Gratitude, Lost in Translation by Joelle Bohringer

When eating a meal at my house in the United States, the words “please “and “thank you” are said every few seconds. These words are not only commonplace, they are expected. From the age at which American children start talking, their family and friends repeatedly have them practice the “magic words”- please and thank you. It becomes expected that you tell your sister, “please pass the bread” when at the dinner table, or your ask your mom, “May I please go to my friend’s house?” The “magic words” become the simplest way for you to show your appreciation to others, and, to me, they are a particularly important part of being a kind and pleasant person.

Before I traveled to India, I assumed that showing gratitude would be similar. I assumed that the first words I would learn in Hindi would be please and thank you. In my head, I imagined myself perfecting the pronunciation and expressing my gratitude to everyone that I met. However, I realized that my idea of Indian gratitude wasn’t reality when I asked my Resident Director, Lauren, to teach me the Hindi “magic words”. While she was able to teach me the words “Danyivad” and “Shukreya” as ways to say thank you, she explained to me that there is no word in the Hindi language that means please, at least in the informal way we use it. At first, I was baffled. How could a language that has been in existence for thousands of years not have a word for please?

My second idea of gratitude in India was shattered when I first entered my new family’s home.  My host sister opened the door and I responded with a smiling, “thank you”. She replied with, “Welcome, and just so you know, Indian families don’t say thank you to each other.” Again, I was baffled. In my head I thought, “They don’t say thank you to each other?  How do I show that I am appreciative?” 

Throughout the first few weeks, I struggled with expressing gratitude. How could I show my family that I was grateful for everything that they did for me? I used thank you my whole life. While eating dinner with my new family in India, I would often say thank you. However, my family would kindly remind me that because I was family now and there was no need to say thank you. My sister would explain to me that no one in the family used please (because there literally is no word for it in this context), and thank you, and I really didn’t understand.   

As time went on, I soon began to realize that family bonds in India are so close that there is no need for the “magic words”.  The” magic”  is in the bonds within a family , not in the words. The culture itself places such huge importance on love and respect for family that there is no need to express gratitude over the small things in life. In an Indian home, family always comes first, and your family will do anything to help you. Saying please and thank you is unnecessary, because your family already knows that everyone appreciates each other.

After I realized that, I began to change my attitude. It was no longer strange to not say please and thank you, but beautiful. My family knows that I appreciate them, and I know they appreciate me.  While I do still catch myself saying “Dhanyavad” on a pretty regular basis, I try to express my gratitude in other ways: complementing my host mother on her delicious food, having great discussions with my host father, or hanging out with my beautiful host sisters, and I try to focus less on using words to express my gratitude, and more on making memories with meri naya parivar (My new family).

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