"With the certitude of a true believer, Vellya Paapen had assured the twins that there was no such thing in the world as a black cat. He said that there were only black, cat-shaped holes in the universe."
-- Arundhati Roy, The God of Small Things

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Thanks, But No Thanks

          Several years ago when I was teaching at my first middle school I had a student named Kristen who said "Thank you" ALL THE TIME.  If you opened a door for her, Thank you.  If you loaned her a pencil, Thank you.  If you handed her a pop quiz, Thank you.   If you accidentally handed her two pop quizzes and took back the extra, Thank you.  If you handed her a detention, Thank you.  If you stared at her for more than three seconds, Thank you.  I used to chuckle about it.  I would tell people, "If you handed Kristen a dead rat, she would say Thank you."  And although I never tested the theory, I was pretty sure it was true. 
            These days, I think karma has bitten me in the butt because I seem to have caught Kristen's disease.  I say Thank you to everyone for everything, sometimes even multiple times in the same situation.  And I'm not the only one.  I've noticed that this has become an epidemic.  Everywhere we go, people are thanking each other for ridiculous things.
            Now, I am all for politeness.  I grew up in Texas and here in the south we think Please and Thank you and Yes ma'am are the appropriate way to communicate.  And I agree.  But not when it gets out of hand.  We have gotten to the point where EVERYONE in the conversation says Thank you.  There are no more You're welcomes.  Where did they go?  Start paying attention and I think you'll see what I mean.
            Here's an example.  When I go into Starbucks to grab a chai, I order the drink and pay the cashier.  When she hands me my credit card back, we both say, Thank you.  This situation can be a little confusing because we each have a reason to be thankful.  She is thanking me for patronizing her coffee chain and I am thankful that she is providing me tasty caffeine.  However, two minutes later, when the barista calls out, "Grande nonfat chai!" and I take it from her, again we both say, Thank you.  And now, it doesn't really make sense.  I am thanking her for making my delicious beverage, but does she really need to thank me for picking it up from the bar?
            Then there is my classroom.  Don't get me wrong, I am happy that I teach students who are, for the most part, extremely polite and well-behaved.  But we are getting carried away with Thank you there too. 
            Me:  You forgot to put your name on your paper.
            Student:  Thank you!
???  I guess they are thanking me for reminding them, but really I think an "Oh, ok" would suffice there.
            Student:  What time does this class end?
            Me:  1:09.
            Student:  Thank you!
Ok, you're welcome, but really if you thank me for every fact, answer, or piece of information I impart, we are never going to get anything done.  And sometimes it's even worse than that.
            Student:  What time does this class end?
            Me:  Sigh.  It's on the board, just like it is every day.
            Student:  Thank you!
Um, no.  There is really no reason for you to thank me for my tired, sarcastic response.
            Of course, I am just as guilty.  A student borrows a pen from me and at the end of class when they return it, we both say, Thank you.   I am saying it because I am grateful that my utensil was returned to me, but if anyone needs to switch to You’re welcome in this scenario, it’s definitely me.  Or a kid shows up for detention and I say, Thank you.  ???  What’s that about?  I should be saying, “That’s right!  Sit there and think about what you did!”
            And then there is the never-ending loop that you can get yourself lost in when someone gives you a Thank you GIFT.  For instance, I receive a very sweet and maybe expensive gift from a parent thanking me for what a great job I have done teaching their child this year.  That one is confusing for everyone I think because somehow it just feels wrong to respond with a simple You’re welcome for such a grand gesture.  So I write a card THANKING them for my THANK YOU gift.  I guess really it should end there.  But sometimes the card I write is maybe a little too gushy or poetically penned and then I get a Thank you EMAIL for the Thank you CARD for the Thank you GIFT.  It can be exhausting.
            The point is that any word loses its power if it is used too much.  And, in my opinion, Thank you is on its way to the land of the obsolete.  So, right here, right now, I am making a pledge to stop throwing out gratuitous Thank yous.  From now on, I shall only say it when the situation truly calls for it.  Expect more nods and yeses and OKs and You’re welcomes to be headed your way soon because I’m saving my Thank yous for moments when I really need them.  Join me!  Let’s work to stop the bland and insincere thanking of every single thing!  Together we can bring true meaning back to our messages of gratitude.
            Thank you for reading this.


  1. I want to point out that the image at the top of this post is a real homemade and heartfelt Thank You card from a very special student who I taught last year. It is something that I treasure. Some thank yous still mean a lot.

  2. Thank you for talking about this subject. I'm trying to say You're Welcome more to try to end the Thank You cycle. Doesn't always work. And, in trying to say something else, what I do say sometimes become jibberish "thanyou'rewelyouthanks"