The 'Thank You Syndrome'
  • | dtinews.vn | July 17, 2011 11:00 AM

One of the first words I learned in Vietnamese was cam on. The reason I learned this first is because when one visits from America, wanting to learn a few useful phrases in Vietnamese, one asks how to translate the words we use most in English: "How much is this?", "Oh, my god!", "How old are you?", "You\'re very pretty".

But the first phrase interests me very much. In America we say thank you for everything. If you buy some shampoo at the store, stand in line and then pay for it, we will say thank you to the cashier.

Has she done us a favor? No. It is her job to take the money from customers and let them leave with their shampoo. Still, we say thank you.

Why do we have this obsession with saying thank you?

Can\'t say for sure. But I can say that usually when American families eat dinner together - something that is happening less and less - you have to say, "Please pass me the peas."

After you get the peas, you must say, "Thank you," for the peas. If you don\'t, your father will smack you across the back of your head. "Say \'thank you\' to your mother for passing you the peas."

Thank you. You\'re welcome. They\'re ingrained into our consciousness from a young age.

Is it polite? Yes. Is it good? I\'m not sure.

I wonder if Vietnamese people think it\'s strange that western people say thank you so much. Even a backpacker, who is in the country for only for a week or two will learn to say thank you to the woman who gives him tea.

"Come on."

But after staying in Vietnam for a little bit, I\'ve started to wonder about our politeness? Is it just force of habit?


I\'ve met many Vietnamese people who say that their parents have never told them, "I love you."

At first this was shocking, as it might be shocking for other people who have grown up in another hemisphere. But, upon thinking about it, if you say these words every day, don\'t they start to lose their meaning?

There is a cliche American scene of a husband/father coming down in the morning for breakfast. His wife has already cooked eggs and toast. He eats quickly, gulps down his orange juice. He has to go and take care of business: no time for petty banter with the children, other than, "How are you doing in school." He leaves in a hurry, but always, before stepping out of the door, he gives his wife a kiss and says... surely you know already.

"I love you."


So I\'m starting to ask myself it it is really better to say these words all the time. If a husband says that to his wife every day, does he really mean it? Every day?

It\'s the same with \'thank you\'. We - native English speakers, in general - say it all the time, even when there is nothing to be thankful for.

My mother told me she loved me every day. Every time she said it I knew she meant it. But I have the feeling that I was just lucky. I know many family members who say they love each other every day, and then do horrible things to one another: theft, violence or worse.

When saying thank you to people in Vietnam, sometimes I get a funny look.

At first I thought that it was impolite. No "You\'re welcome", no smile. But now I\'m thinking that the Vietnamese way might be more correct.

Perhaps people in America say this too much. Repetition of words can sometimes lead to them losing their meaning.

I\'m an outsider here, so I cannot say for sure. I only have my various Vietnamese friends to tell me. But if it\'s true that the words "I love you" are not said in Vietnamese families so much, maybe it\'s not such a bad thing. After all, love is really shown through actions. If Father and Mother work hard every day to make sure their child will have a good future, the child will know, without words.

The only time I hear the words, "Anh yeu em" in Vietnam is in pop songs. There it can be heard very often. But when I hear it there - maybe it\'s just my bad understanding - it sounds a bit empty. Probably it\'s because of so much repetition.

If I\'m correct, and I don\'t know if I am, the Vietnamese way of restraint on these words is better.

Still though, after all this philosophizing on language, I am a bit confused about when it is appropriate to say thank you. When somebody sells you tea? When they invite you to a party? When they lend you money?

Can you tell me? Thank you in advance.

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