WanderingChina #2

The trip to China made me rethink the word “thank you”.


Thank you is probably the most popular word, which exists in any language, and we use it all the time. I, too, say “thank you” automatically without giving any second thought on it.

In China, I did the same. I said thank you when the clerk handed me my purchase, when the sales staff helped me look for the clothes that goes with my size or simply after riding a taxi I would say it to the driver.

However, those people’s reaction was quite different from what I would get usually. They looked a bit surprised and confused, and replied “不用”, which can literally be translated as “not necessary”. Some even asked me “why do you say thank you?”.

At first it seemed strange, and as I am completely used to saying thank you on almost any occasion, the more I spent days in China, the more surprised/confused reaction I get become bizarre.

After a week in China, out of nowhere, I realized ; maybe Chinese people are right.

Whenever I said thank you – whether to a clerk or a taxi driver -, they were just doing their job ; it was what they were supposed to do, and for them, it is “不用” (not necessary) to be thanked. What they did was normal.

In the society I live in, I hear a lot of people saying thank you on every occasion, and although it goes without saying that there is nothing wrong with expressing thankfulness, perhaps the word thank you has been overly used that it loses its simplest meaning of gratitude. Thank you became superficial, heartless and vacant.

In contrast, when Chinese people do say thank you, which is not often, you feel that they mean it. You feel the weight of the word and their gratitude with it. In other words, you get the sense of its purest meaning and you realize its beauty.

How conscious are you of the real content of the word thank you when you’re pronouncing it? I bet you say thank you at least once a day, but do you breathe life into the word, or is it just an empty thank you?

I’m not suggesting at all that we should refrain from saying thank you, in fact it’s the contrary. I embrace the use of thank you, but with genuine gratitude. As I appreciate the word thank you, I do not want it to lose its beauty… by just spewing it.

I admit that I was one of those who say empty thank you like a robot, but this experience with Chinese people has completely changed my attitude. China helped me recognize the significant meaning of the most basic word which has been buried deep inside in today’s dizzying society, and I was able to reflect on its value, its dignity, and how “thank you” is supposed to be said.

China, it’s the place that turns your ordinary into extraordinary, your beliefs into questions, and your empty thank you into true thank you.


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