Thank you / ধন্যবাদ: The power of language (by Dr Rubina Khanam)

We are delighted to welcome Rubina Khanam (PhD, Curriculum and Instruction, University of Regina) back as our guest blogger this week. Rubina is a sessional lecturer in the Faculty of Education at the University of Regina in Saskatchewan, Canada. She teaches pre-service teachers in the areas of multilingualism in schools, second language pedagogy, cross-cultural teaching strategies, and social justice issues. Rubina’s doctoral dissertation is about English language planning and policy in Bangladesh as a postcolonial context. Her earlier BILD blog post can be read here .

Do all languages have thank you?

I wonder.

Do they always say it in the same way?

My curious mind wants to know.

In Bangla, we don’t have thank you. We have a translation for it:  আপনাকে/তোমাকে/ তোকে ধন্যবাদ or thanks/ধন্যবাদ. Using this translation of thank you is uncommon in spoken Bangla. It’s used in a more formal context. I don’t thank my mother or brothers in Bangla, nor even in English. We strictly follow the “no sorry, no thank you in friendship”rule (sorry has a story, too, but I’ll tell you that story later). My Bengali friend once asked me: “What’s wrong with you?”, when I said thank you multiple times in our conversation. I suppose I wanted to be  Canadian (I think I wanted to be a part of imagined communities, as Anderson (2006) discussed). My friend harshly reminded me that I’m still a Bengali. So here is the story of a Bengali who wants to be Canadian—a white one, not another kind like Brown or Black, because it’s still white Canada (Kwak, 2018; Razack, 1999; Ward,1978)—and say thank you.

The author at her Canadian citizenship ceremony

Have you been to the University of Regina?

The doors are so heavy for this skinny Canadian and fat Bengali girl. They become extra heavy during ice hockey season (read “winter”—I’m trying to be Canadian by consciously choosing words that show I’m familiar with white Canadian culture). I have spent countless late evenings and nights on campus. I found a disciple (at least, I thought she was, but she just wanted to pick my brain as they all do. They love learning about other culture. Oh guess what! I don’t love teaching you other culture because it’s exhausting. Next time I’m going to charge you if you pick my brain). So, one evening when we were leaving campus and I was whipping my disciple’s brain, I pushed the heavy door but didn’t hold it for a white boy who was behind me. He held the door for his own kind and my disciple said, “Sorry, she’s new here (I wasn’t). Thank you.” 

You see, language is interesting; especially, the English language. You can use sorry and thank you at the same time in the same sentence, for example: Sorry but fuck you. I LOVE English! Okay, what was I saying?

I was saying how Bengalis don’t say ধন্যবাদ/thank you —we do it. The most common way to do ধন্যবাদ/thank you is to feed you. The most common way to feed you is to invite you to our home. The Bengalis say guests are দেবতা / gods. They also receive the same treatment as gods. I mean our guests. Many people ask me “what brought you here”? The honest answer is, I came here because I wanted to be a god. I discovered it wasn’t only me who desired to be a god. My fellow Bengalis wanted the same. They’d go to the Great Canadian Superstore and refuse to say thank you to the cashiers. But, of course, those cashiers didn’t invite them, feed them or treat them like gods because the cashiers’ job is to take your money and lock it in the black box. Cashiers don’t care if you’re a god or a god damn it. Why would you say, or do, thank you to those who are just simply doing their job? It didn’t make any sense to Bengalis. It gradually started to make sense when my fellow Bengalis’ English was unclear to white cashiers’ or servers’ ears. I don’t blame those ears because they have hearing issues on that particular day and time when they are serving Brown Bengalis. Chacon (2006) has a name for those ears. They’re monolingual ears. I can’t blame Canadians (read white Canadians) as they want the Bengalis to do more to fit in (CBC, 2016). My fellow Bengalis learned how to say thank you very fast. Now, nobody’s hearing is as poor as before. Sometimes they have to spell their name out, but they’re working on their sorry. So, I’m hoping we will be good with names soon. Rubina will be Rubina, and not Robina or Rabina.

Winter at the University of Regina

Now don’t get me wrong, we Bengalis need to work on our thank you. We do thank you but we also need to say thank you. Doing thank you is tradition, but tradition can be changed. Good stuff can be added to tradition and make it stronger. I had a friend who bought me flowers every day and sang all my favourite songs. In my dorm, I was the flower girl. I told many people about the flowers and how thankful I was but never said thank you to that friend because, to me, my friend was doing a job that a friend was supposed to do. I didn’t say thank you but I did thank you. My doing thank you didn’t help anyone, neither my friend nor I. So, the moral of the story is don’t just change your profile picture on Facebook and do your thank you. Find time to say thank you in person. I’ve a thousand stories on this topic, but let’s move on.

