HOUSE. It was no easy feat, but i couldn’t have done it without them, and the place looks so incredible now. I was so so stressed about it, but it’s done because of their help. I want to cry with gratitude when I think of how much they peace of mind they gave me, not to mention time and money! When I thanked my mom she said, “honey that’s just what we do. Families come in and help out. We love you so it’s not a big deal, not at all!”
    In my head I know what she’s talking about, but that’s the thing with gratitude–it MUST be expressed! And they gave up a weekend they needed (to find a new home and start packing) so one of the few ways I know i can show them my gratitude is to just make sure I’m helping out with moving day and packing.

  54. Cindy says...

    I come from very much the same school of saying thank you often. I was taught to write my thank you notes out when I received gifts. I think more so, though when you receive an unexpected gift or rather a gift from someone that you aren’t close with. I’m teaching my boys to the same. I do get very irritated when I go to a wedding or a shower and don’t get a thank you note back for 6 months or longer. I think it’s rude.

  55. AK says...

    This was a very interesting post and a topic I’ve often considered. As an American twenty-something with older parents, I’ve seen an interesting shift in our relationship as they age out of the “Keeping up with the Joneses” mindset where everything must appear perfect. Experiencing the “real” them has been a delight.

    I suspect that I, as most children, took them for granted growing up — withholding “thank yous” and even happy reactions though my favorite jeans were always clean, the best brands of cereal always in the pantry, an extra bottle of that nasty French Vanilla coffee creamer that I thought made me oh so sophisticated — and now I rather feel that I should make up for it. Saying “thank you” for little things like leftovers to take home, calling for no reason other than just to talk, watching a marathon of the worst TV ever because it makes them laugh … I wish I could tell the teenaged me to show appreciation for those little things.

    I do not, however, agree with the idea of not saying “please and thank you” to yourself. As a writer, my brain is the key to earning a living and living the life that speaks to my soul — and I thank it daily, both with words and by just being kind to it (no smoking, lots of water, plenty of games, yoga). I see the flip side of Deborah Fallows’ argument as “If you can’t take the time to be grateful to yourself, how can you be sure you aren’t taking everyone else for granted?”

  56. I feel the same way about giving thanks to my parents. I usually say thank you to them but they don’t feel very comfortable. They always respond with some facial reaction or gesture that lets me know that I shouldn’t say thank you to them. It’s exactly how I feel when my kids say thanks to me for things that are not manners related, but more so things that I did for them like helping them with something they needed. I feel it’s my job to do so and that I don’t want them to feel that I did it to get a “thank you ” in response.
    This may be linked to the loss of ego we experience when we become parents. Automatically, they take the first place in our lives and they are what matters the most.
    Lovely post, Joanna.


  57. Oh this is so interesting! My partner is from India and his thoughts closely echo those you outlined–to him, there is no need to say “thank you” or even “I love you” (at least not all the time) to those you are closest to. I’ve never heard him say either to his family, and not for any other reason than it is simply not need or expected. I’ve tried thanking his mom on numerous visits and she just laughs–silly American I am! :)

  58. Gabriela says...

    I’m French-Canadian and I say “please”, “thank you” and “sorry” all day long. I thank my mom for everything from coming to visit to pouring me a cup of coffee. I think it’s very Canadian to be maybe excessively polite. For example, when I’m at a restaurant I’ll say “I’m so sorry, could I please have some more water? Thank you so much!”. My boyfriend was raised differently, so he’ll just say “Can I get some more water?”. This makes my skin crawl ha! That being said, I also believe in showing gratitude through actions. For example, if a family member or friend asks me to help them move, I do it no questions asked.

  59. I loved this post! It’s funny, being American, I do write thank-you notes and say thank-you for most things-but I totally understand the other way. When my friends or close family thank me for something, it always seems strange. Of course I would do these things for you, why would you thank me for it!

  60. I love the attitude that your family is a special part of your life that doesn’t require thanks! It’s so touching to think of your loved ones that way…as always there for you to be depended upon. I grew up in the American South, and my parents are pretty informal, but in general people in the South expect the opposite of their children. You address your parents as “Ma’am” and “Sir,” you always say thank you, and you had better send a note! I’m not raising my kids exactly that way, but they are expected to say thank you. My daughter even thanks me for making dinner every night (she’s 3!). I like to think, though, that I’m not negating the idea that I will always be there, but rather teaching my kids to appreciate the little acts of love and kindness that they are shown every day.

  61. I’m so heartened to hear that you’re such a stickler for thank you notes, Joanna! I’m also trying to establish a culture of thanks with my two small children. I was brought up in England with traditional values and now live in the States. It’s amazing the subtle cultural differences between the two nations, but this article really opened my eyes to significant differences. Everyone’s comments are fascinating. Thank you for starting this conversation and to all those who shared.

    Presents, Prose & Politesse

  62. I’m Filipino and it’s the same for us. You show your gratitude by your actions not your words. I’ve never heard my parents say I love you to me, my brother, or to each other but their actions speak volumes that a simple “I love you” could never capture. Sometimes I think saying these things is more for the sender than the receiver, to clarify, to affirm their intentions. But actions, true and genuine actions of love and gratitude, needs no words, it is felt and simply understood. Great post Joanna!

  63. Whats sounds peculiar to me as a greek girl, is how many time American people (as I have seen it in films) say ”I love you” to boyfriends/parents/kids/husbands etc. in the day.
    We don’t use I LOVE U (a phrase that describes a very deep intimate feeling) casually in any tiny circumstance! Instead we’ll say I miss you/thanks for being so helpful/Have a nice day at work…

  64. Lizet Riquelme says...

    I’m from Chile (South America), I think in my conutry saying thankyou is really common, but we are very informal about that. I don’t think I ever wrote a thankyou note! That’s for bussiness in Chile.
    To my beloved ones, I’m very pshysical, I say thankyou through a huge or a kiss in the chick, a lough, things like that, rather than acctually saying the words, I agree that I feel awkward earing too many thanyous from people.

  65. Rebecca says...

    I spent a year living in Finland where there is no word for please. It took me a while to get used to, at first I almost felt nevrous asking “can you pass the milk?”, it felt rather rude. It goes both ways, the kids I was looking after had a hard time getting used to saying please in English too. When your language does’nt have an equivalent it’s a difficult concept to understand.

