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etc. - a little of this, a little of that - by Oliver Del Signore

Do you have a problem with “No Problem”?

Thursday, February 23rd, 2012

I can’t imagine anyone reading this has not, at some point, in some store or office, thanked someone and in response been told it was “no problem.” I get it all the time.

I try to be polite and good mannered all the time. Plus, having worked in retail and food service when I was young, I understand how difficult dealing with the public can sometimes be, so a sincere “thank you” is offered at every opportunity. I may even go overboard at times, so you will understand why the following column, which appeared in The Boston Globe, caught my eye.

To make sure there’s ‘no problem’ try ‘You’re Welcome’

During a visit with my father, I happened to catch the end of the television game show, “Wheel of Fortune.’’ On a couple of occasions, I’ve seen Pat Sajak, the emcee, bring up an etiquette issue. Thank you, Pat.

This time he let loose with an etiquette pet peeve that struck home. He asked, rhetorically, what the deal is with people who respond to a sincere “Thank you’’ by saying “No problem.’’

I couldn’t agree with him more. “Thank you’’ is an expression of appreciation one person offers another. To respond “No problem’’ is to shrug off this acknowledgment as really being undeserved.

 I think that whatever prompted the “Thank you’’ was more than nothing and deserves a more positive response than “No problem.’’

Too often we ignore or dismiss “Thank you.’’ Saying “No problem’’ is one of the most common ways it’s done. Nobody likes to be dismissed.

I’ve written about the importance of saying “Thank you’’ and writing thank-you notes in previous columns. As important as it is for one person to say “Thank you’’ to another, it is equally important for the person being thanked to acknowledge the thanks sincerely. And the friendliest, nicest, most sincere response is “You’re welcome.’’

By saying “You’re welcome,’’ a person shows she has heard the “Thank you’’ and appreciates the recognition given by the person saying it.

One of my own pet peeves in this arena is people who respond to a “Thank you’’ by saying “No, thank you’’ with the emphasis on “you.’’

Huh? What did I do to deserve your thanks? When I hear this response, I wonder if the person is trying to trump my thanks with theirs.

If you want to return the “Thank you,’’ there’s an easy way to do this. First acknowledge that you’ve heard it and appreciate it by saying “You’re welcome.’’ Then, having done that, you can say, “And thank you, too. I really appreciate . . . ’’

By first acknowledging the other person’s thanks, you are taking a moment to focus on what they have said and show that you appreciate their gesture. You are showing them a measure of respect. Then you can offer them your thanks as well, and it, too, becomes a sincere demonstration of your appreciation of them.

When I’m thanked by the checkout person at the grocery or or other store, I always say “you’re welcome.” Unfortunately, more often than not these days, a “thank you” is not forthcoming as the person hands me my change and receipt, so I issue a “thank you” of my own which is too often met with indifference or a “no problem.”

I sometimes wonder if this is just another face of the general coarsening of American society, or if it’s the result of parents who don’t bother to teach their children about manners and politeness or if the person who trained the employee is an example of The Peter Principle at work. Whatever the answer, business owners would do well to think about the message their most visible employees are imparting to customers.

Politeness demands that we let it go when our thanks are met with a “no problem” even though I always want to ask if doing their job courteously and well normally poses a problem for them but in my case, did not.

Oh well.

Is my experience a function of living in the Northeast, where high school and college kids fill most low-level positions at stores or is this kind of thing common where you live, too?

Do you have a problem with “no problem” or do you often say it when thanked? If so, why do you say it instead of “you’re welcome”?

And do you wonder, as I sometimes do, if all this will bottom out one day and a return to civility and politeness and good manners will begin?




10 Responses to “Do you have a problem with “No Problem”?”

  1. Jessica Y. Says:

    I use “No problem!” It’s much more of a relaxed conversation return used with people I know well. I’d probably use “You’re welcome” with a stranger though. I’ll have to pay more attention now! I don’t think it’s bad manners, it seems like it’s personal preference. I’ve studied several languages through my life & this certainly seems to be a question of a slang response rather than a proper one. I never knew it bothered people though!

  2. Lisa C. Says:

    I use it also. I never realized it bothered anyone either. Interesting.

