Thank you furiously

Yet another global trend that is catching up fast hereabouts is the pressing compulsion to be ‘nice’ even when the situation warrants fists. Now fists, must, of course, be sternly discouraged, but promoting this repressive culture of faux-niceness — which stigmatises all expressions of entirely justified annoyance as emotional or mental health problems, and sometimes even as threats to law and order — is absolutely terrifying. Indeed, the only thing scarier than this trend is its happy acceptance all around by people who conflate politeness with mandatory cheerfulness.

But more on media conspiracies, dread prophecies and dire ramifications later. For now, a reposting of my reaction when I first encountered this very odd sociolinguistic phenomenon, back in 2008. With some of the original comments.

****

Of all the wonderful (adj: inciting wonder) things I am learning in the US, perhaps the most wonder-inciting is the extended use of the phrase, “thank you”. A section of the populace uses it like it is an unbalanced overcompensating parent, signifying bubbly cheerfulness at the end of accusatory or possibly even incendiary notes or speech. To demonstrate my point, here are a few examples that I have collected over the last sevenish months:

1. From neighbour to a kindly girl who hosted the neighbour’s freedom-seeking puppy till said neighbour got back from work, and then returned aforementioned p. to aforementioned n. :

“Hi X! Next time my puppy wonders [sic.] on [sic.] the hall [American for corridor] plz dont [sic.] “rescue” it by kidnapping it in you’re [sic.] room. Thanks! :)”

2. Landlord to defaulting tenant:

Dear Y, I am taking this opportunity to inform you that you have not paid up [sic.] your rents [sic.] for the last two months and this month’s rent has also been not paid till today. If I do not get three month’s [sic.] rent by this Friday I will be forced to evict you legally [as opposed to hiring goons to throw her out illegally?]. Thank you and have a great day!

3. Youtube comment:

I think u r a moron fukin asshole dont reply i will nt reply to u anymore ok thanks bye.

I would not disagree with the general consensus that Americans are, on the whole, a bunch of rather friendly, easy-going, cheerful, and nice sort of people (especially now that they have deposed of their special-needs outbacks-President). Neither would I advocate an abandonment of good manners and a sunshiney approach to life. However, I think I speak for at least one/billionth of the world when I say that after a certain point, the friendliness and good cheer begins to sound a little creepily misguided, and is best abandoned in favour of honest rage, or cold, clipped words personally delivered. Or perhaps even a good sulk topped with a rant. Much more… refreshing, for the soul. And the soul must not be denied. Especially in a land where firearms are in visible abundance.

First published in March, 2009.

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24 comments

  1. if you have devoted so many lines “Thank you!” … you can fill pages with “Excuse me”.
    Btw, even the Americans know about their usage of Thanks! and you should see the 7-11 commerical – “Thank you, cum [sic.] again” spoken by a Indian dude.

  2. uh. i’d probably do the first two (without the typos and all, though). the last one, no. but “thank you” is one of my standard phrases of cold/impersonal formality. i say it to autowallahs when i’m given back the change. i say it to the boudi at milonda’s when she finally finds the time to fetch and hand in my fishfry. the startled, suspicious stare you get in return can be quite priceless.

  3. come to the South, where people thank you for EVERYTHING and say “have a nice day”/”have a good one” as a matter of rote, even to perfect strangers.

    not to mention, smiling at everyone, even if the smile is more a grimace. the automatic pulling up of corners of mouth, and the equally fast descent — it is amazing to watch. after a while even you begin to do it. after all, if the perfect stranger on the footpath is trying to smile at you out of sheer force of habit, how long can you hold on to your natural city-bred churlishness and don’t-you-DARe-come-too-close-to-me-or-I-shall-knee-you-in-the-groin mentality?

  4. Oh, I know exactly what you mean! Also, the constant apologising, even for things that they are not at all responsible for- the weather for instance. Complain about the cold to your colleague, and you’ll immediately get an “Oh, I’m sorry.” Drives me mad, really.