  66. Hannah says...

    I’m Taiwanese American, first generation. Our family definitely says please and thank you! I read the Chinese article and the tutor is from mainland China. Customs in China and Taiwan are very different. Kids definitely say it as a form of respect. Parents may ask you to do something and not say please but it’s expected that you will do it out of filial piety. One Taiwanese American reader pointed out the same thing in the comments above. If you go out to a meal with your extended family, you always thank the hosts. Otherwise, it’s rude. There are also rules about who sits where in more traditional culture as a sign of respect.

  67. I sent my boyfriend the link to this ’cause this is similar to our situation. His parents taught him to always say please and thank you.
    Mine never did (our parents are both swiss). “Get me a pot holder” ,”go call your sisters”,”help me out here”, my mom would say. My boyfriend was shocked. Even with the amount of assistance my mum needed with her disabilities, she would never say please or thank you. We helped her a lot and she did amazing incredible things for us all the time. It’s just another language. I mean emotionally. Nowadays I say it too, or he feels “abused” :D !!

    • cyn says...

      Thank you! Same here! My boyfriend expects me to tell him Thank you for every little thing, including going to work. It confounds me, my Mom never saif thank you to my Dad for going to work, it’s a given – we show our gratitude by doing things to make life easier, not words

  68. I’m Chinese-Korean with parents who grew up in Hong Kong, Korea and America. I’ve always been taught to say thank you regardless of who the person is. I’m now wondering if this is something my parents picked up while living in America. One thing that has always stressed is that while being polite and respectful through words is important, showing my sincerity through actions is equally important.

  69. Alina says...

    Interesting thread! I’m Russian and I can relate to this Indian habit. I actually say thank you to my parents, but I definitely would not send a thankyou note to them: this would seem too formal for them. To be honest, I think they would be just shocked to receive a thankyou note from their own daughter. My grandmother, 85 (!), sometimes looks after my kids when they’re not in childcare. I am so thankful to her – but she always says “don’t thank me, they’re my family!”
    We also don’t say “I love you” too often. For me, these are precious words that are like jewellery: you shouldn’t use them every day. Instead, I teach my kids to show love in other ways, like help each other or bear with other person’s imperfections.

  70. This is so interesting, also the comments! I’m Dutch and we say thank you for, well, everything. When someone hands you the bread you asked for, or when they bring you a gift, when they do you a favour, anything. Some people even tell the busdriver thanks, but I personally don’t. I had no idea it could insult people, so this is really interesting to read. (I guess that’s a ‘thank you for sharing’?)

    • Suzanne says...

      Ha I’m one of those dutch people who thank the bus-driver. He got me to my destination in one piece. I also feel like it is not accepted to not say thanks you even if people do small things like passing the milk to you. I really love the idea of not saying thank you because it creates a distance but I don’t see that working here. Do you?

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      I think it’s cultural determined, almost part of speaking a foreign language. You have to follow the norms of the country you’re in at the time. Kavi, my friend whose parents are from India, says that she teaches her children to say thank you to everyone because they’re living in the US now. I think you have to do whatever the culture you’re in expects and understands.

  71. I come from a half Italian half Spanish family so we are always arguing, screaming and shouting. That’s how we show love and gratitude. We trust each other, that’s why we argue. But it’s not like we get mad. We just argue because this is how we speak! And that close relationship where you can say whatever you want but you now that, no matter what ,you have the other’s back is a way of saying thanks.
    It’s confusing sometimes, even more for people from other cultures, hahahah!

    • Jaclyn says...

      I’m not Italian but this is how my immediate family has always been with each other and my husband has never been able to accept it.

      When my mom, sister and I all go out to eat we inevitably end up in some big, loud “discussion” aka argument but then once it’s over, it’s no big deal. Afterward, my husband will comment how I am so mean to my sister and my mom, and I try to explain to him that just because we are open and honest and 100% forthcoming with each other does not mean we are being mean or that we don’t love one another.

      In his family, he’s afraid to even tell his mom that he hates Shepard’s Pie even though it’s what she cooks him EVERY SINGLE TIME he goes there for dinner.

      I feel that by being dishonest, or deceptive or if you “pretend” with your own family, then that is such a disservice to your relationship with them.

    • Mia says...

      i’m Italian on my dad’s side and Mexican on my mom’s side and we’re the same way! my partner’s family is white and it’s funny how different he and I are when communicating with each other. i’ll argue with him and he’ll want to drop it, which is so different from how my family interacts. passionately expressing differences in opinion is super common in the house I grew up in but when I do it with him or his family they totally recoil! I’m the most open and the most outspoken amongst people i’m closest to. if i’m arguing with you, it means your family!

  72. shopgirl says...

    I am European, but I think that Indian thinking is also very close to us. If all the things are always expressed aloud, that becomes too formal, binding .. and cold, impersonal.
    Instead constant thanking we just help when it is necessary, listen, understand, we visit each other as far as possible and most important! we take time for each other. Not just for holidays. Even condolences in a circle of relatives and friends we never send in writing, but always with visit or at least with phone call.
    Formal thanks remain more for acquaintances and colleagues.

    And yes, similar is with that constant repetition of “I love you”. It’s not like in America, where it has already become such a worn out phrase.
    We express it very rarely, nevertheless, we help our children, parents, loved ones, and we just try to be available for them always and everywhere.

  73. isabelled says...

    Amazing poem and great post once again. Love cupofjo!

  74. I am currently living in China, but my family is Taiwanese. I was born in LA and lived there for the first ten years of my life before moving to China. Now I’m back in the States for college. My parents are always telling my brothers and me to say thank you, even to our relatives back in Taiwan. My relatives don’t seem to be offended by it :) -Audrey | Brunch at Audrey’s

  75. I’m from India. With parents, siblings or even my husband, its always about actions and subtle gestures of affection rather than words. Infact our elders get offended because we firmly believe that a good gesture/deed can only be appreciated with a good gesture. No word or phrase can do justice to it otherwise. (Same policy with bad gestures is highly subjective. Ha-ha!) Of course we do say ‘thank you,’ and ‘sorry’ and ‘please’ in normal conversation. We were taught that! It’s charming to be polite. But with family, we are more than just polite. We take the kind of liberties that only strong affection can foster.I never say thank you to my parents in words or cards or phone calls. I just make sure I don’t ever have to say “I’m sorry” or “i cant” for anything they may need me for. That’s all. :)

    • Cyn says...

      Perfectly said!

