Yesterday, The Atlantic ran a piece called, “‘I’ve Never Thanked My Parents for Anything.'” The author–Deepak Singh–explains the differences between “thank you”s  in the States, and expressions of gratitude from his country of origin–India:

I have been living in the United States for more than a decade, and I now say thank you about 50 times a day. Most of the time, I do it without thinking. I say thank you to the bus driver who takes me from point A to point B along with 20 other people. He usually can’t even hear me. I say thank you to the cashier at the coffee shop. I say thank you to the stranger who holds the door open for me at a restaurant. I say thank you to my wife and my 5-year-old daughter several times a day for various things: turning the volume of the television down or up, flicking the light switch on or off, asking me if I want to eat something or do something with them.

The article continues:

Saying dhanyavaad, or “thank you” in Hindi, would almost be sarcastic. It seems inadequate. When I thank anyone in Hindi, I make sure to look the person in the eye. Saying dhanyavaad to someone without looking at him or her is just as good as not saying it at all. As a kid, I never heard anyone my age say thank you in Hindi. I did hear my father say dhanyavaad to people his age, but he did it as sincerely as possible, with his hands joined in front of his chest in the solemn gesture of namaste. He wasn’t just thanking someone for something, but asking for an opportunity to return the favor. That’s how I came to understand expressions of gratitude.

In America, by contrast, saying thank you often marks an end to the transaction, an end to the conversation, an end to the interaction. It is like a period at the end of a sentence. Only in the United States have people offered thanks for coming to their homes or parties. Initially I was surprised when people thanked me for visiting their house when they were the ones who’d invited me, but then I learned that, “Thank you for coming to my home” actually meant, “It’s time for you to get out of my house.”

Saying thank you in Hindi is more like joining a cycle of exchange, creating the possibility of a new relationship.

More:

In India, people—especially when they are your elders, relatives, or close friends—tend to feel that by thanking them, you’re violating your intimacy with them and creating formality and distance that shouldn’t exist. They may think that you’re closing off the possibility of relying on each other in the future. Saying dhanyavaad to strangers helps initiate a cycle of exchange and familiarity. But with family and friends, dhanyavaad can instead chill relations because you are already intimate and in a cycle of exchange. And few things can be more painful than ending a relationship.

To my mind, the conception of gratitude expressed here is relatively alien. It is interesting, however, how the description Singh gives of gratitude in Indian culture focuses much more on relationship than typical American usage. Perhaps the right approach to gratitude is the relational one. Find the whole article here.