Learning to Say Thank You

If your childhood was anything like mine, you were reminded to say ‘thank you’ to be polite – every time.  It didn’t matter if you said it most of the time.  Anything less than 100% compliance was a no-go.

With decades on my odometer, I now have a different reason to use those words.  I say them because I value them.  I value the smile they bring to the person I thank, because my words are heartfelt.  I am grateful – to someone taking the time to hold a door, to smile with their own thanks, to being recognized for the little things too many overlook.

Take our recent sojourn to central Europe.  Five countries (six if you count a big airport transfer) and three languages, one of which is unlike anything else on the planet.  It’s not like I could fake it – I needed to learn how to say those words in each one.

I also have a confession, not news to those of you who have read this blog over the past few years.  I have a learning challenge, one that makes rote memorization hard for me.  After spending weeks repeating the words in those three languages, when faced with having to use them, they fled my mind like scattering gazelles.

St Vitus Cathedral at Prague Castle, Czech Republic

The three languages – Czech, German, and Hungarian.  Something many people might forget is that the borders for these countries have been malleable for centuries, with successive conquerors imposing their own languages over existing ones and mixing pronunciations and word usage.  (Except Hungarian – that is an art form unto itself.)

Some of you are now saying, “So what?”  The BIG what is that every time I said THANK YOU in the language of the country we were in, someone smiled.  Now, they might have been smiling over my labored mangling, but I’d like to think they appreciated an American trying to express herself, however poorly, in their native tongue.

I should also note this – ALL these people spoke English.  As in, just about darned near perfect, complex sentences, nuanced English.  They forgave my mixing up my childhood Polish ‘Dziękuję’ for the Czech ‘Děkuji’ (four syllables in Polish and three in Czech – and very close in sounds).  ‘Danke’ was easier to recall.  The Hungarian ‘Köszönöm’, not so much – but at least the common or casual word that sounded like cozy with a short ‘a’ worked there.

Nothing works as well as thank you when it comes to getting to know people.  My accent was enough to give me away, even on these simple words, and I had great conversations (in English) with people about the beauty of their countries and the features of their daily lives.

The simple THANK YOU works here at home too, along with a smile and eye contact.  I can’t help but wonder if we all were only a little more polite and engaged, less distracted by our phones or our busy brains, how much better our world could be.

I have a new goal now – 100% compliance once more, even when it’s in another language – and especially on our home soil!

What’s your take on the value of saying ‘thank you’? 

2 Comments

  • Loucinda McGary

    April 16, 2018

    I always tried to learn “thank you” when we were traveling to different countries. I also learned “please” in quite a few languages too, along with “where is the bathroom?” LOL! I can say the latter in 8 languages, including Thai.

    • Yvonne Kohano

      April 16, 2018

      I learned that phrase too, Cindy! Along with how to ask how much they charged, because you have to pay for public bathrooms through much of Central Europe. Makes for fun conversations! Yvonne