How to Insult Your Indian Friends: Say Please and Thank You

Bahan chod, madar chod and paagal, or sisterfucker, motherfucker and mad, respectively, are wonderful insults indeed, but you don’t need me to discover them – your local friends will teach you such basics sooner rather than later. Here, I’d like to discuss a more subtle, most often involuntary way of bruising your Indian friends: using “please” and “thank you” with them.

Flagship words to denote politeness and (sometimes false) appreciation in most Western cultures, “please” and “thank you” are conspicuously missing in India. Rarely are they heard on the street, and even less so amongst friends. In fact, using such terms with your friends here is the perfect recipe for them to feel you have demoted them to the status of a mere stranger.

In India, real friends are expected to be there for one another, for the better or for the worse, much like partners or family are expected to be in Canada. For Indians, it is granted that your friend will cook a delicious meal for you when he invites you home, that she’ll come to your rescue if you somehow get yourself into trouble, or that he’ll foot the bill for you from times to times. That friends will do the above for each other is a given, it is nothing that should warrant much ado.

Friends in South India. Photo credit: David Trattnig.

Friends in South India. Photo credit: David Trattnig.

Saying thank you for these things is basically telling the person that his gesture is not expected, that you have not come close enough that it is just plain natural that you’d do something like that for one another. Saying thanks to a buddy after he has given you a ride is likely to make him feel you’re treating him as your taxi driver instead of your friend. They’ll likely ask themselves: “Wait… thank you?… what for? Aren’t we friends?” In a similar vein, saying please to a friend when asking for water if you visit them could well give them the impression that you feel distant or uncomfortable with them. If you want water, just tell them “hey bud, give me water!” Straight up. That will feel much more natural to them than a “please, could I maybe get a glass of water if that is not too much to ask and will not inconvenience anybody”, Western style of askance. Asking things in a subdued manner to your friends in this country is generally seen as odd, unnecessarily formal and can cause some confusion about the status of your relationship.

Of course, the expectations friends have about one another are not only about the small things. In times of need or emergency, most Indian people perceive giving orders to your friends as entirely appropriate. “Dost, I’m coming to pick you up at your work – I need you urgently” is definitely something a friend here would not talk back at, however inconvenient this maybe for him or her. The loyalty friends have for one another here is virtually without limits.

Stop making your Indian friends feel like they are a business acquaintance: drop the please and thank yous. You can show your appreciation for their friendship and how well they look after you by also taking the check once in a while, telling them you’re happy to see them, and being present when they need you. Visit them regularly (no, there’s no need to make a phone or e-mail appointment a week in advance), introduce them to your relatives, and they’ll be more than happy. More formalities are uncalled for.

Also, don’t feel they’re being ungrateful or oblivious to what you do for them because they don’t use the sacred words of Western etiquette. They’re treating you the way real friends do here.  It’s a compliment.

What do you think about saying “please” and “thank you” between friends?  Do you even feel it is necessary to show appreciation, or that these words have become thoughtless and often don’t mean much?

56 thoughts on “How to Insult Your Indian Friends: Say Please and Thank You

  1. Surya Bhattacharya

    This is perfect!! :D my international roommates and I went for quite some time thinking the other was rude. I was upset they were so formal and thy thought I had no manners. I’m sharing this with them :D hahaha!!

    Reply
  2. Anon

    You’re trying to justify a rude, obnoxious, selfish and uncivilized culture. Just because they were nice to you? Indians don’t say please or thank you because they’re too full of themselves. Stop misleading people. Check out this link for people with real experiences with Indians not trying to sugar coat anything.

    Reply
  3. Pingback: “Thank you!” - Anchal Project

  4. kush9852Kushal Chakrabarti

    See friends, I’m not a racist. Indians as well as each and every other human being on earth shares different cultures. French say merci to friends, not gracias. The spanish say gracias, not merci. They both not say dankuh, as german. In the same way Indians say dhanyavaad or shukriya to friends instead of Thank you. Do you thank your mother everyday for cooking food for you? After every meal? If an Indian doesn’t say this, how can it be absence of habits?

    Reply
  5. kg6fen

    I have a friend in India. I thanked him for asking how I was feeling. A saying in the United States that’s saying something nice to me as I was saying something nice to him. I gues it’s an insult between friends they done use it enough. It sounds too formal. As I was brought up to say thank you n yes please. Maybe I will just have to say goodbye. I am tired of being told I said something wrong. Different cultures. Sucks

    Reply
  6. Mickey Roberts

    You wrote an article about please and thankyous..of indian peoples ?? Lol..get a life…..my best freind is indian….when i was in coma….he was the first freind to see me….although my family was with me…he stayed whole night in the hoapital…u can’t judge them by thankyou and please ?? U MAD BRO ?