  76. Gabrielle says...

    Thank you for this post. Born and raised in New Zealand, I got “please” and “thank you” drilled into me very well! The words are used differently in Dutch (I now live in Belgium) – they seem to use “please” more often, e.g. when holding open a door or when passing something over; but the habit of saying “no, thank you” when politely refusing something is something that I occasionally get strange looks for!
    I find it interesting what you say about the distance that can sometimes be created by saying “thank you” – last year, after my mother passed away, my father sent thank you cards to everyone who attended the funeral or sent a card, Including his children. I tried to see it as “just his way,” but actually I was offended by this gesture: it felt to me like he was claiming the grief all for himself, by thanking me for coming to the funeral of my own mother and helping out.
    Lastly: the words “please” and “thank you” do not exist in Maori (the language of the first people of New Zealand) or Papua New Guinea Tok Pisin (Pidgin English)! Again, it has to do with different expectations about relationships.

  77. Shirsha says...

    I’m an Indian, and continue to live in India. There is no other way of putting it – I am a chronic “thank you” sayer. I remember this one incident – it was my father in law’s birthday, and he had taken the whole family out for dinner. After dinner, as we were leaving the restaurant, and I thanked him for the dinner treat. My husband and sister in law turned to look at me like I was crazy or something. But now they’ve gotten used to it.

    I make it a point to say my thank yous when I really mean it. My parents, my in laws, my husband – they all brush it off usually. I don’t think of it as a response to a “favour” done to me, but as expressing my gratitude for something that I appreciate, even if it is something that is “expected” behaviour. I would hope to teach my children that too.

  78. Hi Joanna,

    I totally understand where Kavi is coming from. I was born and grew up in Singapore, my ancestors are Chinese. I never said I love you to my parents or explicitly said thank you to them. It just feels very formal and weird!
    However, we show by our actions – like buying food for each other (funny how in chinese culture, food is a way we often show love) or just accompanying them by our presence and laughs. I agree that this kind of intimacy can be broken by injecting words like Thank you or I love you. We are just not used to it! :)
    Now that I live in France, I have come to realise that my mum doesnt want a card saying Merry Christmas or Thank you, she just wants me on the phone telling her about my day , even then my husband who is French is surprised how few niceties are exchanged each conversation.
    We just talk and laugh but don’t say I miss you or I love you! It’s all in the unspoken acts I think.

  79. Interesting discussion. In the Philippines, our culture is heavily influenced by the U.S. but there is also a big part that is Asian. So ours is a mix of both cultures. Children are taught to say “please” and “thank you”. Otherwise, people will think their parents did not raise them well.
    But “thank you” extends beyond the words, especially within families, or if a big favor was granted to you. We have a concept called “debt of gratitude” (in our language: “utang na loob”), which means you are so thankful that you consider yourself in their debt for the rest of your life. For example, children are expected to take care of their parents in their old age. Or, you are expected to do small favors for another person later on if he helps you out today.
    The funny thing is, when you say thanks, the other person usually says “it’s nothing”, but down the road, nothing is really something :)
    Try these words:
    “Salamat” (Thanks)/ “Maraming Salamat, (po)” (Many thanks. Add “po” if saying to someone older.)

  80. Being English I would never dream of not saying thank you a squillion times! And I’m always telling my kids ‘Say thank you.’ ‘Did you say thank you?’ It’s in my DNA. Whenever I’m in New York I immediately curb it, because I suddenly sound silly. Other cultures are fascinating. Thanks for sharing this :-)

  81. Monica says...

    I’m actually Mexican but my parents think the same way! Saying thank you (at least with my family) implies that there was a favor done. But it’s family so we of course should/would do anything for each other :) no need for formal thank you’s! I feel it creates a distance as well.

  82. Laura says...

    My husbands family are Indo-Fijians who immigrated to Canada nearly 40 years ago. When I tried to send thank you cards for our wedding gifts it was very clear that that was just not done. So I just sent them to my family and friends. I struggle with how to express my gratitude to my mother in law who helps us out in many ways. When started to lean Hindi I asked my husband how to say thank you and he didn’t know the word in Hindi because they never said it when he was growing up. We have two daughters and when we remind my older one to thank her grandma she always replies in a tone that tells me it makes her feel like an outsider. It does immediately create a seperation it seems. I still say thank you to her out of habit but I’ve learned to express our gratitude in other ways.

  83. connie says...

    I’ve been living in Korea for ten years now.. Married to a Korean man for half of that time. We don’t say “thank you”, but instead use expressions to acknowledge the person’s hard work. After you’ve eaten, even if it’s at a restaurant, you say “I ate well!” which directly translated like that seems silly but the meaning behind it is gratitude for your food and the hard work that went into preparing it. Before you eat, the person who cooked it or serves it to you will say “Eat it deliciously!” which directly translated is grammatically incorrect.. lol but it’s a wish that you enjoy the food and of course, eat a lot! Also, for any service, a delivery at your home, the person working at a toll gate on the highway, the security guard in your building, etc. you say “You worked hard!” which implies a thank you for working hard and an acknowledgement of the work. This is also the case in a job setting, and can be said by a superior or member of your team with whom you are working. Even after I’m finished teaching an English class, some adults will use the Korean “You worked hard” over “Thanks for the class.” And I agree with their usage. It always makes me feel more valued than a thank you because it’s an acknowledgment of the work I did to make the class worthy of a “thanks for the class”. I’m writing this out super fast before my toddler wakes up, so i hope it makes sense. I was really struck by this article because for years my feelings were hurt when my mother-in-law would eat a meal I made or receive a gift from me and not say thank you, but complain instead that I shouldn’t spend money. Now, I get it (and she’s actually started saying thank you in English!)

  84. Archana Abraham says...

    I actually have a different perspective to this. I’m Indian- born, raised and living in the south of India and I’ve always said please and thank you to my parents and to anyone who does something for me actually. I thank my cook for making dinner every night and I’ve taught my daughter to say thanks as well. I guess it’s because I want to show my appreciation for what they’ve done for me and I’d like to raise my daughter to do the same – to never take another person for granted.

  85. Liz says...

    We are big on thanking each other in my family. Before I was born, my parents had my dad’s boss from his first big law firm job over for dinner. At the time my mom was a stay at home mom with two little boys. At the end of the meal my dad turned to my mom and thanked her for dinner (as he did/ still does every night). His boss was baffled and asked, “You thank your wife for dinner? Doesn’t she make dinner every night?” And my dad told him that was even more of a reason to thank her!