  3. TLynn Says:

    Interesting. It appears to be an issue of semantics. As a southern born lady approaching 40, I am well versed in politeness, but I have no problem (grin) with ‘no problem’ being an acceptable response to ‘you’re welcome’. The word welcome has a variety of meanings, such as, “without obligation for the courtesy or favor received”. In other languages such as spanish, which may be where we adopted the relaxed ‘no problem’ retort to a ‘thank you’, de nada actually means, ‘It is nothing’.
    Why is ‘you’re welcome’ an or THE only accepted response? What does welcome really mean anyways in regards to thanks?
    Instead of you’re welcome, we could respond to a ‘thank you’ with a hearty “You are under no obligation for my act of courtesy. Have a great day!” But, alas, that smacks of unappreciativeness, and likely to get us in more trouble than a no problem. What to do, what to do?

  4. sterling Says:

    I use no problem all the time. To me it just makes sense, if someone is thanking me i usually try to downplay whatever it is I’ve done. Maybe I just don’t like the credit, or maybe its just not that big of a deal to me. I can’t imagine it having offended anyone in the past. I try to make whoever is thanking me feel like it really wasn’t a problem, like it wasn’t an imposition. But maybe that’s just me.

  5. Judy Says:

    I’m with the rest of your responders. Here on the Great Plains ‘no problem’ means you are being humble (it’s the least I could do) and you are acknowledging the ‘thanks’.

    Here’s one, when the store clerk tells you ‘and have a good day’. How do you and others respond? Most people don’t even nod their head in recognition of the statement. My answer to that comment is “You have a good one too!” It usually brings a smile to the clerk’s face and brightens both of our days.

  6. Mary Jane Says:

    I, too, am a “Southern lady”, from East Texas, who was raised with good manners as a part of life. I was taught “You’re welcome” is the proper response to “Thank You”. I hate the “No problem” tossed off in response to my thanks; it makes me feel dismissed. It is mostly young people around here who are impolite this way. I grew up working in my Dad’s grocery store in a small town, and good manners were NOT an option. The customer definitely was always right and treated politely. They were the reason we were in business. When my parents sold the store after many years, my Daddy bought my Mama a new car. She named it, “Yes, Ma’am”! I do sometimes respond to someone with, “Thank you, too”, if I really mean it. Thank you for addressing this subject. (Please don’t respond with you-know-what!)

  7. Leonard Barnes Says:

    It seems we are all of one or two opinions, I would prefer the courtesy of “Your Welcome” but in today’s world I can understand the quip and completeness of “No Problem.” At least I can relate to either response and am guilty of using both. It still beats no response or a quick nod. In our busy world we sometimes lose the desire to employ common courtesy, common sense and measure of what is proper. I can live with this problem with much more ease than some of our other shorthand response to anything we say or do. For example, I would not do well in the world of SMS abbreviations becoming so common as to begin to creep into writing and speech but of course that is another battle for another day.

  8. Oliver Says:

    Mary Jane, you’re welcome!

    And thank you to the others who commented.

    When I hear that response, I want to say “Is it usually a problem for you to ring up sales? (or whatever) but I don’t, because that would be impolite.

    I guess my issue with “no problem” is, as Mary Jane said, it feels dismissive, like the clerk or cashier is doing you a favor by helping and/or taking your money when, in fact, if it was not for the customer, the clerk or cashier might not have a job.

    On the other hand, if it actually did take some great effort to get me what I want, and I said something like, “Sorry for making you go through all that,” I think “No problem, sir” would be a very appropriate response.

  9. karla from colorado Says:

    I, to, have a problem with ‘no problem’! When a server or clerk uses this response I often think or say to myself (under my breath, after they’ve gone) ‘I’m certainly glad it wasn’t, since it’s what you’re being paid to do!’

    I think Oliver’s latest comment says exactly what I feel about the phrase. I understand that, though it sounds flippant and dismissive (perhaps even condescending) it’s used with the same sincerity as ‘you’re welcome’ but it’s not a direct reply to the statement of thanks… it just doesn’t seem appropriate nor professional, generally.

  10. Leanne Says:

    Heh. “No problem” is a multigenerational thing out here on the west coast — everyone uses it. Doesn’t bother me … In fact, “you’re welcome” often seems *too* formal and stilted.

    I’m kind of surprised that no one else here uses “any time”, though. “Thank you!” “Any time.” — meaning of course that it was no hassle and you’d be willing to do it again if needs be.



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