Saying Thank You

Jonathan - Easton, Pennsylvania
Entered on November 1, 2005

Age Group: 30 - 50
  • Listen to This I Believe on RadioPublic

  • Podcasts

    Sign up for our free, weekly podcast of featured essays. You can download recent episodes individually, or subscribe to automatically receive each podcast. Learn more.

  • FAQ

    Frequently asked questions about the This I Believe project, educational opportunities and more...

  • Top Essays USB Drive

    This USB drive contains 100 of the top This I Believe audio broadcasts of the last ten years, plus some favorites from Edward R. Murrow's radio series of the 1950s. It's perfect for personal or classroom use! Click here to learn more.

I had just finished a lunch of poached eggs and corned-beef hash in a Greek diner on the south side of Chicago. I knew it was Greek Orthodox Easter that day — three weeks after Protestants and Catholics had celebrated the holiday. I had somewhere learned how to say “Happy Easter” in Greek, so as I paid the bill, I said to the proprietor, “Khristos Anesti!”. His face lit up with a look of joy and surprise, and he responded, “What? You Greek?!”

This being radio, you’ll have to trust me that, in fact, I do not look Greek. He shook my hand and gave me the Greek response to someone wishing you a happy Easter — “Aleithos Anesti!”

I left the diner walking on a cloud of brotherly love. I decided I didn’t want the feeling to end and determined that the way to keep the love alive was to learn to say something else in Greek — or any language — that I could use on the other 364 days of the year: “Thank you.” Since that day, I have learned the joys of saying “shukran” to the Syrian baker on Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn, “shenuragolem” to the Armenian tailor in Glendale, California, “amasaykinando” to the Ethiopian restauranteur across the street from Wrigley Field in Chicago.

Saying “thank you” in another language says to that person, “I know something about you. I’m interested in who you are and where you come from.” Never in my life have I seen such broad and unexpected smiles as when I’ve thanked someone in Georgian or Latvian. I can almost see the person thinking, “Wow! No American has ever thanked me in my own language! I didn’t think they’d even heard of it. I guess I was wrong. I guess my country is recognized here. I guess I’m known.” And isn’t that what we all want in the long run? To be known? Thanking someone shows appreciation for what they’ve done. Doing it in their own language shows appreciation of who they are.

Secondly, saying thank you in someone else’s language builds community. It’s been said that contemporary American culture has become more and more private. We have a small circle of people with whom we spend most of our time, and civic life pays the price. If that’s true, connecting with strangers is more important than ever. By doing so, we are reminded that life is not simply about ourselves, our immediate family and our close friends. Life is about all of us together on this planet, and whether you’re a cardiologist on the Upper East Side of Manhattan or you own a sari shop in Queens, you are connected, and knowing how to say “thank you” in different languages acknowledges and reinforces that connection.

So, as this essay comes to and end, I want to thank you for listening. Gracias. Merci. Danke schön. Spasibo. Multsumesc. Kapkunkap. Shukria. Arigato. Djenkuia. Madlopt. Basima….