I’m on a campaign to get people to stop saying “no problem” when I thank them. Maybe I’m just a cranky old lady who grouses over change, who prattles about the way things used to be. But it grates. It really does.
It happened again this afternoon. The person helping me over the phone had just made my life so much easier, and I appreciated him with every ounce of my being. What could I give him in return? A hearty thank you was the best I could come up with, perhaps punctuated with a verbal exclamation point.
Or maybe I could add the words “so much.” Thank you so much.
Or zealous repetition: thank you, thank, you, thank you.
Whatever I would choose, it was going to be filled with everything my heart held: graciousness, gratitude, glee.
My thank-you would be my gift to him for his gift to me.
“Thank you for making this so effortless for me,“ I finally uttered. “You did a great job. Thank you, thank you. I appreciate you.”
“No problem,” said he.
Why do those words vex me so? I’ve mulled over this question ad infinitum ever since that response—along with its cousins, “no worries,” “of course,” and “sure”—became the more popular replacement for “You’re welcome.”
This is what happens on a gut level when someone rejoins my thank-you with “No worries.” It feels like he’s telling me what I’m feeling: that I’m worried. I want to say, “I’m not worried. I’m grateful.”
It feels like he’s minimizing the benevolence in my heart.
It feels like a rejection of my gift to that person: my gratefulness.
It feels like my goodwill just slammed into a wall.
On the other hand, I went to Bed Bath and Beyond recently and the salesperson who checked me out responded to my thank-you with, “You’re welcome. It’s my pleasure.”
Ahhhhhh. Her words were soul salve. I want everyone who serves me to say “It’s my pleasure.” It makes me feel like a million dollars.
But then my friend Katie, of a younger generation, challenged me. “I come from the South,” she said, “where everyone says ‘my pleasure.’ Now that’s what grates on me.” She explained that she’s heard it so often it no longer holds any meaning. “And why, after someone wipes up my mess,” she continued, “would they say ‘It was my pleasure?’ They don’t mean that.”
Fair enough. If I thank a server for doing something unpleasant for me, and I’m groveling for forgiveness for my carelessness, I would be reassured by the words, “It’s not a problem.” That would be an appropriate response. Katie’s right that his telling me he loved crawling under the table to pick up my enchilada-covered fork would reek with insincerity. Similarly, if I’m at a funeral, as I was the other day, and the gentleman’s widow thanks me for coming, it would seem strange to say, “It was my pleasure.” But it would be even more absurd, even flippant, to say, “No worries.”
Words, after all, carry meaning.
But what about “You’re welcome,” you ask. What does that even mean? Has “you’re welcome,” too, lost all meaning for its overuse? And does it make any more sense than saying “No problem?”
Well, actually, it does.
My go-to instructor for all the subtleties of words, the Merriam-Webster dictionary, offers two definitions of the word “welcome.” One is “giving pleasure: received with gladness or delight especially in response to a need.” The other is “willingly permitted or admitted.” Therefore, when the giver says “you’re welcome” in response to my “thank you,” it indicates that she willingly and happily did something for me. “You’re welcome” implies it was a pleasure on her part to serve me.
That makes me feel valued.
“No problem,” on the other hand, seems to mean the giver is forgiving me. For what? Was I bothering him?
It may seem like I’m going too far, but such is the hazard of trying to explain what goes on emotionally in that brief second in time when someone says, “no problem.”
When I taught English to international employees, one of our lessons was on the subtleties of politeness and tact. Together, we brainstormed and ranked the following requests in order of respect and graciousness:
• Sign this.
• Sign this, please.
• Would you please sign this?
• May I ask you to sign this?
• I would appreciate your signature when you have a chance.
• When you have time, may I trouble you for your signature?
And now I pose the same to you. Which expression most makes you feel like the gratitude you extended was received as you intended?
• You’re certainly welcome. It was my pleasure.
• You’re most welcome.
• You’re welcome.
• Of course.
• Not a problem.
• No worries.
• Get off my property, you rotten scoundrel!
You can see where I rank the no problem-no worries duo. Which response salves your soul?
Please, let it be “my pleasure.”
copyright2015 Maggie McCann Pike
Maggie McCann Pike
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