Language changes. I get that. In fact, I must always keep up with expressions, slang and sayings to make my presentations more contemporary to my audiences. Back in the day, when I was working in the greeting card industry, learning, improving and knowing the latest use of the English language was mandatory. It was all about trends. With the exception of church services, most of us don’t say Thee and Thou anymore. Throw in today’s surplus of acronyms used to text, and I am right back in the days when Arthur Herbert Fonzarelli (Fonzie), a fictional character played by Henry Winkler in the American sitcom Happy Days, used words like exactamundo, correctamundo and sit on it.
However, certain bits of language haven’t changed all that much. For example, up until a decade or so ago, when I thanked you for fixing my lawnmower, you might have said, “You’re welcome.” Now, English grammar experts do differentiate between being “welcome” and “being welcomed.” For example, “You are always a welcome guest at my humble hotel” versus “We felt so welcomed at that hotel.”
No Problem? Actually, It Is.
Welcome or welcomed, however it has been conveyed, generally makes us feel better. Someone does something nice for us, or we give them business, or they provide us with some kind of service, and we thank them. The phrase we usually like to hear is, “You’re welcome.”
Lately, I have been rather shocked by the number of people whose response is “No problem.”
“No problem” signals a shift in how people react to gratitude. “No problem” is a slang expression and was at one time used to connote a “cool person” using cool slang. The problem is that “No problem” is a problem, and a huge number of people who use it don’t get it.
For example, I recently purchased a birthday present for my wife from a boutique in the mall. I have the choice of dozens of stores in that mall, plus thousands of online sources. I walked into the store, selected a gift, placed my hard-earned money on the counter and thanked the clerk, and she said, “No problem.” No greeting as I entered the store, no assistance in selecting the gift, no engagement at the point of purchase—and I am thanking her for what?
My first satirical thought was, I didn’t know there was a problem? My second consideration was, Who hired you to work with the public? My final assumption was—and of course, everyone who knows me understands this thought—“Did I disturb your texting?”
About ten days ago I went into a coffee shop and ordered a coffee. Nothing fancy, just a coffee. Simple enough. I said thank you. The barista saw me put some change in the tip jar (a whole discussion for another blog!), and his response: “No problem.” Again, I couldn’t help but think, Was my presence in line at your location, in a city with arguably 800 coffee shops, an inconvenience to you? When you saw me walk in, did you suddenly realize you were short of Guatemalan coffee beans, and you had no choice but to race around town to source enough coffee beans to make my cup? Is that why you said it was no problem? Was my tip insufficient and you were giving me a break for only giving you a dollar tip for a $4.85 coffee (20%)?
Speaking of no problem, I asked a few friends to help me compile a list of places they had encountered someone who said “No problem” instead of “Thank you.” Not in any special order: Coffee shop, clothing store, dry cleaner, dog groomer, insurance company representative, orthopedic surgeon receptionist, dental hygienist, church secretary and car mechanic. I am sure you can add a few of your own.
The use of “No problem” bothers most everyone. It troubles people across the board, Millennials to the “Silent Generation.” Most people don’t like it. We spurn it. It signals to most of us that our business somehow bothered you. This is especially true in international commerce.
It also signals that for many people who are used to conducting business digitally and communicating digitally, that human interaction has become burdensome. When I feel as though I am a burden, I will go somewhere else, and everyone is happy (except the owner). This will enable a clerk to send texts without interruption, and me to get the service I deem valuable.
Some expressions should be prevented and never reinforced. For those of you who follow me and appreciate my blogs, no problem!