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Margaret Visser

The Gift of Thanks

Date Recorded: Dec 20th, 2008
Recorded At: Ottawa, Ontario
Recorded By: Big Ideas,
Duration: 59:30

Topic Background
This edition of Canadian Voices features cultural historian Margaret Visser, speaking on themes from her 2008 book, “The Gift of Thanks: The Roots, Persistence, and Paradoxical Meanings of a Social Ritual”.

Margaret Visser writes on the history, anthropology, and mythology of
everyday life. Her books include Much Depends on Dinner, The Rituals of Dinner, The Way We Are, and The Geometry of Love, which have all been best sellers and have won major international awards. In 2002 she gave the Massey Lectures on CBC radio, subsequently published as the best-selling book, Beyond Fate. Her books have been translated into French, German, Dutch, Spanish, Italian and Portuguese.

Born in South Africa, she attended school in Zambia, Zimbabwe, France (the Sorbonne) and Canada. She taught Greek and Latin at York University north of Toronto for 18 years, and appears frequently on radio and television. She is married to Colin Visser, professor emeritus of the English Department of the University of Toronto, and divides her time between Toronto, Paris, and South West France.

The talk was originally broadcast on TV Ontario’s Big Ideas programme in December, 2008.

Speaker Biography
In the Gift of Thanks, Margaret Visser takes her cues from linguistics, the classics and anthropology, to investigate the way gratitude manifests itself across cultures, from tipping waiters in restaurants to standing in silence on Remembrance Day. Her inquiry into all aspects of gratefulness ranges from the unusual determination with which parents teach their children to thank, to the difference between speaking the words and feeling them, to the way different cultures handle the complex matter of giving, receiving, and returning favours and presents. In this talk, gratitude is revealed as a key to understanding many aspects of everyday behaviour.

For more information about Margaret Visser visit

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