“No problem,”’ says the young barista just after I thank him for my cup of decaf.
“No problem,” says the kid at the gas station after he has filled my car and I have thanked him.
So here’s how I feel: In each case cited above, I have been happy to hear that it was no problem for these young people to have done what they did. But these exchanges are all commercial transactions, in which one party offers a good or a service in exchange for pay from the other, so as far as I have always understood, the notion of a ‘problem’ doesn’t enter into it.
Look at commuting. It’s hard to have spent two or more hours on the road to get back and forth to your job. It’s hard to have to stand out in the elements in wet or cold or sizzling hot weather waiting for the bus that will get you to your job and back again. Ask any random group of people what time they have to get up in the morning in order to get themselves and their family members fed and dressed and out the door to work or school and what you learn will back up the statistics: Americans are among the hardest working people on the planet. And yet you rarely hear them using the word ‘problem’ about what it takes for them to get to that job. Most people – in these post-crash times especially – are happy to even have a job that they can go to every day,
So what’s with this ‘no problem’ phrase that has become the norm among so many younger people?
I don’t mean to be grouchy here. And for sure it’s not that I don’t CARE about the problems people face day to day because I do. If I see a sales associate furtively rubbing her neck with a look of pain on her face as she waits for me to dig out my money, I’m not going to act as if I didn’t see it. I’m going to ask her if she’s OK.
It’s just that ‘No problem’ is the wrong response to ‘Thank you’ and don’t we all know that?
Don’t we all remember the right response, the one we were all taught as kids?
The right response to ‘Thank you’ is ‘You’re welcome.’ In Italy and Spain they say, ‘It’s nothing’ in response to a ‘Thank you.’ In Germany they use the word for, ‘Please,’ which, handily enough, also means ‘Thank you’, ‘Care to have a seat?’ ‘After you,’ and a host of other things as well.
In English we sometimes say, ‘Don’t mention it’ when someone says ‘Thank you,’ which, come to think of it, feels a lot like ‘It’s nothing’ as well as the German word for ‘Please’, Thank you’, ‘Care to have a seat?’ and ‘After you.’
‘You’re welcome’ means ‘You are welcome to my help’, or, in these instances, ‘I am happy to be the one providing you with your coffee/your gasoline/your bag of potatoes, which I hand you in this bag here.’
No matter if they’re not all THAT happy; we say ‘thank you’, ‘please’ and ‘you’re welcome’ because it is courteous to do so; because it oils the social machinery.
But enough for now with my beefing! Next week, if I’m still showing my age – and my grumpy side – I’ll be going after all those people who absurdly call me ‘Young lady.’ 😉