No Problem with “No Problem”

If you have a problem with people who say “no problem,” you just might be the problem.

A smiling waiter holding plates of food

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Everything was satisfactory. Your steak was well done — just the way you ordered it — and the millennial waiter kept your diet soda sans ice constantly filled. Then it happened. It happened so quickly that you were blindsided by his lapse of humanity as your server answered your expression of gratitude not with a proper “you’re welcome,” but with that odious phrase:

“No problem!”

What’s his problem? you’re thinking. This egregious transgression seems an atrocity, a glaring indication of a societal dissolution of norms and values.

Or maybe you’re overreacting.

Before asking to speak to the manager — who is probably another millennial — take a moment to reflect on whether it matters if an underpaid service worker uses the same lexicon you do.

The dispute over how to properly accept gratitude seems to be, as with many linguistic disagreements, a proxy war for generational superiority.

Who is acting entitled now?

“You’re welcome,” “no problem,” “no worries,” and “don’t mention it” are different facets of the same stone. The last seems to be the most acceptable among welcomers despite its adjacency to saying “shut up.”

These phrases, short, everyday expressions that actually convey next to nothing of value, are called phatic communications. The call-and-response sector of conversation, like a daily game of Marco Polo, maintains social solidarity and politeness, so a subversion of the typical “thank you” and “you’re welcome” interaction could seem jarring and perhaps rude. But when you consider that they’re mostly meaningless courtesies, the actual words themselves seem far less important than the intent behind them. If one kid in the pool cries out “Rubio!” instead of the typical response, gameplay can still proceed.

What does “you’re welcome” even mean? The phrase has been used to answer gratitude at least since Shakespearean times, but no one can be sure of why. It’s a nicety, probably meant to indicate one’s pleasure in the opportunity to help someone else. But has it ever been accurate? When a teenager at Chick-fil-A hands over your waffle fries and says “it’s my pleasure,” aren’t you really just taking part in some guise that she is delighted to be serving you fried food and milkshakes instead of vaping with her friends and performing stunts for YouTube? At least when she says “no problem,” you know she’s being honest.

As far as “thank you” responses are concerned, “you’re welcome” is an oddity, globally speaking. French and Spanish both opt for “it’s nothing” (de rien and de nada), and Germans use bitte, which also means “please,” “here you go,” and “oh no, it’s the picky American again.” In Ethiopia’s Amharic tongue, a service provider would say menem aydelem, which means — you guessed it — “no problem.” They’ve been saying it since at least the 13th century.

For cranky baby boomers demanding recourse for the subliminal suggestion that they could possibly be the cause of a problem, my best advice is this: Get over it. While our word choice usually carries importance, this is an instance in which it simply doesn’t. The dispute over how to properly accept gratitude seems to be, as with many linguistic disagreements, a proxy war for generational superiority, and those rarely end in victory for the status quo.

*“Contrariwise,” continued Tweedledee, “if it was so, it might be; and if it were so, it would be; but as it isn’t, it ain’t. That’s logic.” —Through the Looking Glass, Lewis Carroll

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Comments

  1. Glad someone brought this subject up as it has bothers me when someone says, “No problem”, which sounds arrogant to me. I wonder what phrase or response was used before the “no problem”. Was it “You’re welcome” like I think it was? Being age 77, I will try to be more open minded but I still prefer ” You’re welcome”.

  2. I’m sorry, but the response of “no problem” to “thank you” IS inappropriate and rude. This whole article is, to some extent, also inappropriate and rude. To tell “cranky baby boomers” to “get over it” is outright inappropriate and rude — or at the very least, disrespectful, to an entire generation of individuals who are both elder to and have more life experience than you, and therefore deserving of at least some measure of respect.

    I think the biggest problem with this article is in the assumptions it makes. “Mostly meaningless courtesies” he calls them. But that’s precisely the issue … courtesy is never meaningless. He brings up the issue of intention, yet never calls out the point, that “no problem” implies that there might have been a problem or inconvenience, and that it is EXPECTED for one to perform one’s duties, therefore no thanks are necessary. However, good manners dictate thanking someone for doing something, that the person receiving the thanks should indeed be thanked and that it is not assumed.

    And that’s precisely the point — there’s an inherent difference there, between an assumption of to what treatment one is entitled, versus that which can be given freely, above and beyond. Sound familiar? Is it any surprise then, that other generations such as the Boomers have such an issue with Millennials? As the writer says, it’s a question of intent, and the problem with the “no problem” response is that it’s very commonly made without making any eye contact, mumbling, and walking away. In other words, there is no actual, real intent of appreciation for what has been done, and so the “no problem” response is basically a nonresponse.

    Joshua’s post above illustrates all that I have written. However, I am grateful that some in their generation, such as Vickie, get it.

    Now THAT’S savage AF.

