No Problem?

“… Now happy as I was to hear that it was ‘no problem’ for these young people to have done what they did, the fact remains that the transactions that brought us together in those two instances were, in fact, commercial transactions, in which one party offered a good or a service in exchange for pay from the other party. Thus, as far as I have always understood, the notion of a problem doesn’t enter into it.”

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no problemAn erstwhile reader of my column has just advised me about a piece he just read in the Wall Street Journal about the use of the phrase “No problem” in place of “Thank you.” This man remembered that I had written about this same custom myself few years back, and so I had, as I saw when I went hunting for it on the web. “No problem,” one young waitress had told me back then when I thanked her for bringing my order. “No problem,”’ the young barista had said after I thanked him for my decaf latte.

Now happy as I was to hear that it was ‘no problem’ for these young people to have done what they did, the fact remains that the transactions that brought us together in those two instances were, in fact, commercial transactions, in which one party offered a good or a service in exchange for pay from the other party. Thus, as far as I have always understood, the notion of a problem doesn’t enter into it.

Consider, by contrast, another part of our common life, that of the daily commute. It’s darn hard to spend two or more hours on the road to get back and forth to your job week in and week out. 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 there and back again. Ask any random group of adults 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 their jobs, so I have to ask: 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. 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.’ So too, the German word ‘Bitte’ serves to say “You’re welcome,” as well as standing in 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/ dinner. No matter if the person is 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 beefing from me on a lovely October morning. Let me save my complaints for the next weekday morning when some postal clerk, who knows at a glance that I can name the entire cast of the Howdy Doody Show, tries calling me ‘Young lady’! 

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9 thoughts on “No Problem?

  1. Was thinking this morning how; at 73; some young ladies call me “Sir” and others “Hon”. May start saying, ‘Please. The only one who calls me “Hon”, is my wife and she is no longer with me.”

  2. So glad you’re still blogging, Ter; I don’t mind the wait in between and it gives you a better chance to charge up! I loved this one. Yes, “no problem” is curt, actually rude, and in no way expresses gladness for providing one help or service.
    The one that annoys me too is the loss of “fewer”. I hardly ever hear or read the word. And such a beautiful sounding word. I cringe whenever I hear “less” used to describe something countable – less trucks on the road, less trees planted every year -. Yikes! Nails scratching a blackboard. But they’re gone too. White boards in schools now. Plastic instead of slate. May your cares be fewer every day!

  3. Ah what a heartening message, the last part especially. Only Whole Foods, in the grocer world, has a sign reading “12 or Fewer Items.” Less for fewer drive me crazy too and I have become, like my mother before me, one who yells corrections at the television ! Lovely as always to hear from you….

  4. Whew!….So, it isn’t just me. Exactly when did “no problem” become the catch phrase of the young. It was so off putting to me when I first began to get that response whenever I said thank you to the grocery bagger, etc. No problem? It irritated the s*** out of me when I began to hear that response…on just about a daily basis. My feeling now is that the ‘kid’ is simply lazy or so totally disinterested with me that ‘no problem’ is simply the minimal effort that they are able to expend to conclude our interaction. Cripes.

    1. Hey Joel! I actually think they don’t know any better. Some of these kids working at the checkouts were not even born until the turn of the millennium and think what a falling off formality had taken place even then. Myself I can’t think when the last time I heard “you’re welcome” was – unless it’s someone saying it sarcastically to indicate that you haven’t offered sufficient thanks to them thanks to THEM! Being someone from the breezy Northeast,I wasn’t raised to say sir and ma’am to older people but I wish I had been. I think it’s very nice, and respectful. Let’s promise each other that we won’t let this post our blood pressure. 🙂

    2. Now THERE’S a word we don’t hear much anymore: Cripes. Love it!
      You know Joel I think they just don’t know, or maybe the store manager thinks ‘No problem’ is a fine and gracious response and trained the kid that way. I’m betting ‘the kid’ is far from disinterested in any human interaction that might inject some variety into his day. The trouble is we’re ‘old’ now and anything we say to the young is at first rather ‘SUSPECT’ haha.

  5. I first heard “no problem” in Australia years ago, and then noticed it seemed to have migrated to here.

    In Italy I’ve never heard “niente” after “grazie.” Instead, as in German, they reply with “prego,” the same word for please.

    1. that’s right I remember that now from my time in Italy. Prego means I think I pray you (?) as in I pray you not to mention it ?
      Cool that No problem migrated from Down Under where we all kind of wish we were living right now .

  6. In Britain (I’m an American who lives in Cornwall), “you’re welcome” is considered an Americanism. “Please” and “thank you,” however, are multiplying like the slugs that eat my garden plants down to twigs. Maybe “you’re welcome” is a predator that’s needed to keep the population down.

    In our local shop, I’ve been over-thanked to the tune of “thank you, thank you very much, thank you.”

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