Thank you! I think…?

Thank you! I think…?

How do people say “thanks” in different cultures? We look at German, Japanese, Russian, and Chinese. Sometimes it’s harder than you think…
November 18 2021

Hey, it’s Thanksgiving in America! If you’re celebrating, enjoy your turkey (or Tofurky for those who are plant based 🌱). As for the rest of us, it’s a good excuse to get nerdy over how people give thanks around the world.  


You’d think it’s pretty easy, right? As English speakers, we’re pretty accustomed to saying “thank you” to show gratitude and appreciation. In other languages and cultures, however, sometimes it’s not as simple as that. Here are some languages and cultures that have very different ways of saying “thanks”. Boy, we’ve got it easy in English 😅. 



Generally speaking, saying “danke” in German covers a lot of situations. It can be seen as a bit informal at times though, so you can also say “danke schön” instead which translates to “thank you very much” and gives it a bit of formality.


The other thing to watch out for when using “danke” is when using it to say thanks to someone for giving you a gift. In that context, it may be interpreted as a sarcastic response. In that situation, say “bitte” instead. It translates to “please”, but within this context, it shows that you are thankful upon receiving the gift.


When thanking an elder or someone in authority, you’ll need to use formal phrases to show your respects. This is when you use the phrase “ich danke Ihnen”, which means “I give you my thanks”. It’s a very formal and respectful way of showing your gratitude.



Thanks to the 80s hit Mr. Roboto, everyone over the age of 30 is pretty familiar with the phrase “どうもありがとう” (domo arigatou). Turns out that’s not the only way to say thank you in Japanese! The way you express your gratitude heavily depends on how well you know the person and their social status. It can seem a bit complicated at first, but the more you immerse in the culture, the more naturally it’ll come to you. 


With co-workers, friends, or people with a similar status, go ahead and use “どうもありがとう” (domo arigatou). If it’s close friends and family, you can use the shortened form of   “ありがとう” (arigatou). Or use the simplest form “どうも” (domo), which translates to “very much”. It’s not considered polite, so use it sparingly and only with your closest friends.


When saying thanks to strangers, elders, or people in authority, you’ll need to be more formal and say “ありがとうございます” (arigatou gozaimasu). The phrase means “thank you very much.”, and it’s a phrase you could use too when you want to be more heartfelt to someone close to you. 


Finally, the most formal way of saying thanks in Japanese is “どうもございまずいます” (domo arigatou gozaimasu). Use it when you want to express sincerity towards close friends and formality when speaking to those with a higher status.




An informal way to say thanks in Russian is “спасибо” (spa-see-ba). Great to use around friends, not so great to use around colleagues or elders. To formalise it a bit more, try saying “Большое спасибо” (bal-shoye spa-see-ba), which translates to “great thank you.”


For situations where you *really* want to show how thankful you are, you can say “Большое спасибо” (ah-gro-mnaye spa-see-ba), or “huge thank you.” The most formal way way of saying thank you, when speaking with an authority figure, is “Благодарю вас” (bla-go-dar-ju vas). It’s the equivalent of saying “I am much obliged to you”, but is used as a polite “thank you.” 



In Mandarin Chinese, you have a standard phrase in 謝謝 (xiè xie) that you can use to show gratitude to all situations. But in Cantonese Chinese, the dialect spoken in parts of Southeastern China including Hong Kong, there are two standard ways of saying thanks… and it all depends on what you are being thankful for. 


If someone gifts you something or is being very generous, you say "多謝" (daw ze). But you say "唔該" (mm goi) when someone does you a favour that you’ve asked for or gives you a type of service. Just for kicks, try saying "多謝" to a waiter in Hong Kong when they bring you over your milk tea and see what bewildered looks you can get from them 👀


Great Scott! How are you supposed to keep up?

Phew - that was a lot. There are even more cultures and languages that we haven’t covered with their own ways of saying thanks yet, which does seem daunting at first. 

But don’t let that scare you from showing gratitude in your new language. 


As a non-native speaker, a good rule of thumb is to be polite and formal when you’re not sure if you need to be polite and formal. You’d rather be the person who unnecessarily says “thanks” a lot than the person who’s a bit of a jerk 😅


Hey, look at that! Thanks for reading all the way to the end of this blog post. Or is it Благодарю вас for reading? Ah, nevermind…