On disingenuous gratitude in Scandinavia.
“Tack” is “thank you” in Norwegian and Swedish. I’ve also noticed that “tusen tack” «a thousand thanks» is a common everyday expression, tossed around for all kinds of banal exchanges. To my mind, this is overstating one’s gratitude and actually diminishes the currency of thanks. One cannot simply go from one thank you to a thousand thank yous, with little to no difference between them—this is inviting disastrous gratitude inflation to consume one’s culture and unravel the civic fabric of society.
With this social meltdown in my mind, I’ve been experimenting with different denominations of tacks during my time in Sweden. I’ve used “tack tack” for little things like delivery of food to the table or a ticket to a museum. For a slightly bigger gesture, like a haircut, I’ve gone with “dussin tack” «a dozen thanks», which people often mishear as “tusen tack” because I say it wrong and because they’ve most likely never heard anyone given them a dozen thanks before. Once I explain it them they laugh, either at me or with me, I can’t be sure. But a dozen feels about right—not too many, not too few. I suppose for the smallest of favors one could even hand out “ett havlt tack” «half a thanks» but this seems borderline passive aggressive.
This is not to say that there aren’t favors that actually deserve a thousand thanks. Saving your life, for instance. Delivering your child. Putting out a fire in your house. I’m not interested in cutting down the gratitude in the world, God knows we need more gratitude, but rather in creating an accurate rate of currency for this gratitude so that we can know how much things actually mean.
With this in mind, I propose a challenge system for your gratitude. A kind of check & balances. Here’s how it works. As usual, you say any number of tacks to the person who has granted you a favor (and this includes a thousand) but this person then has the chance to say “jag synar dig” «I call», which essentially is asking you, “Are you actually that grateful?” You must then respond with either ja or nej. In the case of ja, you must show your gratitude by actually clapping out or repeating the word “tack” for each tack that you offered. A tusen tacks, at a rate of four claps per second (a very brisk pace) will take you approximately five minutes. If you demonstrate this feat, the challenger then is proven wrong—you were, in fact, that grateful, and he or she must don a kind of dunce cap designed for this very purpose called “den ouppriktiga tacksamhetens hatt” «the hat of disingenuous gratitude» for the rest of the day. If, on the other hand, he calls you out on your tusen tacks and either you refuse or are unable to complete the challenge, then you must wear the hat for the rest of the week.
I imagine these challenges to be few and far between, as just the possibility of such a challenge should normalize the gratitude currency. There may be an initial crash when the system is put in place, as people, fearful of being challenged, will only offer minimal tacks, but I suspect that this will work itself out and in time the exchange of thanks will become justified and honest.
You will also realize that this proposal offers a lucrative opportunity for the dunce hatmakers, as every Swedish and Norwegian citizen will have to have den ouppriktiga tacksamhetens hatt at the ready just in case they are challenged or must dole out a challenge themselves. These hats could feature elaborate local decorations, with familial coats of arms, Viking Gods, catchphrases and spirit animals. Of course if the hats become too beautiful then people may want to wear them anyways and will thus intentionally deliver wildly inaccurate bundles of gratitude where ever they go in the hopes they will be called on their bluff and thus must display their masterpiece.
Well, we’ll see. I admit the idea is still a work in progress. I’m open to suggestions on how to fine-tune the system. Dussin tack.