  5. Now now – what is wrong with some well directed passive-aggressiveness – or is it passive-aggression (which sounds awful)?? Check out the passive aggressive notes website for example…

    By the way the word verification I kid you not is “dedlysad” – given the state of the country/world etc – that is creepily accurate.

  6. SW–haha, I *have* seen that. “Excuse me” often has a valid excuse, however. This crazy use of “thank you” does not (to my mind).

    Rhea–blind rage is to be discouraged under most circumstances. I have been victim to it once, and I do not enjoy the memory.

    Monidipa–I think you’ve gracefully circled around the point of the post, love. The point is NOT using good manners as a tool of condescension or distance, but signifying utterly misplaced friendly cheerfulness. It’s like saying, “Baaper naam khogen kore debo, shala haramjada! Cha khaben? Roshogolla anate bolbo?”

    Kaichu–yes, but they do not say it after yelling at you or threatening you with a lawsuit, do they? See my point? No?

    Nina–the apologising hasn’t happened to me yet, no. We sit around and bitch about the weather a great deal, though πŸ™‚ Welcome to the blog!

    Urmea–point. I’m being normative. Nothing wrong with being passive-aggressive… except, is this passive aggression, or misplaced good cheer? Ki mone hoy?

    Nurse Em–oh dear. If there is going to be indiscriminate dumping, I shall most certainly be dedlysad πŸ˜‰
    Welcome to the blog, NM. Keep dropping by!

    Nishant–to practice or observe or be the cause of?

  7. Ah, Rimi. You’re the best. Yes, we Americans do feel the need to say ‘thank you’ for everything… and couch our covert meanness in the warmth of giving ‘thanks’. I think it is supposed to make up for the fact that we’ve nothing else to say since we’re not allowed to speak about politics or religion–two topics which are so dear to Bengalis–so we fill the silence with, well, filler. LOL!

    And can I also mention that we apparently can’t spell worth a shit? Dhanyabaad, darling. πŸ™‚

    • You do your countrypeople injustic, M. Let not the affliction of a few be termed an epidemic, etc. πŸ˜›

      I’d love to hear about your encounter with Bangla, though. It’s a pretty odd language, is my mother tongue.

  8. I really wish America would develop the equivalent of the British, “Cheers,” which can be nice (said to someone who has just bought you a drink at the bar), or which can mean, “OK, we’re done now. Go away” (said by cashiers and everyone else who must deal with the public).

  9. Or, better yet, a snap of the fingers, slowly pointing at the other person, which could either mean, “Thanks, buddy!” or “You’re dead to me.” πŸ™‚

  10. All excellent suggestions, but it doesn’t really solve the passive-aggressive mystery for me. Are people genuinely insensitive and silly enough to think tagging on a smiley and a “thank you!” at the end of a notice of eviction makes them appear friendlier? What is wrong with people?

  11. On a related note, James and Gautam, an orientation seminar I once attended suggested that women in positions of power should use smileys in their emails, because it taked the edge off their authority, makes them appear nice, and [here the presenter made air quotes], “less of a bitch”. Men must absolutely desist, however, because use of smileys could undermine their authority over their subordinates.

    It was a very baffling seminar.

  12. on the other hand, i suppose it makes sense (theoretically) to thank, say, a shop assistant who helps me when i want to find something. but, to pursue the same example, when a shop assistant tries to force a certain product on me using aggressive and unwelcome sales technique, is a thank you in order? even a passive ‘no, thank you?’

  13. every time one of those reliance people call me and try to sell me their new advanced datacard, i deny. and after a lot of misplaced persuasion, they invariably say, thank you ma’am.

    • I use a cold and very cutting “Thank you” for persistent shop assistants. However, in neither instance do these people tack on a ‘thank you’ to a threat of legal persecution, which is the usage that really baffles me.

  14. I have never understood why legal threats didn’t end with: “You have been warned: there will be a reckoning.” I’d prefer that. It would make life more exciting.

  15. This is so true. Even I thank ‘furiously’ when I need to cut someone off – specially when I’m being being pestered with something that I genuinely do not need. I was quite amused when I read your post…

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