    Reply
  7. Emily & Kate

    We spent a while searching for the answer to the “please/thank you” avoidance in India, and your post just cleared up about a month of confusion and aggravation that we’ve experienced here in India over the P/TY norms. Really useful! …thanks!

    Reply
    1. rethinknow Post author

      Hi Emily & Kate!

      I am super happy the post was helpful to you in demystifying the workings of please and thank you in India. Hope you enjoy the rest of your travels!

      Jonathan :-)

      Reply
  8. Pingback: On Community, Part IV « Some Thoughts on a Mysterious Universe

  9. Naresh

    wonderful….its exactly true and i felt embarrassed when I said these words to my frnds and family members when i visited last time..and they look at me like what the heck happened to him!!!…hahaha…THIS IS INDIA and INDIAN RELATIONSHIPS

    Reply
    1. rethinknow Post author

      Hahaha! It’s hard not to pick up habits from a country we live in after a while and indeed, going back home with those habits sometimes gets us funny reaction. It’s great though, makes us realize things about our culture we had never even thought of before!

      Reply
      1. Naresh

        yes….I got this experience several times…especialy from my cousin, after she made dinner for me: I said thank you so much it so delicious”…she gave that look, I can never forgot!!!…its funny.:)

  10. Pingback: Testing the embedding in this post…ignore…Social Reciprocity, Community and Home Leaving | NellaLou

  11. Ara

    I am from america and am white and I even feel this way. If you are a close friend you might as well be extended family. I will drop everything and find a way to help a friend in need, there is no such thing as inconveniencing me if you are my friend. When a friend asks to use my restroom it confuses me and makes me think they are feeling I am not fully a friend to them. This is more than just a one culture thing. I feel that using such “niceties” to those who are close is not so nice, nor comfortable.

    Reply
    1. rethinknow Post author

      Woah! Great to see this perspective isn’t confined to India. These niceties do get uncomfortable at times, but my impression is that they are often meaningless, rarely said in deep gratitude. Please and thank you often become something that is dropped automatically instead of consciously.

      Reply
    2. kg6fen

      I was brought up in America I am American and was always taught to respect my elders / older people aunts n uncles cousins. Etc. I think if you read I. The dictionary what thank you n please means. I feel if there was more of this maybe out planet would be Better. Heartfelt or not its a polite word. It’s not mean.

      Reply
  12. OpenLibraries

    Even though “Please” and “Thank you” are not the norm, tone of voice, facial expression, and body language are all very important.

    Reply
    1. rethinknow Post author

      Absolutely. I have found body language and context to provide a tremendous amount of information, and that often tells you far more than the words that are exchange.

      Reply
  13. Aki

    “the sacred words of Western etiquette”

    It’s not Western at all — the Japanese use even more words of politeness than Western culture does.

    Reply
    1. rethinknow Post author

      That they are sacred in Western etiquette doesn’t keep them from being sacred in Japanese etiquette. Thanks for the info though! How is thanking someone in Japan generally done?

      Reply
  14. Michael Amerson

    Well, perhaps if communicating with someone from India, but if they are here in America, then It’s plain old fashioned politeness in this culture, and they need to get used to it. As they say, When in rome.. do as the Romans do. thank you very much. :)

    Reply
  15. learn

    This is not true. Strangers are expected to say please and thank you to each other. Only close friends and family can avoid saying please and thank you. Tourists, do not make this mistake. It will be viewed as insensitive.

    Reply
  16. ybaby

    Who the hell wrote this. you did a great job generalizing over a billion people. Chances are most people who read this will never step foot in India, and will judge Indians based on what they read. Good for you for visiting India, but don’t insult an entire country with this slander.

    Reply
    1. Naresh

      dude…..I don’t know (atleast from my small brain point of view)..he is talking the reality and he is telling the things in real perception……And I feel more happy when he able to distinguish the basic difference between western type of frndsship to indian type….and I feel proud of it. I don’t confine to the words “please” and “thank you”. The feeling you get it from his lvoe and care is more than enough than these words man….As I lived in euopre from past 5-6 yrs, I lost the true meaning of ” please ” and “thank you”!!!….I must say thank you this author. I hope you are an indian, as we always (not all) look for negative points or negative shades in articles!!!!…as such this is also true.

