With the holidays fast approaching, we are so inundated with to-do lists, planning, travel and festivities, that we ought to take time to remind ourselves what it truly means to give thanks. Practicing gratitude in your daily life is good for your karma and personal relationships, and also great for your health.
But around the world, the act of saying "thank you" varies in tradition from culture to culture. Let's take a quick spin around the globe and explore the various meanings of gratitude. I hope you find these cultural differences as fascinating as I did.
In India, saying "thank you" to a friend or relative likens them to the role of stranger. Real friends are expected to be there for each other, to always help out in times of need, as a means of expressing gratitude for the friendship. The Hindi dhanyavad or Urdu shukriya are formal expressions for "thank you", but are rarely used amongst friends or loved ones. Thank you is best expressed with your heart and a smile.
The Chinese express their gratitude with gestures, instead of words. Show your thanks according to the Confucian principle of "Bao" or reciprocity, and give an appropriate gift instead.
In Japan you can show gratitude by bowing. For many situations, the way in which you say thanks depends on how intimate you are with the person you are thanking, and how their social status is relative to yours. The Japanese also have many holidays and occasions where gratitude can be shown as gifts.
These are given during myriad occasions in conjunction with weddings, funerals or illness — but it's more about the ritual of the gift giving, than the gift itself. There are Okaeshi gifts, which are thank you gifts for a gift received and typically at half the value of the original gift. Temiyage is an actual thank you gift which usually takes the form of flowers or food. Omiyage are gifts that people bring as souvenirs from Japan.
4. Russia & Hungary
If you want to thank someone for their hospitality when visiting their home in Russia, a small gift of chocolates or flowers is appropriate. But not yellow flowers, as these are considered bad luck. And an odd number of blooms only, please! Even numbers are only given at funerals. Hungary shares the Russian tradition of odds and evens, so keep this in mind next time you are in Budapest!
Still on the subject of flowers, if you intend to say thanks with a bouquet in Germany, make sure it's an unwrapped bundle as this gesture is considered more sincere. Students who want to thank their lecturer for a great class, shouldn't clap. Instead, they show their appreciation by knocking on their desks.
In Nepal you should give and receive a gift — or even money in a store — using both hands.
We've all heard the phrase, "it's the thought that counts" and for people from the Philippines, this really is the case. The fact that you remembered to give something, no matter how small the token or gesture, is far more important than the gift itself.
It's quite clear that the ways to expressing gratitude will vary greatly from one culture to the next. It should be noted however, that with the infiltration of Westerners in many of these countries — especially India due to tourism around meditation and yoga — that thank you is now more accepted than it was in previous times. But without a doubt, the most universal expression of thanks has always been a nod of the head with a friendly smile.