  86. F says...

    I come from Kuwait and part of being respectful to people around you is to thank them if they do give you something or help you out. If someone sends food to your house, it is considered rude to send it back empty. As a way to thank them, you should send their plate back filled with food.

    Also it is very important to show your gratitude to your parents. If my mom or dad do anything for me, not only do I say thank you, but also kiss them on their head as a sign that I appreciate their help.

  87. Lovely post and wonderful comments. I’ve always gotten upset at my Chinese American husband for disliking my thank you’s to him. It always bothers him and he would always say that things he does for me should be expected. I NEVER thought of it that way. From him and his family I learned that love can be expressed in more ways than with just words. It’s been a learning experience and quite a culture clash, but after 18 years, we’ve finally found a middle ground between my Euro-American background and his Chinese.

  88. I say please and thank you all the time. In my family it was an enforced habit that was considered good manners. I really enjoy the gesture but understand how others could have different perspectives.

    Her Heartland Soul

  89. Prudence Yeo says...

    I am a Singaporean Chinese and was taught to say “thank you” when receiving gifts from others and also addressing seniors (such as my parents’ friends) as “Uncle” or “Auntie” whenever they visit. I am totally fine with saying “thank you” as a gesture of courtesy and gratitude but personally, I feel that family or relatives should not always expect service or help to be given without showing any form of appreciation, as this is something I have experienced and didn’t feel is right. Nevertheless, as highlighted in this post, there are different ways to express love and gratitude, so perhaps learning to adapt to these will resolve any miscommunication or misunderstanding. Thanks for sharing!


  90. Anuja says...

    I grew up in India and currently live in the US. Since we have an infant and are both working, my parents (and initially his parents) are staying with us to help. My parents raised me (and my brother) to be polite and say thank-you/please to everyone, but they would not expect us to say it to them. It is expected that we (as a family) will be there to help each other out without the formality. However, if I do say it, they would not be offended (it would be a little uncomfortable though). I think it depends on what part of India you are from and there are some families which are more formal than others.

  91. Fern says...

    I’m Canadian as well, of mixed Asian descent, and I am a stickler for please and thank you. In general, most of my friends say please and thank you for everything, any action at all, and I always thought that was the norm. It’s surprising to read about other people’s experiences, particularly that the Southern United States is considered somewhat unusual for how often people say please and thank you, or that notes are written so frequently as a sign of appreciation. My ex-boyfriend, who is British, used to make his daughter write thank you notes for gifts (though he never wrote any himself — and rarely said please or thank you, come to think of it), and I would occasionally write thank you cards for favours, but I didn’t realize it’s such an important and common practice in the U.S.!

  92. lomagirl says...

    Also- I one time really offended someone at work here in Texas by not saying please when I asked him to do something. He was a friend of my friends, and I felt like I didn’t have to be as formal with him- kind of a shortcut of friend relationship. But he complained about it. I also think he just didn’t like being asked to do things… (even though it was his job).

  93. My favourite post by far. My family find it hard to say thank you- extremely different from my husbands family who thank you for every single thing. It’s hard to find a balance but I tend to think a “thank you” is always good thing.

  94. lomagirl says...

    My husband is from North Africa- an Arab- and he doesn’t really like me to say thank you. He also doesn’t really say thank you, which bothers me sometimes. I require that our kids say please and thank you, but they aren’t very good at it. Our North African Arab friends’ kids don’t really say please and thank you- and it feels so rude to me. They ask for a drink and don’t say please, for example. This will make me think about it differently.

  95. gayathri says...

    I am a Sri Lankan (neighbors of India :)), in our culture we don’t have a problem of saying thank you to our elders. Now most young parents encourage their children to say thank you. But for our new year which falls on April, when we are receiving gifts from our elders we tend to say “thank you”, “happy new year” & we worship them as Buddhists. Though long ago I remember when I was receiving a gift from my grandma for a new year, I said thank you and my father told me “don’t say thank you, worship her”. So lesson learned and there after I always worship them :). And about saying I love u, when we grow old actually I have never told my parents “I love u”. It’s not in our culture and I feel really bad about that. I am determined to teach it to my children. But as children they are usually asked “do you love ur mother and father” like that, but as grown ups I’ve never heard children saying “I love u” to their parents, even my cousins or friends.

  96. Kim says...

    My mom is Chinese and her dialect is Hokkien. When I was younger, I asked her how to say thank you in Chinese. She looked at me, paused, looked puzzled and finally answered, “I don’t know! We don’t say thank you!” I thought she was kidding, but I realized sometime later that I’ve never actually heard any of my relatives thank each other for anything.

  97. Maddie says...

    My parents are from the Middle East and they always tell me to stop saying thank you so often! I do things for them. They do things for me. I’m immensely grateful but I get it. For them it is just a way of life, I don’t need to thank them for everything and vice versa.

    I should note though that when we thank each other verbally, it is a bigger feeling of gratitude to me. I recently housesat in the suburbs while my family was away for a few weeks and commuted back and forth to work. When my parents got home they sent me a note saying “thank you”. It isn’t said often, but when it is said means so much.

  98. elizabeth says...

    I was just reading all the comments. Am I the only Indian/Chinese who frequently thanks members of their immediate family?!?!?

  99. elizabeth says...

    I’m from India. I grew up in Kerala, and I now live in Bombay. I grew up hearing that the three magic words are “please, sorry, and thank you.” I used these words on every occasion that necessitated it. And when I met my boyfriend, I would tell him frequently that he needed to say these words, because he really didn’t. Now I understand why. It may be a cultural thing. But its not a ubiquitous one.

  100. jen says...

    Definitely an interesting post. I think when you mentioned the 5 love languages, you alluded to the heart of the matter. Whether we say it, show it, or gift it, the importance is in who the recipient is, and how they will interpret our chosen form of gratitude.

    I was born in Hong Kong, to non traditional parents, and raised in Canada. I love that my parents modeled many ways of showing love and gratitude, and through that I never grew up believing any one way was superior. Of course we have our preferences, but you learn to adapt depending on who you’re trying to thank :)

    Manners are important in my own household, and my three year old is learning to do it at her own pace. Sometimes she gets it right and sometimes she misses the mark. Whilst it’s important for her to have social graces, I hope to instill in her deep and internal gratitude, and not just the expression of it for the sake of appearing grateful.

    P.S. Tonight we wrote some thank you cards for some red pocket money that my daughter received from our relatives. Why? Because it’s fun to tell someone you love them!

