If you say “gracias” (“thank you”) in Mexico, chances are you will get “de que?” (literally, “for what?”) in return; a self-deprecating response that implies, “I did nothing,” or, “whatever I did, it’s not worthy of gratitude.” More prevalent in other Spanish-speaking countries is “de nada,” literally “of nothing,” or “for nothing,” meaning “it was nothing,” again, seeking to minimize the action prompting the expression of gratitude. The French “de rien” is literally identical to the Spanish “de nada.”
The most frequent Italian response to “grazie” (thank you), is “prego,” a fascinating word with many different meanings depending on context, but whose meaning when used in response to “grazie” is “please,” as in “please, how can you possibly even think of thanking me.” Similar to “de que?” “de nada,” and “de rien,” “prego” seeks to diminish the value of the action taken by the person receiving the thanks.
Those outwardly humble, self-deprecating responses to gratitude have always bothered me a bit, for two reasons. First, although sometimes it may be appropriate to convey that the action taken was really no big deal, many times that is clearly not the case. Second, the responses not only minimize the action, but also take issue with the gratitude by deeming it superfluous. “Why are you even thanking me,” they seem to contend. If someone thanks you for something, does it make sense to argue about it?
In most English-speaking countries, the most common response to “thank you” is “you’re welcome,” short for “you are welcome to my help.” I feel more comfortable with this response because it neither minimizes the action nor takes issue with the gratitude. Whether the action was simple or difficult, “your’e welcome” means, “count on me, I’ll help you anytime.” The Spanish “a la orden” (or “a sus órdenes”) is similar, meaning something like “I await further orders”, or “I’m at your service.”
My favorite responses to “thank you,” though, are “my pleasure,” (or “with pleasure”) and the equivalent Spanish “con gusto.” The sentiment they convey is that, regardless of the ease or difficulty of the action taken, the person thanked enjoyed being of service to the thanker. Not “I did nothing,” or “the action is not worthy of gratitude,” but instead, “to help you brings me pleasure.” “My pleasure” diminishes nothing, does not take issue with anything, and pays a lovely compliment to the person doing the thanking.
So, thank you for reading. I hope it was your pleasure!