Gratitude Across the Globe


Contributor: Molly McGillis

 [CGE’s International Student & Scholar Services’ Insights is a series of blog entries and interviews meant to depict different JMU globally-minded individuals’ perspectives of their JMU experiences.]

The past few months have been a wonderful time of reflection, celebration, and gratitude for us in the International Student & Scholar Services office at JMU. In November, we gathered for our annual Thanksgiving potluck dinner, where we played international trivia games over plates of turkey, kimchi, and pumpkin pie, and shared what we were most grateful for. A few weeks later, we hosted our December graduates for a graduation dinner, which gave us the chance to reminisce with them over their time at JMU and thank them once more for choosing to study at our institution. As we returned to campus to begin a new semester in the first few weeks of 2019, students, staff, and scholars alike all came together for the Welcome Back Party, which involves a lot of good food, fun games, and the opportunity to meet new friends and reconnect with old ones. At the Welcome Back Party, we thanked our students and guests President Alger and VP for Student Affairs Dr. Miller for joining us to celebrate the beginning of the new term. These are just some of the ways that we show gratitude in our office. 

Expressions of gratitude can vary widely, not just in the United States but in countries and cultures all over the world! For example, expressions of gratitude in Chinese culture can be very different from their American counterparts. Giving thanks in Chinese culture often involves thanking someone indirectly with your words or actions, rather than the more direct “thank you” offered in American culture. Chinese speakers might choose to thank someone by praising their work or effort, telling them how the gift makes them feel, or by promising to reciprocate the kind favor in the future. A Chinese speaker might also apologize for any inconvenience or trouble that the favor or gift caused.

In Russian culture, individuals are much more effusive and direct when giving thanks. It is considered a sign that someone was raised poorly or has a disagreeable personality if they do not regularly express thanks. A simple and frequent way to say thank you in Russian is to say, спасибо (pronounced spasibe). Many people in Russian culture believe that regularly expressing gratitude is good for one’s soul. As a result, there are many different phrases used to express thanks and gratefulness. If you are invited to someone’s home, it is customary to bring a small gift to show thanks, such as flowers, a box of chocolates, or a bottle of wine.

Japanese culture has its own unique ways of expressing gratitude. Showing gratitude is often a key part of eating a meal in Japan; to give thanks for the chef’s work and the ingredients in the meal, you might fold your hands and say itadakimasu (I humbly receive) before the meal, and gochisousama (that was delicious) after. While this custom is also used to express feelings other than gratitude, it is very common to bow to someone in Japan when you are saying thank you to them. The standard Japanese phrase for “thank you” is ありがとう, pronounced arigato. The root words in arigato stand for the concept of existence, and difficult/rare. So, when you say arigato in Japan, you are respectfully acknowledging the effort put into the gift or favor you received.

Whether you say obrigado in Brazil, shukraan in Egypt, gracias in Guatemala, or çox sağ ol in Azerbaijan, each country and culture has its own unique way to express the universal feeling of gratitude.



Published: Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Last Updated: Tuesday, April 2, 2019

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