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 Indian 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.
“Please” and “thank you”, the flagship words to denote politeness and (sometimes false) appreciation in most Western cultures 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, 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.
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 they’d do something like that for you. 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 western “please, could I maybe get a glass of water if that is not too much to ask and will not inconvenience anybody?”. 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?