Monday, January 24, 2011

"Thank you", anyone?

I'm back to my normal mode after a hectic last quarter of 2010...There was my mom's visit, and then I juggled between work, school, being with her and shopping for christmas gifts.  I couldn't believe that I spent 2 months preparing gifts for my family and some party of 10 families, uncles and aunts specifically. Because it dawned to me that for 5 years I'd been away from them, this was my chance to make up for all the missed birthdays, anniversaries, weddings and other special occasions. So coinciding  with my mom's homecoming for christmas, I generously sent as much gifts as I could for everyone I know...Surprisingly to this day, I haven't heard from any of them. 

If there's anything I'm grateful about learning here in canada, that's discovering the real use of this universal phrase - 'thank you'.  I've known this expression of gratitude since the age of conciousness, but I've never realized its value to this day. I remember before, I would only say thank you if someone gives me a gift or invites me to a party. Other than that, I'm always reserved to saying thank-you.

But now, I've learned that saying thank-you isn't limited to these occasions I've mentioned. It is also used to express politeness to someone who offers you a seat on the bus; opens the door for you; ask how you're doing; provides you an important information; do you a favor; gives you a hand; and even for just calling you on the phone. 

It's so funny how I find the locals strange during my first encounter with them and their excessive use of this colonial expression. They'll say "thank you" on just anything.  When you hold the door for them; when you let them  pass before you; when you pick-up an item and hand it to them; when you give them directions...Just anything that you'll do in their favor.  They will never miss to say 'thanks', 'thank you' or 'thank you very much.'  Even the reply "you're welcome" and "sorry" are just all over the place.  At first, my  puzzling reaction is,"what's with these people that they keep  repeating "thank you" and "sorry?". Then later I realize that this is a Canadian trait.  The culture that this country has somehow embraced and becomes an emblem of their identity.  And I tell you, it's viral.

Sometimes, I couldn't imagine how many times I say thank-you at work in a day.  Maybe 5 times to someone who ask how I'm doing. 10 times, if I get 10 phone calls a day.  Another 5, if I send 5 emails (that's not including the email I reply to) And maybe, 10 more to every person/co-worker I deal with that day. Come to think of it, that's an enormous 30 thank-yous a day.  And where else in the world could we ever express that much gratitude?

I've never lived anywhere besides Canda and my birthplace, Manila. So I couldn't really gauge the tenacity of politeness they have in the south or the far east. But apparently, during my frequent travels across the border, I've noticed that very few people have this kind of demeanor.  It seems that they are also reserved in using this popular phrase thank-you. I could actually count how many people I've ran into that's gracious enough to express gratitude.  Then later, I perceive that they're actually Canadians.

So, if this holds true of the Canadian culture, how did they become a prodigy of politeness? Is it the global location? Environment? Climate? Or simply, a matter of factness.

I heard from a news about a study of the rudest cities in America.  According to the report, Los Angeles was the rudest, seconded by New York; then followed by Philadelphia, Miami and Washington DC. (http://www.travelandleisure.com/articles/americas-rudest-cities/2)  And the reason -- when people cram in a small area they have a tendency to be rude.  I've almost agreed, because I've experienced that in New York.

So if it's not about territorial boundaries, then I believe population contributes to urban behavior.  Then we should be worried that the growing population is endangering the use of thank-you. 

On another note, now I understand why the recipients of my gifts never acknowledge the giver.

I wouldn't be surprised if this universal expression, 'thank you', would one day be extinct, just like the diminishing number of elephants in Thailand.