      Reply
  17. Said Albahri

    I respect your article but this is not true. I have a lot of Indian friends and this is absolutely not true about them.

    Reply
  18. Jack

    in western cultures, saying please and thank you is what you’re taught as a child, it’s intended to that show that you have manners and respect the person who is doing you a favor. I can see where this might be confusing in other cultures.

    Reply
    1. Naresh

      no no..its not confusing….We did understood the basic meaning of it in saying so: but it perceived in different manner..thats it. I don’t either its wrong way to say so, if i am living in western world or out of India. I say it quite often, but when it comes to my close frnds, though they r from westerners…I am limited to say so.

      Reply
  19. Pathik Bhatt

    You described exactly how I feel surprisingly well! I often wonder how my non-Indian and even my Indian friends here in the US perceive my limited vocalization of “thanks” because I actively try not to say it to those who I feel close to.

    It also comes down to understanding how the other might feel and not getting offended by having to say thanks or getting thanked by them. The non-Indian friends do not mean to push you away by being polite – it’s your own perception. And whatever you perceive is way more powerful than whatever truly is – if you feel like you’re on outsider, you will become an outsider. If you make yourself at home and treat them like your best bud, then it is more likely to become so.

    Reply
  20. Tashfique Mirza

    Really well written article… captured the exact cultural aspects I’ve been trying to explain to my american friends.

    Reply
  21. grey_matter

    Yes, friendship in India is held above most of the relationships and being informal makes one feel cozy and attached to their friends. In fact, most of the communications, be it client/business happen informally as well. I feel that’s the case with “sorry” and “I love you” too and as saying these words to a loved one is really one of the most difficult things as well. So basically, we mostly go by body language, gestures and feelings more than mere words.

    Reply
  22. Kausik Datta

    India is not a monolithic entity, and therefore, such over-generalizations don’t work (do they ever?). Each sub-culture has its customs, some its own and some borrowed. ‘Please’ and ‘Thank you’ have so far worked for me with people from all parts of India, friends and strangers included.

    As with any relationship, some individuals will allow one to dispense with certain formalities and/or customs, as and when the level of camaraderie and comfort progresses. But this is true – in some way or other – for most cultures in the world. There is nothing wrong in being respectful towards another human being.

    Reply
  23. Dave

    The problem with expectation is that it (almost) always reduces appreciation. We are creatures of relativity. Meaning that appreciation often is regulated by our current state. Think about what you have right now. You’re moderately satisfied right? Now what if you lost half? That would probably bum you out a bit. But the half you have is still vastly more than many people have in this world. It’s a matter of understanding and appreciation. Perhaps I just can’t culturally wrap my head around it, but I “don’t” expect my friends to just out and out do things for me, so that when they do it carries that much more impact, meaning and appreciation.

    Reply
  24. Pingback: TIL In Indian lifestyle it is impolite to say “You should” and “Thank You” to buddies and family members, the words are basically non existent. Rather it is predicted to aid 1 another out at any given minute. | Kush Collection

    1. Adam (@adamsguitar)

      If that’s the case, why even use words like “yourself” or “someone else” if the distinction is meaningless?

      In any case, this is certainly interesting information, but why is it my job to exhibit (and expect) behavior that is part of their culture if they’ve come into THIS culture? Certainly this advice is meaningful if one is traveling to India, but why should it be relevant in the US?

      You say “Stop making your Indian friends feel like they are a business acquaintance: drop the please and thank yous. You can show your appreciation for their friendship and how well they look after you by also taking the check once in a while, telling them you’re happy to see them, and being present when they need you.”

      OK, fine, but why is something like this not also true?

      “When your Western friends say please and thank you, they’re not demoting you to acquaintances. They’re expressing an appreciation for what you’ve given or done, even if it’s something that is to be expected in whatever relationship that you have with them.”

      Part of traveling is adapting YOURSELF to the culture that you’ve chosen to visit or move into. If an American were to travel to India, surely you wouldn’t tell his Indian friends to adapt themselves to his culture.

      Reply
    2. CLG

      Sorry, but that’s a callow platitude. Yeah, yeah, we’re all brahman; but if we realized this we needn’t use words to communicate at all. As long as words are in circulation, so should be good manners.

      Reply
    3. kg6fen

      It’s not no sense. It’s how different cultures do things differently. I was brought up different n I won’t change that.

      Reply

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