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How to Express Gratitude Around the World
While the specific customs, traditions, and languages change, one thing stays constant across all human cultures — we all use words and actions to express gratitude.
Gratitude is a universal emotion. The impulse to pay respect to those that give us aid is deeply engrained in the human psyche, showing itself in myriad ways across the globe. Gratitude is one of the more beneficial human tendencies, and the fact that it shows up everywhere demonstrates just how alike we all are.
The good news is that your appreciation will be accepted graciously wherever your travels take you. But you might not always know how to express it. Below you’ll find some of the ways this universal emotion gets expressed at various points on the map. Use them the next time you visit, and you’ll feel like a native!
SEE ALSO: Gratitude is a Business Strategy
Local Indians don’t always require a thank you. In fact, a pleasant “thank you” can be offensive in the wrong context. The culture focuses on reciprocation and familial bonds. People help family and friends because it’s what you do. It’s understood. Thanking them feels like you’re questioning their motives.
Thanks are generally reserved for those you have no relationship with or for when your close relations offer significant aid for which reciprocation isn’t enough.
In informal settings, try Shukriyaa (शुक्रिया - pronounced “shook-ree-yuh) the equivalent of “Thanks!” For formal use, ”Dhanyavaad (धन्यवाद् - pronounced “dun-yuh-vahd” is more appropriate.
The Chinese view gratitude similarly to Indians. Little favors and daily niceties are expected and repaid in kind. When someone offers aid, an informal debt of service is created, not a debt of words. “Thank yous” are only used formally. Everyday use reduces the value of the underlying relationship.
If a thank you is warranted, here’s what to say. 谢谢 (xiè.xiè) is the most common form of “thank you in the Chinese vernacular. If you’re looking for something with a bit more flair, try 感恩 (gǎn.ēn,) translated loosely as “I owe you one.” It expresses gratitude while acknowledging the unsaid social debt.
The French love their cheeses and their wines almost as much as they appreciate a person with manners. Learning to express situationally appropriate gratitude in French can go a long way to ingratiating you into French culture.
“Merci” is the most common form of “thank you” among locals. Use it informally among strangers and friends. Everyone will be happy to hear it. If you’re in a more formal setting, like a job interview, use “Je vous remercie.”
If you’re writing a letter and you need the height of formality, close with “Je vous prie de recevoir l'expression de mes salutations distinguées” or “I beg you to receive the expression of my best regards.” How’s the for manners?
SEE ALSO: What to Say in a Business Thank You Card
If you’re on luau and want to thank your hosts, know that Hawaiian culture will welcome your gesture. They use the same word, “aloha,” for hello and goodbye, which goes to show you that it’s the time between these two moments that Hawaiians treasure.
You can express general gratitude with “mahalo” (pronounced mah-hah-loh), the most common form of “thank you.” To add emphasis, you can expand to include “mahalo nui” (pronounced mah-hah-loh noo-ee), which equates to “thank you very much.”
German society doesn’t rest on formality. In most situations, an informal “danke” is perfectly appropriate. If you need to dress the language up a bit, you can say “danke schön,” or “thank you very much.”
Interestingly, “danke,” or “thank you” isn’t encouraged in response to a gift. That’s because Germans give gifts with an air of humility. Instead of thanking someone for their gift, you’re better served saying, “bitte,” or “please” as a way of signaling that you humbly accept their gift.
Similar to German culture, Israeli’s aren’t concerned about formal thank yous. Their language does very little to separate a family member from a boss or authority figure. That’s good news for visitors. You can get away with most any form of thank you anywhere you go.
The most straightforward phrasing is “toda” (תודה) pronounced “toh DAH” which is applicable just about everywhere. To add emphasis, you can include “raba” for “toda raba” (תודה רבה) pronounced “toh DAH ra BAH” which translates directly as “thanks so much.”
Of course, “toda” is how everyone says thanks. If you truly want to sound like you know what you’re talking about, try “tizkeh l'mitzvos." This roughly translates to “may you merit other mitzvahs.” Mitzvahs are good deeds, and doing them is its own reward. Using this phrase praises the other person for their action and encourages them to help others, too.
Like many Norwegian countries, kinship and camaraderie are an important part of Swedish culture. Their language offers a multitude of ways of saying thank you.
Saying “tack,” or “thanks” is a simple, universal way to express gratitude. “Tack så mycket” adds in “very much,” a common addition around the world, as we’ve seen. If you like to get creative you might say “tusen tack”, which means “a thousand thanks,” or “stort tack”, meaning “big thanks.”
If you really want to delve into the culture, there’s “jag tackar” (or “tackar” for short), which means “I thank you”, and “tack ska du ha” which translates to “thanks shall you have.” This is just a smattering of the most common. But the only one you really need to remember is “tack.” Wherever you go in Sweden, no matter who you talk to, “tack” will be an acceptable way to say thanks.
USE YOUR KNEWFOUND KNOWLEDGE
Have anyone you’ve been meaning to thank? If they’re an international friend, consider sending them a card using a phrase or two in their native language. They’ll appreciate your efforts to honor their culture. Expressing culturally appropriate gratitude is an excellent way for business people to ingratiate themselves with their clients and customers.
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