  101. Aki says...

    I’m Japanese who grew up in Japan and still live in Japan :)
    One of my Korean friends I met in the States once told me that Japanese people say ‘thank you’ to their family members way too often compared to people in South Korea. Her observation was basically based on Japanese soap operas she was watching back home, but I feel she’s right. When it comes to thanking, Japanese people are much closer to “American” counterparts rather than our neighbors.

  102. surbhi says...

    I am Indian, and my mom is very intent on not saying “thank you” to her. If I say it, she’ll respond, “Oh you don’t have to say thank you to me. Of course I want to [do x or help with y].” And if she says it to me, I respond in a similar way – why say thanks when OF COURSE I would want to help.

    We show our gratitude with words and say “This meal is so delicious!” or “This is the perfect gift! I’ve been needing one for ages!” rather than saying thank you. Saying something like that is far more meaningful than a “thank you,” which feel clinical, remote, and detached. My grandparents, who grew up in India, have gotten in the habit of saying “thank you,” but it’s a little empty and feels a bit robotic to them. They feel more comfortable saying the equivalent of “Ah, good” or “This is all settled and good” (there isn’t a great English translation).

    Anyway, with my American friends, I say thank you, but I always accompany it with how I FEEL. “Thank you so much for driving to Long Beach for the wedding. I get so nervous with the LA traffic, and I felt so much more comfortable because you drove. I really appreciate it so much. You took away all the stress that I’ve been feeling for a week!” It just sounds so much warmer than a “hey, thanks for driving the other day.”

  103. Jo says...

    My parents always taught me to say “thank you” but I am starting to wonder if it was a thing they taugt me to follow the way America does it. I am really curious now! (I will be having a conversation with them about this now!)

    This reminds me of a lot of how “Asian parents don’t say ‘I love you'”. I found it interesting because I noticed that at home, besides my dad, most of the adults don’t say it; they show it.

  104. How fascinating that you post this today. I, along with 1500 other English teachers, are reading the AP language exam in Kansas City. The 2015 prompt is on polite speech. While reading and scoring I kept thinking, “Is this still relevant?” I suppose it is. Ha!

  105. Interesting post, and interesting comments, too!
    In Sweden, where I grew up, people say “thank you” for even the smallest things. It is very important to show appreciation by verbally saying “thank you” in my country. When I moved to the US (Texas) I noticed it was different. You don’t have to say thank you 10 times in order to show appreciation. However, you ALWAYS send thank you cards;)

    • Emma says...

      Another Swede here, and I don’t know for sure if it’s regional or a family thing but while I’ve always known Swedes to always say “thank you” when stranger does something for them, and when family or friends lend them a hand with something truly burdensome (like moving house) or give them a present, there’s a huge difference between the “thank you culture” I grew up with (south Swedish farming/working-turned-middle class) and the “thank you culture” my husband grew up with (only 5 kilometres away, but in a Stockholm upper-turned-middle class).

      I thank my parents maybe if they give me a present, but it’s a little awkward given how they pretend not to hear me. In his family you have to thank your parents for simply having you over for supper, and before getting up everyone has to say how delicious everything was even if it was just day-old left-over meatloaf. In my family, you remark on the food if, and only if, it truly was delicious and you want the recipe. And if you help to clear the table, in my husband’s family you’re thanked every time you set something down in the sink. In my family you wouldn’t be thanked, you’d be told where to put the dishes. ;)

      The reason I suspect it might be regional is because my southern friends don’t thank me much either. They’re appreciative, and may remark afterwards how great it was to see us or how much fun they had, but they rarely say thank you and if they say something about the food they’d better truly mean it because a positive comment warrants a doggy bag. :)

      As for westernmost France where I live now, it seems like less of a “thank you culture” and more of an “excuse me culture”. That too might be a regional (or rural) thing… we have some odd things going on here, like very high familiarity, immediate first-name basis, etc., all the things you were taught in French class doesn’t happen in French society.

    • Emma – that’s really interesting, and I think you’re right. I’m from Sthlm (middle/upper class) just like your husband, so I guess it’s a STHLM thing:)

  106. t says...

    Hm, I am Malaysian Chinese and I agree with the above Singaporean and Taiwanese Chinese. I’ve been taught to say thank you to elders and relatives when they give gifts as a sign of respect. The situation Deborah Fallows mentions is a different context in two respects–one is in the context of friends, and then the second is the fact that the interactions are taking place in China. Having studied Chinese at a Taiwanese-run school, we definitely heard and said a lot of “please” and “thank you.”

  107. Joanna Goddard says...

    These comments are fascinating! Thank you so much for sharing.

  108. Hannah says...

    Very interesting topic…

    I moved to North Carolina via Chicago then NYC while in elementary school, and “manners” are a Very Serious Thing in the South. We say ‘thank you’ for EVERYTHING- when a co-worker says ‘bless you’, when a co-worker hands you that form you need, literally ANYTHING THAT HELPS YOU IN ANY WAY big or small. I sometimes find it exhausting but it’s very expected. In my professional position, I feel like toning this down in any capacity would seem rude. At home, my boyfriend and I say ‘thank you’ less often than I would with anyone else that I interact with, including my parents. It’s refreshing; when he does something truly amazing, like leave work because my car broke down somewhere random and it turns out it was something I could have easily fixed, he comes, he never complains, and never expects a word of thanks, and never brings it up again. If I thank him, he shrugs… “Of course,” he says.

  109. teressimo says...

    I am Canadian and grew up in a very very polite household. We were taught to say please and thank you to our siblings, parents, and everyone we would meet in daily life. And thank you notes were a big deal! As an adult I have carried this on, and thank everyone for everything they do. The person who makes my coffee at Starbucks, my boss when she hands me work to do, my husband when he hands me something, or carries the groceries from the car. I married a Chinese man who was raised in India. As the article states, they do not say please and thank you. They get startled, offended and irritated when you do. Although my husband and I have decided that in our family, we will adopt the North American way, this obviously does not include his extended family. His parents have gotten used to me, and I try to curtail the endless please and thank you’s. His extended family however, look at me like I am crazy, and ask my mother in law why I am so distant and formal. The think it means I do not accept them. It’s a work in progress on my part. And yes, I agree, their way of showing love and appreciation is through actions. Especially food!!!! So, I’ve adopted that. :) I give them food often. And accept food from them often. And my husband does their taxes, and books their airline tickets, and talks to the Bell guy, even though they can do it all themselves. It’s just a different way of showing love.

    • teressimo says...

