You parents know what hard work it is to teach the language of courtesy to your kids. Please and thank you don’t come naturally to small children, and if I had a dollar for every time I had to prompt one of mine with “what do you say, Sweetie?” I’d be a millionaire by now. And that’s just in English — I also taught my two little darlings to be gracious in 13 other languages.
Am I a sucker for punishment, or what? 🙂
I always insisted on learning at least four crucial phrases in the language of the countries we visited: hello, goodbye, please, and thank you. These are the power words: expressions that convey respect and politeness. I never wanted my children to think the onus was on others to understand them, just because their native tongue happens to be a global behemoth.
I don’t speak 13 other languages, of course. But I was able to find audio files or phonetic pronunciations online. Only twice did my rule get broken: during a day trip in Northern Thailand that extended into Laos when I wasn’t quite expecting it, and during a layover at Narita airport on our first flight to Singapore. (I’d been so focused on the logistics of the move that it hadn’t occurred to me to prepare for the Japanese stopover. Many airport employees in major cities speak English, of course, but that would be cheating! Good thing I remembered the bad 80’s music of my youth — thanks to the lyrical stylings of Styx, we were able to say a convincing arigatō at the duty-free shop.)
I found that people all over the world are deeply touched when they encounter a foreigner who makes the effort to communicate with them in their mother tongue. It’s the courteous thing to do, and the goodwill generated by this small act is considerable, especially if the speaker is a child. Because she was so young (and blonde, which goes a long way in Asia), Younger Daughter seemed to enchant the locals everywhere we went.
When she said köszönöm to the young Hungarian gent who served us a wonderful dinner, or matur suksema to the Balinese shopkeeper who tucked a flower behind her ear, or or xie xie, ni tai hao le to the grinning waiter who brought us a bowl of peanuts at the Great Wall, their delighted reaction was well worth the small amount of work involved. These were my daughters’ first lessons in intercultural communication, and their effects have lingered to this day.
They’re moody teenagers now, and sometimes when they’re being particularly ungrateful for all the things their sainted mother does for them, I remember with a pang how easily they gave thanks in unfamiliar languages when they were small. Patience is a virtue, though (especially when dealing with teens) and eventually, my well-mannered darlings always return. Dieu merci.