The Importance of Saying ‘Sorry’, ‘Thank You’ and ‘I Love You’ across Socio-Cultural Contexts

March 15, 2012

A few weeks ago I was having a conversation with these two Indian guys and we started talking about saying Thank You among friends in different socio-cultural contexts. This discussion started when I automatically said “thank you” after one of them did something for me (it was something insignificant like passing me a napkin). The all-important response from them was along the lines of “don’t say thank you…there is no reason to…there’s no Sorry and no Thank You among friends…at least not in India.” Hello culture-clash!! Now, in the years I’ve spent living in India, I have heard this ‘Friendship Rule’ numerous times in movies, newspapers, and otherwise. But this was the first time someone said it to me. So I couldn’t help elaborating on the comment and making it a full-blown exchange of ideas.

I explained that I was aware it was unnecessary (and often avoided) to mention Sorry or Thank You among friends circles in India, but the opposite was true for someone like me who had lived in America and the United Kingdom. They were confused so I explained further. My reply was of the following fashion – “For me, I tend to feel more inclined to say Sorry and Thank You if I am among my friends. What I feel is what I like to convey to the other person, and I can do that easily among people I am close to. So if I am sorry or happy or feeling gratitude for something, I’ll say it and would also want the other person to say the same to me as well. It’s not a big deal, and it isn’t a big declaration, but I believe our friendships would suffer if we didn’t share our feelings. So for us, it is essential to say thank you among friends, even more than among strangers. The same way not saying such ‘formalities’ makes for closer bonds among Indian friends, saying these same things make our friendships grow stronger.” And the conversation went so on and so forth… It wasn’t until this topic was broached that I realized that the importance of such phrases like Sorry and Thank You in social life are not uniform across cultures.

I can’t seem to figure out when I first learnt how important saying Thank You was to me. I may have been about 15 years old when I first learnt its significance, but never truly understood its power until a few years later, when I was 18 years old. Growing up in Japan, I would often use the phrase in formal settings – when talking to strangers or elders or teachers, etc… However, we barely used the word in any informal setting – between friends or family. At home…I rarely said Thank You to my parents, except on one special day of the year – Mother’s Day. I guess I also grew up without saying I Love You to my family (not even my grandparents) until I left home to go to college. The feeling was felt, it was understood, it was written down in cards, but it was never spoken. Even today, these words – Thank You and I Love You – are hard for me to say.

Now that I think back to it, in the years I’ve spent in Japan, the United States, the United Kingdom, and India, I’ve come to realize that I use phrases like Sorry and Thank You in informal settings numerous times a day in each country. The ‘anthropology’ of it all, as it were, could be understood by examining how these words are important to different societies. Thus, Japanese people are generally overtly polite in thought/act/speech, even in informal situations, while people in the United States and the United Kingdom are taught such pleasantries as Thank You and Sorry more habitually by thought/speech – like the popular exchange Excuse Me and Bless You after someone sneezes. India, on the other hand, are more accustomed to these concepts by thought/act in familiar settings, with friendship rules to compensate for the lack of speech. When it comes to I Love You, everything is more or less the same, but both the Japanese and Indians generally express their emotions through thought/act, reserving speech for special occasions, while those from the US and UK are more expressive in overall thought/act/speech and frequently say I Love You  – sometimes too often. Interesting isn’t it!

and so I’d like to leave you with the following: to my parents, grandparents, older brother, close friends, far away friends, and blogosphere friends….

I Love You All


Thank You!!!


3 Responses to “The Importance of Saying ‘Sorry’, ‘Thank You’ and ‘I Love You’ across Socio-Cultural Contexts”

  1. Romney Says:

    Wonderful perspective.


  2. Surendra Khajanchi Says:

    Love u too kiddo. Pa


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