Isn’t it time we remembered how to say Thank You?
Once a staple of good manners and etiquette, saying Thank You, seems more and more to have become a lost art.
We used to make a point of saying Thank You for the little things. For feeding the cat, a lift to the airport, a dinner invitation… For years a bunch of flowers or a box of Cadbury’s Roses were the accepted display of gratitude. But people show their gratitude less and less. Maybe it’s the convenience of modern society where we expect everything to be at hand and available, including people, 24 hours a day, but we’d be foolish to take people’s kindness for granted.
We need people to be kind to each other today more than ever and as we become increasingly isolated in our own tech bubbles and ancient ideas of community and neighbourliness begin to gather dust, we should remember that it’s the little gestures and acts of kindness that keep our society glued together.
Despite the ubiquitous technology and social media making us ever-more connected and communication ever easier, we somehow do less of the important forms of the communication. Is there even a Thank You emoji? Not that I’m aware of, and if it does exist I’m sure it’s woefully unfit for purpose.
Not that one means to be a stuffy dinosaur, espousing the benefits of an out-of-date point of etiquette, but saying Thanks You really is worth saving. There is nothing so cordial, so warm and heartfelt as a true expression of gratitude. The world would be a duller and dare I say more self-centred and egotistical place without expressions of gratitude.
Saying thank you with a gift is an important tradition that serves an important social function.
Psychologists have argued that gift giving might benefit the giver more than the gift receiver. There was even a study that found spending money on others results in more happiness than spending it on yourself.
It shows mutual respect between the giver and receiver and it creates ties and bonds between families and friends. Reciprocity is an important social activity that is hardwired into our human biology.
Studies on primates have shown that those who groom members of the group are more likely to receive food later as a sign of appreciation. Sometimes it is quite literally a case of ‘you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours’, but there is evidence to suggest that, even when there is no intrinsic need to return favours or reciprocate that primates (and humans) will do so anyway as a way to benefit the larger group.
But how do you say Thank You around the world?
Gifts are gratefully received as a Thanks You in China, but there are a number of potential pitfalls. It is not recommended to over-spend when giving a gift to a Chinese person, the thought is very much appreciated, so a humble token of appreciation goes a long way. Giving too large a gift will force the recipient to lose face and could be gravely offensive.
It is however, important to present the gift in the right way. The gift should be offered to the recipient at an appropriate time with two hands and a bow. Do not be offended if the recipient doesn’t open it straight away, they may prefer a more private moment. Gifts are generally wrapped and to offer a non-wrapped gift may offends some people.
The gift should be neatly wrapped in plain red, pink,yellow, or gold paper (black, white, grey, and blue carry mournful connotations). Odd numbers are ominous, and so is the number four, the sound of which is very similar to the Chinese word for death. Sandals, cut flowers and white objects are usually reserved for funerals.
Obviously India has both Muslim and Hindu population so you should be careful not to give gifts that might offend either religion. For both, though small tokens of appreciation are always welcome. For Hindus, you should avoid any leather products and avoid animal motifs, especially pigs and dogs as they are considered unclean. Gifts should be wrapped in brightly coloured paper and not black or white. Alcohol should only be given if you are sure it will be appreciated.
The Japanese are prolific gift givers. They’ll give gifts for almost any occasion. However, it gift must be carefully selected, it is a gaffe to give too large or ostentatious a present and it can be seen as a breach of protocol to give the same gift to two people of unequal rank. When receiving a gift in Japan, you should politely refuse two or three times before gratefully accepting with profuse bowing. Paper folding and appearance are very important in Japan so best to leave the wrapping to the experts, the shop from which you bought the gift will usually provide a wrapping service. It is important not to leave anyone out, even the kids should get something small. Because Japanese homes are so small and because they dislike clutter it is recommended that you give consumables. Chocolates are a very good choice.
Russians enjoy giving gifts and in general, you don’t have to worry about whether you’re going to embarrass your host. The more expensive gifts will be greatly appreciated, while cheaper ‘token’ gifts may cause offense. When invited to a Russian’s home bring flowers or chocolate. Books area safe bet for Russians and birthdays are a big event and count for more than festive occasions. Labels are considered a good thing.
Brazilians can be the warmest people in the world however, they also enjoy formality in certain occasions. While it’s not expected that you give gifts to people you don’t know very well, once a relationship has developed gifts will flow freely. When invited to a Brazilian’s house you should never, ever turn up empty-handed. Flowers for the lady of the house area must (orchids are a good choice) and something small for each of the children. A bottle of Irish whiskey is always a great choice for the man of the house and would be much appreciated and chocolates are a safe bet for just about everyone.
High import taxes and the fact that Argentines pride themselves on their European heritage means they will welcome anything European as gifts.To this end Irish whiskey or a French liqueur are good choices. Be careful with wine though as Argentines are very proud of their own Malbec and, as in many wine producing countries a gift of wine can be seen as suggesting their product is inferior. Leather goods also abound in Argentina so best to steer clear of them too.
Italians are proud of their wine so give Irish whiskey instead. Craft beer for the man is a good choice as it becomes increasingly popular in the country. Clothes are an acceptable birthday gift but only items of the highest quality. Italians love giving gifts to children so, even if you bring nothing else something for the child or baby would be enough at a pinch. Chocolates are always welcome as are pastries.
Wine is a suitable gift, only if it’s a superior vintage.Items should be carefully chosen as the French pride themselves on having good taste. Better to play it safe, books, flowers and chocolates will do the job, whether you’re eating in a friend’s house or saying thank you to a neighbour for a favour. High-end luxury food stuffs are particularly appreciated, just make sure they’re French.
Avoid giving anything too expensive as this will be seen as brash and extravagant. Instead look for something small and humble, but with a useful function for the recipient. It could be something pertaining to a hobby or interest.
The old reliables of chocolates, flowers and wine are your go to gifts in the UK. Gift giving customs are very similar to Irish ones souse the same reference.
There aren’t many rules for gift giving in Ireland, everything is appreciated. Wine will work for just about any occasion. Chocolates if you want to say Thank You.
People in the US love giving gifts and are the second biggest spenders on presents after Luxembourg so give often and freely. There really is no faux pas in gift giving small tokens are appreciated as are wildly extravagant gestures. Christmas is a big deal in the US and people go all out, so remember everyone and don’t scrimp. Chocolates and flowers for saying Thank You, of course.
When invited to someone’s home for dinner it is customary to bring fruit, nuts or chocolates for the host. Don’t forget the children and small tokens will be much appreciated. Gifts should be presented with the right hand or both hands, but never the left hand only. Gifts should be wrapped, but there are no cultural taboos regarding wrapping paper. Nigeria has a huge Muslim population so be careful to respect religious constraints around what you give. During Ramadan people give gifts of fruit and food. Where a man gives a gift to a woman, it is customary to say that the gift comes from the man’s mother.
Cadbury’s Roses have been given as a gift to mark occasions for decades. For any occasion, but especially to say Thank You, for whatever reason, or no reason at all, give the gift of Cadbury’s Roses. Timeless classics, loved by everyone, it doesn’t matter where you are, Roses will always be appreciated.