Thank yous

Apparently, Americans are the most overly polite people in the world. At least, that's what my European friends have always said. I do think we are particularly trained to say our please and thank yous, but at some point, I might agree with the Europeans that we overdo it a bit.

Perhaps the biggest problem with routine politeness is its lack of sincerity. We say "thank you" about everything from the man handing us the coffee we just paid for to strangers wishing us a good day to birthday presents. I guess I wonder if by thanking so frequently if we've devalued the worth of a simple and direct "thank you."

It certainly seems to have become cursory in our emails and professional letters. The phrase "Thank you in advance," makes people feel presumed upon. The message disallows the choice to comply. Granted, we probably most often thank in advance when what we are asking is someone's clear responsibility or directly in line with their job duties. We may also thank in advance to avoid the awkwardness of ongoing email messages thanking the person. We don't want to continue communicating, we just want it to get done.

But then what does the "thank you in advance" really mean? Are we in fact grateful? Doubtful. Most of our thank yous are just politeness indicating that someone has fulfilled the requirements of his/her job. Thanking people for doing their jobs may be part of what's wrong with our American culture. If we get thanked for doing everything, then we begin to think that we are responsible for nothing and all of our work, from answering the phone to making copies to showing up is a favor to the person who hired us rather than an expectation.

I think "thank you," much like "I love you," should be reserved for those actions we are actually grateful for, like when someone holds the door open when your hands are full or someone picks you up from the airport or someone shovels your driveway. I want "thank you" to mean something more than just acknowledging that someone has fulfilled my expectations. Fulfilling expectations is not worthy of thanks. Maybe we need new words to distinguish between when we are acknowledging that something has been done versus when we are actually grateful for it.

May I suggest "Compliance" like Max in The Flight of the Navigator?