      In fact, we couldn’t leave the dinner table until we said, ‘thank you for supper mom. Can I please be excused from the table.’ Manners!! In every aspect of daily conversation.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      this is so interesting. i love how they show love through food. (reminds me of this poster:

      and we had such strict manners around dinner, too. we would have to say, “may we please be excused?” and when our mom said yes, we would have to say, “thank you so much for the delicious dinner.” every single night!

  110. One ritual that I found odd in my family had to do with my in-laws. They’re from Nicaragua and apparently, the custom for gift-giving is to accept a gift and say thank you, but to not open it in front of the gift-giver. At the beginning, I thought this very offensive and very odd. I also thought it heart-breaking when my kids were very young and gave a gift to their grandparents and waited in excited anticipation to see them open their gift. My husband explained that growing up in Nicaragua, one never opened a gift so as to not offend the gift-giver….in case you didn’t like the gift and had to “pretend” to like it in front of them…in essence to avoid an awkward situation. But today, everyone opens gifts freely in front of everyone because, well it’s just more fun that way and I think for the most part, everyone is generally happy with what they receive. At least I hope so.

    • Jo says...

      That is iteresting! I never liked opening presents in front of people because of that very reason, you will see it on my face whether I like it or not even if I try to. I also wouldn’t want to see the face of someone who didn’t like the present I selected. I always try to get people something meaningful but they might not see the same meaning as me.

    • Archana Abraham says...

      This is very Indian too! But things are changing now…people are loosening up a little I suppose :)

    • Valerie says...

      Ha! I’m from the French Caribbean and the same applies. If you open it during the party it kind of implies that you invited the people for the gift. Not opening it in front of them is a sign of respect ( I invited you because I like you not what you can bring me).
      Also, we do say ‘thank you’ but if you already said thank you orally sending a thank you card is found excessive. If I were to send a card to my mom after a visit, she would ask me if I am having some sort of emotional problems or need therapy.
      My American in-laws initially thought I was not very appreciative of them because if I said “thank you” orally I would not send a card later. I used to only send a card if I could not say it directly to the person. Now, I tend to send car too (double thank you).
      I am not sure if it is a Caribbean thing, if it’s a French thing (we’re French) and definitely culturally conflicted.

  111. I only thank someone when I appreciate what they’ve done. I thank my kids for things that are expected (18mos&3 yr olds are tough!), my husband for working so I can stay home, the ups guy for bringing the things I’m too lazy to go get.
    I thank my parents when they visit, send things for the kids, advice, etc.
    I send notes to my MIL including drawings by the kids.
    I appreciate thank yous and thank you cards so I give and send em.

  112. Shena says...

    I say , “thanks mom,” a lot but I make sure to try and truly thank all she goes by trying to never say no when she asks a favor of me…as she do rarely does. I love getting a chance to do something nice for her, because I wish I could show her more how much I appreciate her and all she does for me and our family.

  113. Kirstin says...

    Ooohh! I feel very strongly that thank you is important. Obviously it’s a cultural thing, and I don’t do things for others because I want something from them, but I think it’s important to acknowledge what someone did for you and express your gratitude. I don’t expect anything from anyone, so when someone, anyone, does something for me, I want them to know that I appreciate their time, effort and thoughtfulness. And you know what? I do thank myself sometimes :)

  114. Sarah says...

    The tribe that I grew up with in Cambodia didn’t even have words for “please” and “thank you” although the Khmer culture around them did… I now think that perhaps they operated under the same ideas of relationship!

    • lomagirl says...

      I think the tribe I grew up with in Colombia doesn’t either. They kind of say, “good” for thank you if needed.

  115. Roxana says...

    Interesting post! Thank you! :)

    My parents grew-up in Romania and I and my siblings were all born in the US. That said, I’m not sure if our way of expressing gratitude is in any way related to being Romanian. We were always taught to say “thank you,” but were never encouraged to write a note or do it in an otherwise “formal” way. Like your Indian friend, a formal “thank you” was always perceived as creating a formality where none would naturally exist, and was taken as a slight insult. It has been interesting because some of our closest family friends are very “American”/English (whatever “American” means) and there have been times when my friends’ mother would tell my mother that she didn’t receive a “thank you” note from me for something. . . Of course, there have been times when someone in our family received a “thank you” note and it felt like it was creating distance between us. We’ve since realized that this is a cultural difference, and that no offense is meant (duh). We now send them notes, and of course, they’ve continued to send them to us :).

  116. Stephanie says...

    I spent a summer in India after college. I quickly learned the lesson about saying “thank you” and “I’m sorry” when my Indian friends would exclaim “Why are you saying thank you?!” After they handed me a plate of food, for example. Or, they would say “don’t apologize for such little things”. It’s so true – that amongst friends and family, these phrases were never spoken! I really had to train myself to practically remove them from my vocabulary.

  117. Karen T. says...

    This article is absolutely enlightening–thank you. My son’s elementary school is 42% Indian and his closest friend and neighbor (since age 3!) is Indian. He is the sweetest, most well-mannered friend but it’s always perplexed me as to why he NEVER says thank you. Now, I know (and understand!) I appreciate it!

  118. I’m Brazilian, but raised in the US. My parents always made us say please and thank you to each other, in order to train us for the “outside American world,” because most things we need to do for each other because we’re family, but it has become normal to thank each other in our family, although not expected. On another note, my boyfriend and I have a ritual, which is to thank each other for the time spent together, after every date, weekend or trip. Sort of shows we don’t take our time together lightly!

  119. It is also important to note that the Hindi/Bengali word for “please” is pretty much never used in Hindi/Bengali conversation (by native speakers). If anything, people generally use the English word “please.”
    However, people can show deference and gratitude in speech by using honorifics (e.g. –ji) and varying between pronouns.
    There are three different 2nd person pronouns that make up a scale of formality: tū (intimate), tum (familiar), and āp (polite) would be the Hindi example. English doesn’t have this option!

    • Santwa says...

      I agree with Priyanka plus in Indian culture appreciation/respect is shown by bowing or touching elder’s feet or hugs. Verbalizing every little emotion is not part of Indian culture but more common is display thru gestures.

  120. Julie says...

    I think in America we sometimes say thank you because we feel like we have to. We write thank you notes as a formality, even when we really are thankful! My grandma and aunts always get offended if they don’t get a handwritten letter, but wouldn’t a phone call, a hug, or a coffee date to say thank you mean just as much? Or, let’s just use more words other than “thank you,” like “I am so grateful that you planned that trip for me” or “I am so lucky to have a friend that knows my style.”

