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Photo by Kendall Marianacci, Nepal Semester.

The Meaning of Thank You

When I was a kid, I was taught to say “thank you.” And not just “thank you,” but “please,” too. And not just “please,” but “pretty please with cherries on top.” And my sister and my friends and my friends friends and my cousins and my parents and kids I know today- they are all taught this courtesy of saying please and thank you as a form of general politeness. My parents raised me well- at this point in my life it feels unnatural to receive a compliment, be handed a cup of tea, have dinner made for me, be given help with laundry, have someone braid my hair- without the habitual, even meaningful response of thank you. It is something that feels so important-expressing gratitude, acknowledging these kind gestures and letting the people who have helped me know that I notice their effort and I appreciate it. In fact, the first word I can remember asking the meaning of (besides hello) in Nepali was how to say thank you. The answer to this question, if you’re curious, translates most directly to the word, “danyabhad,” but its meaning does not translate in the way that I was taught to use it. Danyabhad was explained to mean thank you, but in a situation like, “thank you for saving the life of my son.” The weight and gratitude that this statement holds does not apply to the person who hands you your movie tickets at the theater and says half heartedly “enjoy the movie.” It does not apply to thanking someone for pointing you in the direction of the nearest bathroom, or to that one person who notices your haircut… And the reason it does not apply, as it turns out, has nothing to do with politeness. You see, in my experience in this country, it is not a “mindful act of kindness” to make tea for a friend or neighbor, to help with dishes and laundry, to pick someone up if they have fallen- it is just what you do, because they would do it for you, too. It is like the golden rule- treat people how you want to be treated- is always in play here. Because the communities of people within Nepal understand the joy that comes from the shared experience of being human. Life in the US revolves so heavily around the spirit of competition, of getting ahead, of always having something to achieve, something to improve upon. This way of life, in my experience, makes it so that many of the simple pleasures of life and friendship and this shared human experience we are in, are more quickly overlooked. What I have come to appreciate and learn from this way of expressing gratitude, is that kindness is something we are all capable of, something that we all crave. It is also something that can come in small and simple ways, but the impact that is left stay with us…And when we are kind and generous with others and they are to us, there is no need to compete, it is unspoken. The mutual respect and gratitude for sharing this human experience in the form of tea or laundry or friendship is felt. And when it is felt, there is no need to say thank you, because the meaning of that phrase is already filling up the room.