One of the simplest things I do in foreign languages also happens to be the one that people seem to find most impressive: simply saying "thanks". The trick is, doing it in their language.
I recently went to lunch with several coworkers, and I recognized the waitress's accent as Romanian, so when she brought out our food, I told her mulţumesc — Romanian for "thank you".
It's just one word, and I really don't know much more than that in Romanian. But that one word is priceless, because I not only got a warm smile and great service from our waitress, but I also had several coworkers saying, "I don't believe it. You're like a walking encyclopedia of languages!"
Sure, it feels good to get that kind of compliment from my coworkers — being respected where you work is important — but that's not why I do it.
I do this because words in your native language naturally carry a deeper meaning. Hearing "gracias" is less meaningful to me than hearing "thank you", and I'm sure it's the same for anyone else.
But what's more, there are so many people who have come here to America (or wherever you're reading this) and left behind their family and their country and their culture. Even if I can only do it in a word or two, I would like to make people feel more at home. I find the reaction I get from a well-placed salamat, obrigado or dziękuję to be worth far more than the few minutes it took me to learn those words.
If you'd like to get smiles from strangers and maybe a little extra recognition from your colleagues, one easy way is to learn some useful ways to say thanks.
Want to see my favorite language resources and courses?
I listed them here.