Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Hot Probs: The Baffling 'No Problem' Etiquette Question

Posted By on Tue, Dec 1, 2009 at 12:24 PM

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Even though I've been accused of having been raised by wolves (or jackals, I can't remember), I find etiquette fascinating. I'm not only curious about the correct behavior: I make extra room for and pay special attention to the horrifyingly egregious lack of the correct behavior. Because if you really think about it, you're basically surrounded by idea-stealing, no-credit giving gargoyles who take too long to pay you back and never remember that you're the one who introduced them to the word roustabout. You know, if you think about it. But what really sticks in my craw lately is this etiquette question that's been circulating the Internet (See here and here and here). People are apparently mystified and baffled by kids today saying "no problem" in response to "thank you." My response? I'm baffled that you would find the response "no problem" to be rude or unacceptable. And yet, even the etiquette advice-givers are siding with this geriatric folly--typically, their response has been: "Yes, I know, it's so heinous that people say 'no problem.' Try instead to focus on the intent." Jackals! Seriously, what's the problem? As a person who says "no problem," I'd like to explain myself: If you say thank you, I'm merely letting you know that what I did was not a problem at all. Not an inconvenience. Not a hassle. Even if it actually was. In most cases, it probably was a problem. We could stop covering that up with euphemisms, but I don't want you to feel that it was a problem, so I'm making sure you don't. I didn't have to help you in any way, and yet, I'm the one doing you a favor here, after all. (Some folks point out that when it's a service-industry situation, that it's infuriating when the server says "no problem," after the customer says "thank you." Their reasoning? It was your job to do the thing, so the customer thinks it sure as hell better not be a problem. OK, fine. Then don't thank the server for doing their job since a.) It was their job and b.) You can't possibly bear to hear them let you know that because it was their job, it was, in fact, not a problem for them to perform said service for you. What's that? You were just being nice when you said thanks? Exactly. So were they.) But since you said thanks, you've acknowledged that I put myself out in some way. Maybe I loaned you money; maybe I listened intently and asked questions relevant to the subject matter while you talked about how you feel about yourself and your relationship for like 20 minutes and then you cut me off when I started talking about myself and didn't even realize it (in which case, you probably didn't even apologize, but I noticed--I just want you to know I noticed). Or maybe I held a heavy door open for you; gave you a book I thought you'd like. Maybe I picked up lunch for you. Maybe I walked your dog. However you slice it, you said "thanks," and I said "The transaction I have performed for you here is in not an inconvenience to me." Maybe I even said "no problemo," you know, just to be funny. Like I speak Spanish or something. (I don't.) Maybe I said "no prob," in keeping with the current trend of shortening words to the point of silliness and confusion. Either way, I meant that it was no big deal, a.k.a. no biggie, or no bigs. And you should be perfectly content with the fact that an acceptable social exchange has occurred. Because I have in fact recognized your thanks and returned it amenably. So please stop throwing your hand up to your foreheads in angst wondering why the world has to gone straight to Shitsville. I'm happy to talk you off this semantic ledge. In fact, it's been no problem at all.

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