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Please, Sorry and Thank You - clash of cultures



“I had gone to visit my in-laws in their small town. An incident occurred where my mother in law and sister in law were clearly wrong. They were proved wrong. They just avoided me. But I never heard a sorry from them” the woman was clearly angry at not getting an apology.

“My dad was in deep financial trouble, I worked to bail him out and cleared his entire debt. To date I have not heard a ‘Thank you' from him” said the son.


Those of us who have been born in cities, educated in English, have stayed for a large part of our lives in urban areas have grown accustomed to the usage of the three lubricating words, please, thank you and sorry. We tend to use the words without thinking much. It is part of our nature. If you have worked in a corporate atmosphere these words are part of your lingo. We tend to think and expect everyone to be adept at using these words. If a request comes to us without “please” we are not very happy. If we are not thanked where we feel it is due, we are upset. If someone has wronged us we would like to hear a ‘sorry’.


The Indian culture for a large part is very different. These three words do not essentially form a part of our culture at all. I have rarely heard these words being used by my parent's generation. These words are extremely “English-y’ if I can say that. In our local languages the words ‘Please’ and ‘Thank you’ are used on only formal occasions. You hear these words being used on a stage or formal functions. You almost never ever use them in an informal setting, especially with family members.


So when someone who has used these words regularly, meets people who have never used them, what happens? Misunderstanding as can be seen from the two examples in the beginning.


It is not that those who do not use it do not feel grateful (Thank you) or contrite (Sorry). It is just that the words are alien for them to use. Men and women who have grown up in households where these words are not used do not know to use them in family settings.

One clear way out of this situation is to observe if these people use these words with others. If they don’t then they don’t know to use it and they are not singling you out for bad treatment. Then we should not personalize their behaviour.


Before we set our expectations, we need to ask does the other person know how to fulfil our expectations?

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