Polite phrases like “Thank You” and “Please” may seem like a given for proper etiquette in the west where they are thrown around so frequently that they become almost irrelevant. However, in India “thank you” and “please” are not used nearly so often or with quite the casual nonchalance. Rather, these niceties are only used in interactions with strangers, while they can actually create a feeling of estrangement when used within close relationships.
Thank You Among Friends and Family in India
In India, relationships are paramount. With a more collective way of thinking and interacting than in the west, a family member or friend is almost like an extension of the self. Relationships are very strong and once established, assume an intimacy that is beyond the niceties of polite language. In fact, using “Thank You” and “Please” among close relations is considered the opposite of friendly. Instead, it creates a space or a distance between you and your friend or family member.
For instance, if your friend gives you a ride somewhere, it will be offensive if you say “thank you.” By using such formal etiquette, you are essentially treating your friend like a cab driver. You’re saying that this favor isn’t an assumed act made between intimates. In India, it is assumed and expected that you will be there for a friend—whenever they need you. And they don’t need to ask please, for goodness sake! The assumption of an intimate relationship is “of course I’ll loan you a few bucks/come pick you up/sit and sip a chai with you just to keep you company!”
In India, children don’t thank their parents for anything, even though parents give them everything. You wouldn’t thank your cousins for inviting you to their house or your grandparents for feeding you. You wouldn’t thank a friend for offering you a drink at their home. To do so would not only be silly and unnecessary, but inconsiderate of the closeness that exists between you. To do so would be like saying, “we are not close and I’m not comfortable with you.”
There is an expectation of help among intimates. If you need something, it’s not considered impolite to demand help or fulfillment of needs: “Hey, give me some water!” is a fine way to speak to a friend. It will make them feel happy that you are so comfortable together. Among intimates, there is an established cycle of exchange. We trade, we share, we reciprocate. It is only natural in human relationship that we help each other out because humans are social creatures and it is only through relying on one another that we survive. While saying “thank you” can establish a cycle of reciprocity for the future, it is totally unnecessary within an already established relationship.
So drop the formalities and get comfortable being in a close, established relationship that assumes favors!
Showing Appreciation to Strangers in India
While “thank you’s” may not be as casually and frequently thrown around in India as they are in western countries, it’s still important to show appreciation and respect. As a tourist, you won’t offend anyone by saying “Thank You.” In fact, it’s still considered polite to use with strangers. And, as with any foreign country in which you’re traveling, it’s courteous to learn at least the basics of the local language. Here’s a breakdown of how to say “Thanks” in Hindi and show basic respect
Dhanyavaad (धन्यवाद्): Pronounced “Dun-Yuh-Vahd,” this is a more formal thank you and used when speaking to an elder or an authority figure. It can also be used to connote an extra special feeling of gratitude—such as receiving a gift.
Shukriyaa (शुक्रिया): Pronounced “Shook-Ree-Yuh,” this is an informal thank you, like “Thanks!” and can be used in more casual situations.
Bahut (बहुत): Prounounced “Buh-Hut”, this is a word you can add to the beginning of either “dhanyavaad” or “shukriyaa” as it means “very much” or “lots.” Therefore, “Bahut shukriyaa” means “Thanks a lot!”
Thaiṅkyū (थैंक्यू): Pronounced “Thank You,” of course! Hindi is a language that has adopted a lot of English words into the lexicon, and “Thank You” is commonly used, though less formal than either of the other options mentioned above. Also, English is an official language of India, so if you really can’t remember the Hindi words, it’s better to use English than nothing and people will understand you.
Namaste: Pronounced, “Nah-mah-stay,” the traditional Hindi greeting is a respectful way of saying Hello and will be appreciated by people you interact with. Namaste has the beautiful full meaning of “the divinity within me salutes the divinity within you.” Used casually, it means something more along the lines of “I salute you.”
Remember to always look a person in the eye to really convey thanks or engage in a respectful exchange, or else it comes across as flippant and insincere.
See also: Go South!
When it comes to the shopkeeper or the taxi driver, it’s polite to say “thanks” or “shukriyaa.” However, a sure way to make your Indian friends feel like formal business acquaintances is to fluff your language around them with lots of unnecessary niceties. You’re friends! So drop the please and thank you. If you want to show friendship and appreciation, take your friend for a round of drinks. Tell them you appreciate them. Be there when they need you and stop by their shop for an unexpected visit. This is more than adequate to show your appreciation for your friend without creating an unnecessary, cold distance between you in your relationship. Relax—you’re family!