How to Say Thank You in Different Cultures

Saying “thank you” when someone helps you is the cultural norm in America, but expressing gratitude differs worldwide.

If you want to appear polite to other cultures, you need to learn how to express gratitude correctly. Surprisingly, some countries find it rude to say “thank you,” while others rely on such expressions to convey the emotion.

Keep reading to learn how to say “thank you” in ten different countries.

Brazil

Brazilians express gratitude similarly to Americans – by saying thanks. The most common phrase is “obrigado” if you are male or “obrigada” if you are female. Many Brazilians shorten it to “brigado” due to the speed of the language.

To say “thank you very much,” you would state “muito obrigado/a.” A casual way to say it with friends and family is “valeu,” which translates to “valued.”

Formal thank-yous include “grato/a,” which means “I’m grateful,” and “agradecido/a,” which means “I’m thankful.”

Egypt

Egypt has a handful of expressions for “thank you” in Egyptian Arabic. The most popular one is “شكراً” (shoukran), which is universal to all Arabic dialects and Arab countries. If you want to say “thank you so much,” you would state “شُكْراً جَزيلاً” (shoukran jazilan).

An Arabic phrase primarily used in Egypt is” متشكر اوي” (many thanks). You can use it when you feel very grateful in both formal and informal situations.

A formal thank-you is “مُتَشَكِّرة /مُتَشَكِّر” (mutashakker/mutashakkerah). You say the first one if you are male and the second if female. This word translates to “I’m all thanks to you.”

Around Cairo, a lot of people say “الف شكر” (alf shakr), which means “a thousand thanks.” You say it to someone you feel has acted extra kindly.

Germany

In Germany, people are relatively formal, polite, and direct. If somebody helps you or gives you something, you should say thanks.

The general term for “thank you” in German is “danke.” It lacks formality, but it is appropriate in most contexts. You can add “schön” to change it to “thank you very much,” which adds a hint of formality.

If you want to thank an authority figure or your elder, you should say “ich danke Ihnen.” This phrase means “I give you my thanks” formally and respectfully.

However, Germany does encourage you to perform actions to express gratitude. For instance, you can give your significant other unwrapped flowers. In class, you can thank your professor by knocking on your desk.

If someone gives you a gift, you can say “danke.” However, they may interpret it sarcastically. Instead, try to say “bitte.” This word directly translates to “please,” but it is also used as a “you’re welcome.” In this context, it shows that you wish to receive the gift.

A thank you note requires a bit more formality. You would write “Danke für das schöne Geschenk,” which translates to “Thank you for the lovely gift.” Try to mold your thanking phrases to fit your situation.

Iceland

A popular, informal thank-you in Icelandic is “takk,” which translates to “thanks.” You can up the formality by saying “Þakka þér” or “thank you.” Icelandic people value manners, so you will want to use the correct option for your situation.

Try to keep “takk” for friends and family, using “Þakka þér” for those in authority and at formal events. Nonetheless, people will probably not find you rude for saying “takk” to a stranger.

You can say “thank you very much” informally with “takk fyrir,” formally with “Þakka þér fyrir,” or even more so with “þakka þér kærlega fyrir.”

India

The most widely spoken language in India is Hindi, and business occurs in Hindi or English. While individual states and regions may speak different languages, over 691 million people in India know Hindi.

A formal thank-you is “धन्यवाद्” (dhanyavaad). You can use it to stress gratitude with business contacts and with authority figures.

An informal option is “शुक्रिया” (shukriyaa). You would say this to family and friends, reserving the formal expression for anyone else.

If you want to emphasize your thank-you, add “बहुत” (bahut) before either phrase to change it to “thank you very much.”

Keep in mind, Indian culture often views the phrase “thank you” as offensive because they expect gratitude. Indians presume that you will repay the favor and feel grateful for it, so saying thank you can seem disingenuous or overly formal and unfriendly.

Try to reserve your thank-you for times when you feel reciprocation is not enough. Using it sparsely enhances the meaning so that people will receive your expression of gratitude better. However, try to express it with a smile in everyday situations to avoid upsetting anyone.

