“Thank you” used to be a word hardly used in Kerala. I am not saying Kerlaites are an ungrateful lot. No. All I mean is we are not in the habit of saying thank you after we receive a service from, say, the sales persons in textile or grocery shops, the autorick driver, the cab driver, the vegetable vendor etc.
Nor do they expect a Thank you from the customer. On many an occasion, after a purchase from a textile shop, I have turned around to thank the salesperson who had tried every trick in the trade to sell things to me, and succeeded I doing so and carried my purchase to the billing counter. At the billing counter when I turn around to thank him, he’d have vanished – without a single word to me!
I have watched the way people alight from autos. They pay the driver and walk away without acknowledging him with a smile or even making eye contact with him. “I’m paying him for his services – so why should I thank him”, seems to be the attitude.
I once told my students that they should thank the auto driver after paying him or the bus conductor when he issues tickets. The girls went into peals of laughter. “Miss. they’ll think we are nuts if we do that”, was how they reacted!
Having had all my education in convents, I’ve been a thank you person, much to the amusement of my friends. When I first started traveling in autos on my own in Kerala way back in late seventies, I remember how perplexed the auto drivers used to be when I thanked them.
“What did you say?”, one of them asked me once.
“I said thank you”, I replied. All on a sudden, he became shy.
“Did you say something?” another guy asked after I started walking away from the auto.
‘No”, I said. I didn’t remember having said anything to him at all.
“You said something. I heard you”. he seemed offended.
It was my turn to be perplexed.
“You muttered something after you paid me. I haven’t over charged you, So why do you mutter under your breath?” he asked looking quite peeved.
He sounded so upset that I tried to rewind the scene.
“I didn’t say anything other than thank you”, I said earnestly.
“Oh, that’s it. I didn’t quite catch what you said”, said he. Irritation was replaced by that shy? embarrassed? expression!
After that I made sure that I am loud and clear when I thank someone. This, I realized startle them. They appear to be caught unawares. They look up at you, surprise written large on their faces and then suddenly beam at us. “OK madam, thank you, thank you”, some would say.
Yesterday, I thanked the auto driver who brought me home from the church and he seemed to take it in his stride.
So I guess people who thank are increasing in number in Kerala.
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