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In Most Cultures, No Thanks Is Necessary

Being helpful is simply the norm, especially among friends and family
By Janet Cromley,  Newser Staff
Posted May 28, 2018 10:40 AM CDT
Researchers have found that the tendency to say "thank you" is more about culture than gratitude.   (Getty/1001Love)

(Newser) – If hearing “thank you” is important to you, maybe don't hold your breath. A new study has found that in most cultures, if you reach out to give a helping hand, you won’t get much thanks in response. But what might seem rude, particularly in the US, where we say "thank you" with much greater regularity than other countries, is actually a positive. An international team of researchers recorded and analyzed 1,057 casual conversations in eight languages in homes and public places on five continents among people who knew each other well. Across all language groups, which included Italian, Russian, Polish, and English, cooperation was the norm and people helped out 88% of the time. But they only got a "thank you" back, on average, one in 20 times.

So, are we all just thoughtless louts at heart? Not at all, the researchers tell the New York Times. Cooperation is simply a basic expectation in most cultures. "Our basic stance is one of reciprocity," said linguist and lead investigator Nick Enfield. "When we ask people to help us, the default is that they will." In other words, when we ask for something, we expect to hear "yes." The researchers did find some interesting differences across cultures. English speakers say thanks the most, about 14.5% of the time, while Polish speakers say thanks just 2% of the time, according to the Guardian. The average was 5.5%. (Read more gratitude stories.)

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