  121. Prianka says...

    My parents emigrated from India and I was born and raised in America.
    When speaking generally, my speech is with please’s and thank you’s ingrained during a Texas childhood. My parents also emphasized manners and etiquette a lot.
    However, I agree that in Indian culture it is not necessarily expected that one express gratitude for small favors from family. For example, it would be odd for me to say “thank you so much; I really appreciate this” when my dad picks me up from the airport. Gratitude is assumed and, like your friend Kavi said, shown in different ways.

  122. anna maria says...

    I’m from the Midwest, and so are my parents. I like to pride myself on writing thank-you notes (to my family, in-laws, friends), and my mom always compliments me on my ability to write nice thank-you notes to everyone. But, I never have gotten one from her! It doesn’t offend me at all, because I know how much she loves the gifts I give her, but it is interesting!

    Thank you for sharing this fascinating article, Joanna! I think I will still write thank-you notes (because I love doing it!), but I will definitely keep this in mind when writing/thanking people that are not mid-westerners like myself!

  123. The observation is spot on! I observed early on in my childhood (I’m Indian American) that it was odd that the way I showed gratitude to my parents and family members was very different from how my classmates and non-Indian friends did.

    I go back to India every few years, and there’s definitely an adjustment period each time I go back. I’ll try and thank my aunts for serving me dinner or my uncles for giving me a ride and they’ll immediately get uncomfortable, look at me as if I have 3 heads and mumble a “you’re welcome”. In fact, to my knowledge, I don’t know of any casual word for thank you in Indian language. The word is reserved only for the most serious/deepest expressions of gratitude. (In fact, linguistically, it seems funny that in English you would use the same words, “thank you,” if someone invited you over for dinner vs. if someone saved your life.)

    Instead, like your friend Kavi mentions, my elders expect casual everyday gratitude to be shown via actions – if you want to thank someone for dinner, you show that by eating an extra helping. If you want to thank someone for a deed, you do it by reciprocating tenfold down the line. You show gratitude for your parents by visiting home often, helping out around the house and spending time with them.

  124. Lakshmi says...

    Oh yes, it is rather weird to thank parents/family in India. While respect for elders/teachers is emphasized in Indian culture, saying “thanks” is regarded as distancing and formal-sounding.

    I suppose the thought is that the love and gratitude we feel for parents/elders/teachers, etc. can never be expressed by a mere “thanks.” It almost seems to belittle the hugeness and depth of the sentiment. Touching the feet is practised in many communities. Gestures speak volumes – far more than words can ever hope to convey, hence the eschewing of “I appreciate it” and “thanks” and such.

  125. Mia says...

    I definitely show it though gifts. My parents are awesome and watch my son while my partner and I work. Free childcare! They would never except me paying them for their time, so now and then when I see something either of them might like I’ll buy it without hesitation. Cinnamon candies for Dad, a pretty candle or scarf for my Mom,…usually little things like that.

  126. I’m American with European and Russian roots! My family is so so close and we say thank-you all the time because we are always doing so many little things for each other….such as watching each others’ doggies (when taking a trip), making dinners for each other, and buying little gifts when there is no occasion to warrant it!

    adorn la femme

  127. Both my husband and I come from Italian families and BOY, OH BOY, is thank you expected. Thank you notes are expected as well, especially for special occasion gifts, even after the gift-giver has been personally thanked. This is normalcy to me, but I don’t expect others to fall all over themselves to show gratitude if I do something for them. I think it has something to do with being from an older generation. There was more formality fifty years ago when my parents were kids.

    • E says...

      Also from an Italian family and can agree. Saying hello and goodbye, thank you and please, and offering to help when something is being done is HUGE. So huge in fact that whenever friends would spend the weekend with us or new boyfriends met my parents, I’d ask them to send a thank you afterwards. It was an easy and effective way to get my parents to like my friends.

  128. reim says...

    your friend expressed it beautifully. i’m sudanese american, and while i say thank you to my parents out of habit, the older generation in sudan take offense, while the younger generation make fun of me for saying “thank you” so often. i can never get it quite right!

  129. Cindy says...

    I immigrated to Canada from China when I was 10, and I can think of a handful of times that I have thanked my parents over the years. I agree that “thank you” feels strange to say, because of its formality, and the gratitude is kind of just presumed, not stated. In general, love is expressed mostly in quality time and acts of service. Similarly, I have never said “I love you” to my parents in Chinese- because it feels weird! There is no doubt that we love each other, but we never say it to each other. On the other hand, I feel like saying “I love you” in English in a message is more fitting- more reinforcement for the cultural divide.

  130. Ramya says...

    This rings so true! I used to be so jealous of my friends in college when I saw them hugging and exchanging gratitude with their parents. Then I realized that my Indian parents don’t love me/aren’t thankful for me any less just because of how different we show affection.

  131. Lorna says...

    This is very similar to Tunisian culture. It used to drive me insane when my in-laws didn’t thank me for gifts I spent time and trouble carefully choosing. But then they were offended at my thanks when they looked after my daughter when I returned to work, cooked endless meals for us and took care of us. It’s what families do there. No thanks needed nor expected. After almost 20 years I still struggle with it a little. It’s just a different way ❤️

  132. Leticia Centeno says...

    I say thank you a lot.

    I say it for my mom when I come home and she’s made dinner (we live in the same house), to my boyfriend when he helps me clean up the table after a meal, to my coworkers when they do anything to help me even if it is already expected from them to do that.

    I think I’m used to say thank you to every nice/good thing anyone does for me at any time. Be it my family, boyfriend, friends, the waitress or a stranger who holds the door when I’m coming in somewhere.

    I think it’s just a habit of showing gratitude when someone does something nice for me. No matter how small that is.

  133. Sarah says...

    I’m Singaporean-Chinese, now living in the US, and this is at odds with how I was brought up. My parents emphasised filial piety – you have to show respect to your parents, and doing so involves thanking them, and generously so. As a child, you say “thank you”. As a young adult, you give gifts to your parents. For instance, it is customary to buy your parents a gift or give them a ‘red packet’ containing cash after you receive your first pay cheque – it says ‘my success is due to you, thank you’. And you are expected to continue giving them a portion of your salary every month.

