Expressing Gratitude Across Cultures



Thankgiving, Turkey Day, Give Thanks Day, or maybe in your case Fight Off Family Day.

Thank you Xiananigans’ followers, members of the extended, growing online AMWF community; friends, relatives, and most importantly, my husband.

It’s great to tell spouses, relatives, friends, and colleagues how thankful we are for their presences in our lives, yet expressing gratitude implies action, walking the walk so why not embrace two methods to display thanks?

Because I can’t be mindful and showcase gratitude through the screen, at least I can share observations about how gratitude gets expressed across the two cultures my family is composed of.

In ZJ’s culture, expressing thanks is about action, utilizing behavorial thank you’s. When you care for someone, that’s the ultimate way to show appreciation for their presence. By no means does this indicate all Chinese families operate in this manner, merely it’s how mine does.

Going home in the fall to help harvest apples, fix up things around the Zhang residence, help with prep for Daddy Zhang’s 60th birthday celebrations, and skyping with them weekly constitute a few of the abundance of ways hubby “thanks” his parents for all they’ve done.

Traditional Chinese values dictate children care for their parents in their old age. This directly correlates to expressing gratitude, and thanking parents for raising, providing, and in many cases, financing their educations. It’s more than filial piety. 

Mommy Zhang knew I loved tomato and eggs so not one breakfast went by at 老家 without them featured, in her way showing appreciation.

That first Chinese New Year exposed me to the absurdity of only saying thank you, and not melding words with actions. Don’t get me wrong, there’s a need to utter thank you’s, but to do so along with behaviors that mimick the sentiment.

An American upbringing instilled the neccessity of please and thank you’s. Crossing the T’s, dotting the I’s were crucial. We thanked, and still thank mom and dad for cooking, providing, and gifts, including the gift of life, food on the table, a roof above our heads, and any other situation meriting a verbalized “thank you.”

Thanking wait staff, public transport drivers, cashiers, and even friends when I lived in China, and once I learned enough Chinese, felt bizarre. My thank you’s were met with quizzical looks, and followed up with a “不用谢,” “there’s no need to thank.”

Such a reponse gives you the sense of how verbally thanking someone, and displaying that same amount of gratitude by following up with a tangible action, means so much more.

This Thanksgiving, whether you celebrate or not, try embracing gratitude that melds the two cultures: enunciate the thank you, while displaying it through an action. Lend a helping hand, give your loved ones your time instead of money, listen intently, perhaps even appreciate a sport, interest, or hobby your significant other obsesses over.

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5 thoughts on “Expressing Gratitude Across Cultures

  1. Susan Blumberg-Kason says:

    It took me a while to get used to the Chinese way of not saying thanks all the time, so I did a double take earlier this month when I was in Shanghai and local friends (and an ex-husband) constantly said thanks for passing food items or other small things. Maybe it’s a big city trend? Or perhaps Shanghai has always been that way and I never paid attention before.

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