A friend of mine told me a story he read about a young scholar from Germany who attended seminary in England.
The young man struggled with the English language and he particularly had trouble with the greetings that were said as a means of gratitude. He claimed that he had only been in England a few weeks and found that everyone he knew was teasing him because whenever he said the response, thank you, he always added the words, ‘very much.’ He explained that he wasn’t sure why but that he added those two extra words with great emphasis and that even to his own ears it did sound a little strange.
One of his new friends from school finally told him that for a minor kindness it was enough just to say a simple ‘thank you.’ The student told him that in England most people reserve the extra words, ‘very much’ for more special occasions otherwise it tended to sound a bit ‘over the top.’
The young German scholar took the counsel literally and two weeks after hearing this advice he was invited to preach at a small church just outside of London. An older lady in the congregation approached him after the service to explain she lived just across from the train station and knowing that the young man's train to London wasn't due for over an hour she asked him to come and join her at her house for a cup of tea.
The seminarian wanted to express his gratitude for the invitation but was also anxious that it not sound exaggerated. He hesitated, then remembered his friend’s words. “Thank you,” he said and added with a smile, “but not very much.”
We come into this season of thanksgiving and we realize that especially in the South we often say thank you, we are surely a polite people; but the truth is we often mean it “not very much.” We say thank you because it’s expected or because we’re just being nice. We say thank you because we’ve been taught that response is socially acceptable. We say it because it’s just a habit. But as we move toward a holiday of appreciation I wonder how it would be if we added enthusiasm to our gratitude. After all, has anyone actually been teased for being “too” thankful?
I suppose we know people we think are “over the top” or making a show of their emotions; surely, we all know somebody we thought was not being authentic with appreciation; but I also think most of us are too careful with our kindness, much too limited with our expressions of gratitude. We send a nice note; we leave a message on the phone. We text a thank you; but truthfully, we do so with only a limited amount of appreciation.
Maybe this a good month to start being more enthusiastic with our gratitude. Maybe this is a good time to say thank you and actually mean it, very much.
Lynne Hinton is a minister and author. Her newest book, on shelves in January 2017, is called Traveling Light. Learn more: www.lynnehinton.com