Why am I suddenly writing about thank you?

It’s because of this pandemic (I won’t use the word damn pandemic because it’s teaching me many things. One is being humble). I was telling a friend how people were nice to me. She summed it up very well: “It’s a kind vibe because of the pandemic.”  The pandemic has some stages. According to my friend, we’re in the kind vibe stage.

Let me tell you some good news. I’ve become 60% Canadian. Well, this damn (want to use damn here because it sounds nice. I could use darn but where’s the fun? I probably know the difference between damn vs. darn. Damn!) Brown (in Canada)/ Black (in Bangladesh) skin will never be white, unless I bleach it. I don’t think bleached white will be acceptable as white. Then I’d have to fix my accent because nobody understands me when I say health or girl or car—it’s a lot of work to be Canadian! But hey, I’m still a bit Canadian (with a lot of accent). I know when to say thanks, thank you, and thank you so/very much with appropriate tone. I also know that you don’t say I don’t know how to say thank you. Ah! Here is a fun fact, you can say I don’t know how to say thank you in Bangla. It’s acceptable because it’s an expression of gratitude. You see language is interesting. But Bengalis don’t know many things which are acceptable facts. The ex-colonized, small, densely populated, and poor country won’t know many things. It’s normal. Everyone knows it. As a Canadian, I’ve learned that saying I don’t know is normal. Nobody expects you to know everything. I also know when to say I don’t know. For example, I can comfortably say Huh! I don’t know or I didn’t know that when it comes to Canadian history. So now, here is another fun fact: Bengalis don’t permit I don’t know when it comes to their history. You see Bengalis are famous for their intellectual snobbery (I take pride in being an intellectual Bengali and happily engage in the snobbery. Sorry!). Reminder: I’m still discussing thank you.

I’ve been surviving a pandemic because of a thousand people (not really a thousand but you know what I mean). I’m healthy and safe and staying well because of them. After all, we’re all in this together. Although I haven’t baked sourdough bread yet, I ate pumpkin pie (next step: pumpkin latte). You’ll be happy to hear that I’ve taken up new hobbies. One of them is gardening. My friends give me pots, dirt, and plants. One of them will plant them. I’m pretty sure she’ll also water them. But hey! Everything will happen in my backyard. So, it’s my garden, easy math. My second new hobby is eating various foods. I have been trying Bengali, Chinese, Canadian, and Italian food. If you’re wondering if I’m cooking them, before asking for a recipe, let me stop you right there. No, I’m not cooking. My friends are dropping food every day at my door. I’m into eating, not cooking. People say cooking is meditating. Bullshit! When did you start cooking? Nine years old, 10 years old? Did you have to cook for your seven people day after day? No? Oh! When you’re in your 30s or 40s, you’re probably trying a new pasta salad recipe or homemade pizza once in a while. Don’t talk to me about cooking and meditation, and trying new recipes is fun. Sorry if I sound angry, I don’t mean to!

I have a person who checks on me every day to make sure that I’m doing well. I was raised by a sister (not a wolf, if you’re wondering). In my life, I found a sister everywhere I went. People have a dad complex or mother complex, I have a sister complex. Although everyone jokes around that this person is my mother, she is more like my sister who looks after me and makes me feel safe and warm. I want to follow her everywhere she goes like a little lamb, but I don’t want to annoy her. During this pandemic I have met a thousand people (not physically meeting) who care about me and wish me well. Sometimes I think about what I have done to deserve it (trying to be modest here. I deserve it because I’m a nice person. Well, sometimes). I want to do thank you for them because I don’t know how to say thank you to them, and saying thank you is not enough for them.


Anderson, B. (2006). Imagined communities: Reflections on the origin and spread of nationalism. Verso books.

Chacón, C. T. (2019). My journey into racial awareness. In A. Curtis & M. Romney (Eds.), Color, Race, and English Language Teaching. (pp. 49-63). Routledge.

Kwak, L. J. (2018). Still making Canada white: Racial governmentality and the “good immigrant” in Canadian parliamentary immigration debates. Canadian Journal of Women and the Law, 30(3), 447-470.

Proctor, J. (2016). CBC-Angus Reid Institute poll: Canadians want minorities to do more to ‘fit in’. CBC.

Razack, S. H. (1999). Making Canada white: Law and the policing of bodies of colour in the 1990s. Canadian Journal of Law and Society/La Revue Canadienne Droit et Société, 14(01), 159-184.

Ward, P. (1978). White Canada Forever: Popular Attitudes and Public Policy toward Orientals in British Columbia. Montreal & Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press.

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