A number of years ago, I accompanied a group of students to Costa Rica as part of a cultural exchange. My role was primarily as "chaperone" (ha!), van-driver, and keeper-of-the-funds. The students were doing most of the interacting, which was good, because they were much more likely to know Spanish than me! My education in Español, sadly, was limited to Junior High level . . . and that was a while back! But I did remember enough of the basics to say "Please", "Thank You" and something akin to 'We've got to get going now!" And I was not too old to learn new phrases, like "Check, please?"
I was surprised, however, the first few times I tried "Muchas gracias". I knew enough to pronounce it correctly, and use it in the right context. But the response I got back from the "Ticos" (Costa Ricans) wasn't quite what I expected (which was "De nada" -- the phrase we learned in 7th grade!). Instead, the response was "Mucho gusto". Once I figured out what I was hearing (and translated it), I became quite taken by the Tico answer. Instead of hearing "It's nothing", I was told that whatever the service (carrying my luggage, serving my meal, opening the door) occasioned my appreciation came with "Much joy!". Hmm! Pretty often, then, I am invited to recall this bit of education . . . and challenge. Even yesterday, I heard (in an interview) the host effusively thank her guest. His response was, "No, thank you!".
So, I've been thinking about how we respond to "Thank you." In the U.S., there is no clear-cut winner. The responses range from "You're welcome" to "No problem" to "It was nothing" (de nada) to "Don't mention it" to . . . ? Similarly, there are no clear "winners" in other languages. Common in French is "de rien" ("it's nothing"). But, in the south of France, "avec plaisir" (i.e., "with pleasure") is more common. Swedish? "Varsågod"! "Be so good"? Chinese: "bú kè qi", or, literally, "Don't be nice". And, so I've begun to wonder, too, about what the response says about the personal or cultural values behind thatservice to others that prompts a "thank you".
"It's nothing", or De nada suggests (to me) that the server felt imposed upon, but, perhaps, not unnecessarily or unexcessively so. Avec plaisir or Mucho gusto suggest that the act service itself was a joy, or pleasurable. "Be so good" may suggest that the recipient return the favor. But, "You're welcome"?
At a conference/retreat I attended last week, the speaker challenged us to respond to "thank you" with an enthusiastic "YOU'RE WELCOME!". Not "You're welcome", but "YOU'RE WELCOME!" And I began to toy with that.
"Welcoming" is an act of hospitality. It is an invitation to encounter and engagement. It is drawing of the other into one's own circle. It is making a place for that other at one's own table.
Ponderable. You have done an act of service for someone; you have stepped aside from your life's demands to attend to their needs. You have opened your door to them. They recognize that and express appreciation. "YOU'RE WELCOME", you reply as you invite them into your life, with the implication that they may anticipate your continued hospitality. "Hospitality" -- a virtue that lies at the core of every religious tradition I know. And, by extension, I suppose, at the heart of God.
How many times a day do we have the opportunity, in such an easy way, to reflect the heart of God? It's not nothing. It can be an act of much joy!