When a friend and I trekked in the Indian Himalayas a few years ago, the two words we most frequently uttered were thank you. Thank you, porters, for pitching our tent. Thank you for cooking breakfast, lunch and dinner. Thank you for helping us navigate the reed thin log crossing the swollen, angry Beas river. Thank you for serving us morning coffee in our tent. Thank you for waking us up on a starry morning early enough to watch the sun rise above one of the highest mountain peaks in the world. Thank you for carrying my backpack up and down a much less impressive mountain peak and lending me your down jacket because I was too stupid to pack appropriately for a high altitude trek. Thank you, thank you, thank you.
After three days of incessant thank yous, our guide Anand, snapped, "At least learn how to say thank you in Hindi--Danyavaad."
I've now been in Bali for over two months and I've managed to pick up exactly two Balinese words: matu suksama. Thank you. Those two simple words color every exchange I have with the locals. Even if I'm butchering the pronunciation, the locals don't mind. They seem genuinely appreciative of the attempt.
That got me thinking: I can travel just about anywhere in the world as long as I know how to say thank you in the local language.
During my second trip to the Indian Himalayas, as I was checking out of the Holiday Inn in Manali, I thanked the hotel clerks in Hindi, which made them giggle (they spoke and understood English perfectly). So I continued thanking them in Urdu (shukriya), French (merci), Italian (grazi), Spanish (gracias), Portuguese (obrigada), German (danke), Japanese (arigato), Mandarin (xie xie) and Thai (kha).
"You speak many languages," one hotel clerk said, clearly impressed.
"Nope, just English," I replied. "Thanks is the only word I know in any other language."
"Ah," he nodded. "But it is the only word you need to know."
Click here for a list of how to say thank you in over 400 languages.