Japan

In Japan, people typically express gratitude by giving gifts on holidays or by bowing. The gift itself matters less than the ritual of bestowing it.

The way you show thanks depends on how well you know the person and their social status. You can act more casually towards people you know well with similar social rank, but you should speak formally to strangers and those with authority.

You can give an informal thank-you by saying “どうもありがとう” (domo arigatou) with co-workers, friends, and people with a similar status. Shortening it to “ありがとう” (arigatou) works for close friends and family. The simplest form is “どうも” (domo), which translates to “very much.” It is not a polite word, and you should only use it with your most intimate pals.

To amp up the formality, you can say “ありがとうございます” (arigatou gozaimasu), which means “thank you very much.” You state this phrase to those in authority, strangers, elders, and higher-status individuals. If you want to appear more heartfelt to someone close, you can use this statement as well.

Adding “どうも” (domo) to the beginning of the phrase, or “どうもございまずいます” (domo arigatou gozaimasu), shows sincerity towards close friends and formality to those of a higher status.

The perfect thank-you changes often, depending on the situation. People expect different phrases before and after meals, when thanking people for their work, and in certain regions.

Kenya

If you are visiting Kenya, you may interact with Swahili and English speakers. Bantu Swahili and English are the two official languages, with people speaking British or Kenyan English. However, there are 68 spoken languages in Kenya, and people will use their regional language with those they know.

While more people speak Swahili than English, the education system uses English in every subject besides Swahili. Many people in urban Kenya talk in English, but you will want to learn Swahili phrases if you travel elsewhere.

The simplest way to say thanks is “asante.” This word translates to “thank you.” If you want to seem a bit more formal, you can say “asante sana” or thank you very much.

Mexico

Since the national language of Mexico is Spanish, most people say “gracias” as a thank-you. You say it to thank someone who offers you a service, and you can say it frequently.

If you want to say “thank you very much,” you would add “muchas,” making it “muchas gracias.” For a more polite thank-you, you can say “gracias, muy amable.” This phrase means “thank you; you are very kind.”

Philippines

In the Philippines, people value gift-giving for gratitude more than saying a phrase. However, they do have several common Filipino thank-yous.

The most popular choice is “salamat,” which is a basic, informal thank-you. If you speak to people older than you, you would say “salamat po,” a formal thank-you. “Po” does not have an English equivalent, and it shows respect to elders.

At times when you feel extraordinarily grateful, you can say “maraming salamat po,” which means “thank you very much.”

Russia

Russian thank-you’s are more traditional and superstitious. You would thank someone for their hospitality with a gift of flowers or chocolates. However, yellow flowers represent bad luck. Also, you can only give even numbers of flowers at funerals.

The simplest Russian thank-you is “спасибо” (spa-see-ba). It is conventional yet informal, so you should say something else to colleagues or elders. You can emphasize it by saying “Большое спасибо” (bal-shoye spa-see-ba), which translates to “great thank you.”

For situations where you must express extreme gratitude, you can say “Большое спасибо” (ah-gro-mnaye spa-see-ba), or “huge thank you.”

If you speak with an authority figure, you should say “Благодарю вас” (bla-go-dar-ju vas). This phrase equates to “I am much obliged to you” but directly translates to a polite “thank you.” To seem more heartfelt, you can say “Благодарю от всей души” (bla-go-dar-ju ot vsey du-shi), or “thank you from all my heart.”

Wrapping Up

Some countries put more emphasis on expressing gratitude than others. If you are in India or the Philippines, people may find you disingenuous or rude if you overuse “thank you.”

Other countries like Japan and Germany have many ways to say “thank you,” depending on the situation.

Another set of countries like Mexico use one phrase in all situations, formal and informal.

Whether you are conducting international business or vacationing abroad, learning to say thank you in different cultures is a valuable task. Maybe you can spice up a thank you note by thanking the person in their native language.

Maybe you can spice up a thank you note by thanking the person in their native language.

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