  3. This guy is obviously a millennial himself. It’s perfectly natural to favor a certain sort of language over another. I find many annoyances in the speech of youngsters. “Have a good one” is most annoying. Some of them can’t even pronounce ‘good.’ It comes out ‘goo’ without the ‘d.’ I have often heard ‘no problem’ when there really was a problem. It makes it seem that the speaker is uncaring. The point is that no one should be saying things without thinking about how they’re coming across. Millennials are very good at that. Why would anyone want to say the same phrases day in and day out, hour in and hour out? Exercise your brain and come up with different ways of saying things. It’s a game, but one that helps to increase brain power. This author needs to give this more thought. To prove my point, I actually had a compliment at a restaurant today. When the waiter, older than millennial, said “I’ll be taking care of you today,” I asked if it was until we died or just for today. He said he hadn’t had that response before, but that he liked it.

  4. Personally I often use “you got it” as my form of “thank you”, and “no problem” as well. I’m going to make an effort to try and use the more traditional “thank you” and “you’re welcome” now that I’m conscious of it. I agree with Bob’s comments on the word “issues”. I’ve stopped using it for those reasons. It’s very phony and patronizing and doesn’t mean anything.

    Vickie, I’m a year younger than you, but agree with your comments. All I’ll add is please Nicholas, take what she said to heart. Dial the millennial thing back to the point of elimination please? Thank you.

  5. I don’t have a problem with ‘no problem’ but I also do with the word ‘issues’ for all of the reasons Bob wrote in the first comment. Thank you Bob for stating it. Nicholas, I have a problem with you going on and on about being a friggin’ millennial and putting labels and stereotypes on us, and baby boomers, or any other generation. Don’t you realize you’re making our generation look worse than it already does, which is already very bad?? Do you not have any other kind of identity for yourself than being a millennial? Obviously not. That’s really bad, and sad.

    Yes, I’m a ‘millennial’, born in 1993, but I don’t go around saying it or using that made up, ugly word to describe myself—ever. I don’t understand why you have this overkill fetish about it. This week your article on coffee, the latest video you’re in and this article are all dominated by the fact you’re a g– damn millennial. I know plenty of millennials that can’t stand each other and have great friendships with baby boomers and vice-versa. My parents are baby boomers and don’t get along with certain baby boomers at all, yet have great friendships with others, and people of different generations. We’re not all alike, s—!!

    Someone needs to tell you to knock it off. This is coming from another millennial: you need to really stop it. Now. It’s really negative and divisive. I read a lot of features on this site and like most of them. Bob McGowan jr. I notice you’ve put in a lot of comments on his features, but would ask you stop doing so until Mr. Gilmore stops this crap. He doesn’t deserve your time and effort. Give it to the other Post columnists instead, seriously. I hope you see my comments.

  6. “my best advice is this: Get over it.”

    This article by Nicholas Gilmore, in its own polite way, was totally savage AF. And I loved it. While I myself haven’t worked in the service/retail industry in over a decade (thankfully), I have read, and smdh at, my fair share of memes from fellow millennials (and the upcoming Gen Z subset) addressing this same issue.

    We are not out here doing anyone any favors. We are hustling in minimum wage jobS trying to pay bills, debts, and loans, while trying to keep a roof over our heads in a hyper competitive shitty economy that demands a masters degree from millenials for entry-level positions that used to only require a high school diploma from baby boomers. Or better yet, just be an intern. You don’t mind working for no pay, right?

    So, no, Sharon, we don’t owe you an extra damn thing other than the minimal service our job requires of us. Sit down, Bob, and quit acting like you’ve been disrespected, ’cause we don’t got time. We’re already running late for the shift at our second/third job, where we’re sure you’ll run into us again.

    Thanks again to Mr. Gilmore for infusing the SatEvePost with some long overdue and well-needed 21st century shade, expertly thrown.

  7. At least saying “no problem” or “no worries” has pleasant-sounding connotations and demonstrates a little civility. I don’t know how many times, in travelling through the United States, I have heard teens in the service industry respond to a customer’s thank-you with a half-hearted, “Yeah.”

  8. There’s essentially nothing wrong with “no problem” as far as I’m concerned, if the word ‘problem’ was used in equal measure. I frequently use it myself, though not nearly as much as “you’re welcome” and “thank you” when appropriate.

    This feature doesn’t mention the fact that the only time you’re EVER going to hear the word ‘problem’ is in the context of the “no problem” phrase as discussed above. The word ‘problem’ has been completely replaced by the complete denial of problems word, ‘issues’, which has come to mean absolutely nothing.

    As the extremely serious problems in this country continue to mount, so does the word issues. Families of shooting victims (and the shooters) are said to be having “issues”. Fire victims who’ve lost everything don’t have problems! No, no, no! Perish the thought!! They’re just having “issues”; nothing more!

    Even though I’m grateful for the phrase ‘no problem’ because it’s keeping the word ‘problem’ alive, it’s still in the context of making the word ‘problem’ something positive. Everyone should have a problem with that because (duh) it’s a huge problem getting worse all the time, obviously.

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