PLEASE & THANK YOU

e intend to examine why it is that people in virtually all cultures have some variation on saying “please” and “thank you”. Further, in most cultures it is considered rude not to say “please” and especially not to say “thank you”. When social conventions have this sort of ubiquity, it is usually because they serve some important social function. “Please” or “thank you”, like much of etiquette, are ways of preserving social status in cases that might otherwise threaten social status. In the case of “please” and “thank you”, the terms mark that a gift or service is done freely and not as a result of compulsion. In the case of “please” and “thank you”, the convention arises from the dangerous position involved in any trade or gift. Often, those who have power over others are able to compel or threaten others into giving things or providing services to them. Therefore, when someone gives something to someone else, there is always the possible appearance that somehow that trade or gift was demanded of the person giving it. This is a direct threat to our status; if we do things because we are compelled, we are subordinate to those who compel us. God, for example, does not say “please”. Further, it threatens to lower our status, as if we give to others who are not grateful, we appear willing to be treated as subordinates. The terms “please” and “thank you” mark of the service or gift as a free service or gift. By this we mean free in the sense that it is not done by compulsion, not that it is done for no price. Therefore, when we say “please”, we are saying that someone else is acting “at their pleasure” or freely. Literally, “please” is short for “may it please you….” When we say “thank you”, we are saying that we are giving good thoughts for the other person, or holding the other person’s desires in mind. “Thank” has the same etymological root as the word “think”. Other languages do not have this exact etymological derivation, but the intention is usually the same, to point out that the gift or service is being given at the pleasure of the giver and not of the receiver. It is a mark that the gift or service is not a compelled gift and a sign of lower status, but is a free gift and a sign of comparable status. “Please” and “thank you” are terms that help show others that we do not consider them as slaves or subordinates. By saying “please” and “thank you”, we show others that we are concerned with their “pleasure” and that we are “thinking” of them. Using these terms, then, are very important. When other people help us they put themselves in a vulnerable position. By using these terms, we show that we do not consider them our inferiors.