Posted by: Brad Nixon | November 26, 2009

Thank Think

It’s Thanksgiving here in the U.S., and I made an attempt to write a serious essay about all the things for which I’m grateful. It turns out that there are a great number, but listing them is not very interesting. It was too earnest and straightforward and, well, I couldn’t seem to be funny about anything without crossing some line of impropriety. The more I listed people, the more an essay started sounding like an Academy Awards acceptance speech, and I was afraid Warren Beatty would show up to say something bombastic about the nobility of the actor’s craft, so let me just thank you for reading today’s blog.

I did think about the nature of giving thanks. There’s an aspect of that in a lot of religions, but religion being one of those subjects that I’m going to avoid in this blog, I’ll just let that go.

One of the words seasoned international travelers include in those few must-have words to learn in a foreign language, along with “hello” and “where’s the bathroom?” is the phrase for “thank you.”

France, Germany, Italy, Spain, all pretty easy: we’ve been exposed to those in movies and literature and TV enough. However, the responses one receives are not always clear for Americans. In Italy, a “grazie” probably gets you “prego” in return, or nothing at all. Of course, “prego” seems to mean about six other things, too, including “please” and “get out of my way,” so I’m not really certain what it really means. In France, I don’t think you get any response to “merci,” and in Spain you get “de nada,” which is the equivalent of the irritating practice that’s caught on in the U.S. in the last few years of saying “no problem.” I don’t want to have an Andy Rooney moment here, but I don’t want some kid behind the counter at the auto parts store to say “no problem” when I thank him for showing me how those winidshield wiper blades go on. “You’re welcome” would be welcome.

Now, China is another matter. Unless you’re a language mutant, like my nephews Charles and Jack, who inherited some weird language gene from their mother, you will never really learn any Chinese. At all. People there will all but physically restrain you from trying to speak any Chinese. The way they use sounds and tones to indicate different meanings for the same phoneme is a mystery to us and any attempt to grasp it on the fly is like volunteering to pilot a 747 or do brain surgery if the pilot or surgeon gets incapacitated. However, the Chinese WILL tolerate you thanking them with whatever version of the mysterious phrase,  “Xie Xie” you can muster. It’s something like “zheh zheh,” but don’t take my word for it. Call up Jack or Charles and ask them to pronounce it for you, then practice saying it over and over on the entire flight to Hong Kong or Shanghai, and you have a hope of getting it right. Don’t forget to bow when you say it (although how deeply to bow is yet another arcane art that requires a lifetime of practice).

I’m grateful for more blessings than I can count. I know I’m a lucky guy, so we’ll close with words from Mr. Price, formerly of The Animals:

If you have a friend on whom you think you can rely you are a lucky man!
If you’ve found the reason to live on and not to die, you are a lucky man!
Preachers and poets and scholars don’t know it,
Temples and statues and steeples won’t show it,
If you’ve got the secret just try not to blow it – Stay a lucky man!

Alan Price, “O Lucky Man”

Once again, thanks for reading, and I hope you have a joyful, peaceful day.

Xie Xie.

© 2009, 2015 Brad Nixon



  1. nee how, brad!
    nice, i, i find myself, as a retail kind of guy, falling into that “no problem” thing, though i’ve for the last year been trying to at least shift to “you bet” and alternating it with “certainly!” but, you make a good point, as andy did, for a simple “you’re welcome”. nicer that “it’s my job”.
    oh, the kid at connex actually changes the wiper blades for us, AND says “you’re welcome”.
    oh, and de nada translates, if memory serves, as
    “oh, my extreme pleasure, nothing is too much trouble for YOU, sir” much in the way that “goodbye” is the shortened form of “god be with you, now get the heck out of here” (and then he did)


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