Celebrate You’re Welcome Day

What comes after thanksgiving? If I capitalize the “t,” the answers come easily: leftovers, shopping, more football, and the second day of Americans’ only guaranteed four-day weekend. But what about after the act of giving thanks — what comes next?

We know the answer, but we forget to do it. Have you noticed that people rarely say “you’re welcome” anymore? We’ve fallen into some bad conversational habits when people tell us “thank you.” We diminish, deny or deflect the gratitude of others.

Diminish: “It was nothing.” “No problem.”

Deny: “No, thank YOU.” “Don’t mention it.”

Deflect: “I’m happy to do it.” “It was my pleasure.”

None replace a simple “you’re welcome.” Only “you’re welcome” closes the transaction cleanly, without asking for a recalculation or adding some reciprocating complexity.

Do you find yourself complaining that people are becoming less civil with one another? Or that people don’t express gratitude as often? That our interactions have become more contentious, more coarse?

I believe we’ve welcomed those changes by neglecting “you’re welcome.” How we interact with family, friends and neighbors easily seeps into how we relate to everyone else.

“Please” and “thank you” have survived just fine, and “I’m sorry” is having a heyday since companies began teaching employees to say it instead of providing customer service. (A topic for another day.) But “you’re welcome” sounds awkward and old-fashioned. I blame the phone companies and National Public Radio.

Before the phone companies emerged from the deregulation of the 1980s, there was The Phone Company. Ma Bell did what all mothers do and modeled good social skills. Anyone who needed help could dial “directory assistance” and get a person on the phone. (Young people should think of the service as a voice-activated google.) That live person would say hello and ask how they could help. The conversation would close with a “thank you” and a “you’re welcome.”

Competition brought us lower prices, but that forced the phone companies to become more efficient. Phone companies could no longer afford to model good conversational habits for its customers. Time was money, and nobody was paying for niceties. Good-bye “hello.” Hello “city please.”

About the same time, National Public Radio began building its network of radio stations and a long-form news radio format that had been forgotten for a generation. Morning Edition and All Things Considered reintroduced an interview style that included the conversational bumpers of everyday interaction.

Hosts begin by introducing their guests and finish by thanking them “for stopping by.” But listen carefully. How often does the guest summon the nerve to answer with “you’re welcome?” Almost never. It’s no surprise. Who wouldn’t be thrilled for the chance to speak about their passions to millions of listeners? Guests are genuinely gratified for the opportunity. “You’re welcome” would sound priggish or self-important.

If everyone was telling the truth, the host would finish interviews by noting that millions of listeners have now heard the guest’s view, followed by a pause long enough for the guest to say “thank you for the opportunity.” To which the host would then reply: “You’re welcome.”

But the media won’t tell us the truth, and the phone company won’t teach us good manners. Like it or not, we’re on our own to change our habits. The day after Thanksgiving is the best time of all to become reacquainted with the simplest and surest response to thanksgiving. It can’t be popped into the microwave or gotten for 60 percent off.

This day should be set aside as “You’re Welcome Day,” so that our children and grandchildren are reminded of this basic verbal handshake.

You probably didn’t even notice you were forgetting to say something so basic and simple. If you happen to feel the urge to thank me for pointing it out, you’re welcome.

==

Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) thanks you for reading this column and he hopes you enjoy your leftovers. A longer version of this essay, including a short history of the ill-fated “Franksgiving” can be found below.

WEB EXTRA:

Cementing Thanksgiving into a November Thursday guaranteed workers their only four-day weekend. And it was put in place before workers had weekends. Abraham Lincoln set aside the last Thursday in November as a national holiday in 1863. Franklin D. Roosevelt was the only president who didn’t know to leave well enough alone. He moved it up a week, hoping to extend the Christmas shopping season and use that consumer spending to prop up the economy. Many retailers rebelled. They kept Thanksgiving at the end of the month, and derisively marked the Thursday before as “Franksgiving.” In 1941, a detente of sorts was reached and the holiday has since been celebrated every fourth Thursday in November, which is occasionally not the last.

But nobody ever debated the day of the week. Thursday has been the day, from the beginning. That leaves the Friday dangling. If today is not a holiday, it’s Americans’ shortest work week.