    The post mentioned “Also, now that I’m in my thirties, there have been times when I’ve wanted to treat my parents to a special dinner or a plane ticket to come visit. But sometimes it can be awkward, or they try to refuse it.” On the contrary, whenever I go back to visit, my mother expects a treat. And if she visits me here, she also expects a treat. This is in addition to the gifts I buy from the US for her.

    It’s interesting how Asian cultures can be so different!

  134. Thank u for mentioning this!!! I am from Iran but I my parents had a unusual style upbringing me. They disliked the Iranian over-politeness so they didn’t teach me all those modes of behavior and now whenever I’m under fellow Iranians I feel endlessly clumsy, really unlady like.
    At the other hand I understand her point. Saying thank you and please is so formal! Also at the end of the day, they’re just words and don’t mean anything. She always encouraged me rather to show gratitude through my acts than through hollow words. But then I live in Germany and here they’re so nerve wreckingly strict with their thank yous and please. Going so far that people won’t take any action before you say that and many telling me all the time how impolite I am. Now I am almost overzealous with those words as to not hurt any feelings but everytime I say ‘bitte sehr’ at the end of a sentence I cringe. For them it seems like manners while for me it’s like pulling out a whiplash.

    • Ups I wanted to write bitte sehr and danke schön. The German expressions for please and thank you

  135. Emmy says...

    I say thank you a ton, too. That is super interesting about it being considered too formal among family in Indian culture. I do wish people said it more often. Several times recently I have held the door open for groups of people/students in public and no one says anything – it’s not like I’m looking to be thanked, but it surprises me! On the other hand, when a little kid thanks me in public I am so charmed. Yay for good manners.

    I also think it’s wonderful you send thank you notes even to your own parents – I wish more people my age still did that (I’m 26). Some people seem to think handwritten cards have gone out of style, but I still believe in the thoughtfulness of sending physical notes in the mail, especially to say thank you. And it’s fun to pick out the cards, too! Usually I go for pretty letterpress ones made by local artisans/printmakers in my area.

  136. I worked in India for 2 years and my Hindi tutor commented many times that is sounded off to her that I said thank you so much. But it would have felt so awful to me not to say thank you when my driver brought my bag in or someone brought me a coffee. She said it sounded distancing to her. My husband is Indian but grew up here in Sweden. There is definitely a cultural difference around these things that can be hard to navigate. And it’s frustrating when the exact things I do specifically to be kind and polite come off as the total opposite…

  137. I have friends who feel similarly, and they have successfully convinced me. For example, if one friend treats others to dinner, he doesn’t want a verbal “thank you”. He thinks the best way to thank him is to treat him sometime later on. No one keeps track of who spends what. We just all make sure to do our part. It’s a nice way of being there for each other without bringing formality into things. Does that make sense? Now, when other friends try to pay me for their fraction of dinner, it feels like we aren’t as close.

  138. I love that you educate us on so many different cultures, Joanna! I was raised by parents who sound like yours…we were trained to say “thank you” excessively :)

    I suppose there is a key, but subtle, difference between being grateful and saying “thank you” though.

    Also, the poem that Caroline commented made me tear up! So thank you for sharing, Caroline!

  139. In Nigeria, It’s probably the same to an extent – I do say thank you to my parents, but my Dad in particular shrugs it off and says ‘we’re family, you don’t need to thank me’. I still always make a point to say thank you though, because they raised us to say it and it’s now ingrained in me.

  140. Yes! I’m Indian but grew up in the U.S. and while my parents would always teach me to say please and thank you, when I say it to relatives in India they complain! But my boyfriend who grew up in India does the same, he says thank you and please because that’s what he learned in finishing school (for boys? I guess it’s a thing in India).

  141. PS: With all that said, I’ve never -written- thank you cards to family, except when it came to wedding gifts because I was writing them to everyone & I totally felt weird about writing those family members.

  142. I’m Chinese (parents from Taiwan) & grew up in North America. I was always taught to say thank you to friends and family who gifted me red envelopes for my birthday or the holidays. My parents sometimes/often don’t say thank you if they ask me to do something and I’ve never taken issue with it because it’s a filial piety thing. Along that vein, I will always thank my parents when they gift me something or do me a favor: it’s my way of showing filial piety. I am vocalizing my respect for all they have given me. But then again, I grew up with an uncle who’s a diplomat so maybe my family has some influence from him on how we interact with each other.

  143. My parents are British and in my family we felt the same way. Formal thank yous were for other people outside of the family (and we were pretty formal–I now sell custom stationery for a living!). With each other we were always there to do anything for one another.

    But every year on Mother’s Day, I have a group of moms over for dessert. We have a book swap and I read this poem. I think it says it all.

    The Lanyard
    by Billy Collins

    The other day I was ricocheting slowly
    off the blue walls of this room,
    moving as if underwater from typewriter to piano,
    from bookshelf to an envelope lying on the floor,
    when I found myself in the L section of the dictionary
    where my eyes fell upon the word lanyard.

    No cookie nibbled by a French novelist
    could send one into the past more suddenly—
    a past where I sat at a workbench at a camp
    by a deep Adirondack lake
    learning how to braid long thin plastic strips
    into a lanyard, a gift for my mother.

    I had never seen anyone use a lanyard
    or wear one, if that’s what you did with them,
    but that did not keep me from crossing
    strand over strand again and again
    until I had made a boxy
    red and white lanyard for my mother.

    She gave me life and milk from her breasts,
    and I gave her a lanyard.
    She nursed me in many a sick room,
    lifted spoons of medicine to my lips,
    laid cold face-cloths on my forehead,
    and then led me out into the airy light

    and taught me to walk and swim,
    and I , in turn, presented her with a lanyard.
    Here are thousands of meals, she said,
    and here is clothing and a good education.
    And here is your lanyard, I replied,
    which I made with a little help from a counselor.

    Here is a breathing body and a beating heart,
    strong legs, bones and teeth,
    and two clear eyes to read the world, she whispered,
    and here, I said, is the lanyard I made at camp.
    And here, I wish to say to her now,
    is a smaller gift—not the worn truth

    that you can never repay your mother,
    but the rueful admission that when she took
    the two-tone lanyard from my hand,
    I was as sure as a boy could be
    that this useless, worthless thing I wove
    out of boredom would be enough to make us even.

    • So good. Reminds me that my mother *did* in fact use the lanyard that I made for her. She carried it on her keychain for years. Sweet memories; thank you for the lovely poem.

    • Leah says...

      such a perfect poem. I owe my mom a thank you – I think I’ll copy this down and send it to her.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      so, so beautiful. thank you, caroline.