I have been living in the United States for more than a decade, and I now say thank you about 50 times a day. Most of the time, I do it without thinking. When I first moved to the United States, all this took some getting used to.
I grew up in the northern Indian city of Lucknow, in a culture in which saying thank you is not done lightly. I’ve never thanked my parents for anything. In the Hindi language, in everyday gestures and culture, there is an unspoken understanding of gratitude.
When I thank anyone in Hindi, I make sure to look the person in the eye. Saying dhanyavaad to someone without looking at him or her is just as good as not saying it at all. As a kid, I never heard anyone my age say thank you in Hindi. I did hear my father say dhanyavaad to people his age, but he did it as sincerely as possible, with his hands joined in front of his chest in the solemn gesture of namaste. He wasn’t just thanking someone for something, but asking for an opportunity to return the favor. That’s how I came to understand expressions of gratitude.