Wednesday, December 23, 2009

No “Thank You”

I can tell you how to say “thank you” in every country to which I’ve traveled. As a family it’s always been the first word we learn in a new country, and depending on the difficulty of the language, sometimes the only one. A simple thank you in someone’s own language is such an easy way to show appreciation. Along with “hello,” “thank you” was the first Telugu word I started throwing around at Kalleda. Over the last couple weeks my vocabulary has expanded but I still rely on “thank you” as my only way to express gratitude for the many tasks that others perform for us. However, last night Puroshatam (a teacher who has become our translator and cultural guide at Matendla) set me straight. As Ramesh (there must be some way to describe him other than as our “servant”) cleared our dinner table, I said “dunyevadum.” Puroshatam, who must have already heard us thank people on several occasions, then explained that we shouldn’t say “thank you.” The school community is viewed as a family and among family and friends “thank you” is considered to be very formal and is not used. So by using thank you with the people who serve us, help us, translate for us, etc. we are actually setting up boundaries and separating ourselves from them. This is definitely not the effect I was going for! I can only hope that the people around us will continue to notify us of similar cultural blunders as I’m sure that’s neither the first nor last.

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