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Say Please Say Thank you

So I somehow stumbled into this article: Do Manners Really Matter? Why I Hate Making My Daughter Say Please and Thank You. It reminded me of my own struggle with Please and Thank You that has started when I first came to the U.S.

Back in Serbia, in Serbian, I tended to use Please very much. When? When I was in the bank. In the store. In the library. In any public place. I always – always – added the kind Molim Vas (Please) to my requests. Please give me … whatever. Please take … whatever. Please make sure … whatever. In those years so many times I myself made a note of how polite I was and how good that Molim-Vas felt in my mouth. I almost felt like my Please-s were building a temporary connection with all those unknown people that the Please-s were directed to, and I enjoyed that connection.

I can’t say how exactly my parents nailed that Please into me. They definitely didn’t do anything like “What’s the magic word,” definitely not. Or say Please or I won’t give you more milk. Nothing like that. Maybe they simply modeled it. And most likely not at home, because at home, where we are surrounded by our family members, Serbs tend not to use many Please-s. I am not sure why. Maybe our sentences include some implied, invisible Pleases and we like it that way. It makes us feel close to each other. Like we simply understand each other, we don’t have to use a lot of words. If we say, Give me water, we know there is an implied Please hidden in there.  When we give someone a glass of water, we know we may get a verbal Thank-You or not. If we don’t get that verbal Thank-You, we know there is a Thank-You hidden somewhere in the other person’s eyes or smile. That’s simply how it is.

What about Thank You-s (Hvala)?! I used a lot of Thank-You-s too. Again, in public places, religiously. But also if someone gave me a present. Or just a glass of water. I used it especially profusely with people that I didn’t know or didn’t know very well or didn’t see very often. Polite Thank-You-s. Simple Thank-You-s.  General Thank-You-s. Not Thank you for doing this and that for me. Even if I felt a lot of gratitude in my heart, I would still only say a simple Thank-You. That’s how it was. I never thought much about it. I used it when it felt right.

Then I came to the US. I quickly noticed a difference between my behavior and what was considered to be polite. In the first several years I tried hard to adopt the American way. It was much harder than I expected. Either I wouldn’t remember to say Please on time or I couldn’t bring myself to say Thank you for … whatever because it felt way too unnatural (like I had to break myself first to be able to do it).

More than ten years later, I still haven’t fully changed my ways. I am still looking for possible compromises – ways that might not be quite Serbian, but still feel natural enough to me. Right enough. I want to still be me and to be reasonably polite.

The Please word I still haven’t mastered. When I am out and about, with people I don’t know (or don’t know well), I think I do pretty well. Maybe because these Please-s got transferred directly from my Serbian. But with people close to me – oh, my! Let’s put it this way, I am still trying to improve. Deep in my heart, I feel that around the people close to me, my voice/intonation carries enough of the Please substance that I shouldn’t have to say Please. But. Obviously it doesn’t. Because so many times my husband says he has the feeling that I am barking orders. I guess I use my Please-s most sparingly with him, and, he is probably one of the few people who feel comfortable telling me how I sound.

As for my Thank you-s, I think I am generally generous with them. Those general Thank You-s. You brought me a glass of water. Thank you. You opened the door for me. Thank you. You picked up the glove I dropped. Thank you. But more pointed, more specific and longer Thank You-s I still struggle with. I certainly feel grateful when someone invites me over for a lovely dinner. I know the person worked hard to prepare the meal. I feel grateful. But saying that Thank you for … (the lovely dinner/having me over/whatever comes after that Thank you) I still have difficulty getting out of my mouth. More often than not I actually manage to say the words (unlike in the first years). I might look hard for the moment to do it, and I might have to try a few times and miss a few good moments, but eventually I do it.

Do I disapprove of expressing gratitude verbally? Not really; overall I think expressivity is a great thing, verbal or non-verbal. The only type of situations when verbal expressions of gratitude might start to bother me is when I hear a bunch of these statements in a short amount of time. The sheer number of them and the repetition get to me. The statements start to sound mechanical and therefore insincere (which doesn’t necessarily mean they are), but the possible appearance of insincerity bothers me enough.

So here I said it all about how I feel about Please and Thank You. That’s me. But I have this two-and-a half-year-old boy who is learning the basics of life from me. In the past two years, I tried hard to do my Pleases and Thank-You-s as often as I could. Because we live in the US, and I want to offer him the Serbian language and the Serbian culture, but the English language and the American culture as well. My son is actually pretty polite. In English and in Serbian. My husband and I are at times surprised.

I am not sure how good of a model  I am going to be once my son is linguistically ready for more complex Thank-You-s. Those that bother me most – Thank you for … whatever. And if my tendency to not use many Pleases in the house will eventually affect him.

Ultimately, I think I am most concerned about the kindness of his heart. As long as kindness is in place and as long as he doesn’t feel pressured to step into the realm of insincerity just to be polite, I think I’ll be happy. The rest? I hope he will find his own way, walking the line between two cultures.

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