It was a Sunday morning and, whether I woke up from the
obnoxious stomping pitter-patter of my younger siblings stirring or that nagging urge to use the bathroom, I was annoyed to be awake before 12PM (on Sundays I proudly sleep the day away). I turned on my TV which hardly ever leaves CBS (I don’t have cable) and half watched the news.
My attention was suddenly caught by an older gentleman who said,
“Listen, today’s young people.”
“If you want to infuriate someone born before 1980, just keep telling him ‘No problem’ when they ask you to do something that is most certainly NOT a problem.”
ME: Excuse me?
Now he had my full, undivided attention. Saying, “no problem” was one of my defaults to use when someone thanked me, so I had to know how I managed to give offense.
He goes on to say:
“A very nice young man who worked for me used to have a little trouble getting in on time. Like, every day. Once a week I would say, ‘Look, you really have to be at your desk at 10 o’clock.’ Did he say, ‘Sorry, I’ll try to do better?’
No. He would just smile and say, ‘No problem.’
That nice young man does not work for me anymore.”
At this point, this guy is rubbing me the wrong way. The way he described firing that “nice young man” made it seem like it was because he said “No problem,” instead of him being tardy to work.
After that he gives another story about him going to a restaurant and asking for tap water, which the waitress responds with “No problem.” He gets angry at this and makes his public service announcement:
“To all the young people of the world: If you want to get good tips or just generally not infuriate older people, PLEASE, only say ‘No problem’ when there is a reasonable expectation that the task you are performing might be PROBLEMATIC.”
Now, don’t get me wrong, I most definitely understand the logic behind this frustration. Of course, if you say “No problem” when you’re doing something that shouldn’t be considered a problem in the first place (i.e. your job that you get paid to do), it could seem like you’re saying the person who thanked you thought it was a problem. He even says that the phrase is okay to use if you are asking for something that is truly considered problematic:
“i.e.: ‘Thank you for stopping your car in the rain to help me change a flat tire.’
‘No problem.’ Appropriate.”
But are the pre-80’s babies really that hung up about it like he says? Are they all grinding their teeth in anger every time the younger generation answers “No problem” about something that isn’t or shouldn’t be problematic? Can this man really speak for all the pre-80’s folk? Or is he just being a crabby, old man?
Now, here I am working as an Admissions Assistant at a University where students are constantly thanking me, tripping over my words because all I hear is his disapproving voice in my mind as I respond, “No problem.”
I never thought about the phrase too deeply before his little public service announcement. But now that I am, I think of it as more of a reassurance. Even if you are doing your job, people don’t like to feel like they are inconveniencing you.
I had a professor come into my office one time and ask to use my stapler so she could staple some pages for her students before her class that was about to start (it’s comforting to know that professors procrastinate too). She sat in my office for about 5 minutes stapling and thanked me multiple times for letting her use it. It didn’t require any effort on my part to let her use a stapler, but I still let a “No problem” escape from my lips.
I think we shouldn’t look too deeply into the phrase. It’s not a problem when you help someone, so you say “No problem.” It’s as simple as that.
So, despite this man’s PSA, I think I will continue using the phrase “No problem” when someone thanks me. Sure, I could just simply say “You’re welcome” instead, but I refuse to change what I say because of one man’s angry message.
That leads me to my question:
Do you dislike the use of the phrase “No problem” in certain situations? And, for the pre-80’s generations, do you think that people are starting to misuse the phrase compared to previous years?