I had the perfect subject for today, and when I began researching the issue, I found that Bill Flanagan of CBS News has already taken the words out of my mouth. Or pen. Or keyboard. But I was determined to write about it anyway.
When did people (mostly young people) start thinking that “No problem” is a good substitute for “you’re welcome”? As Flanagan wrote: “Who spread that virus? The Taliban?”
Please listen to me, young people–and older people who apparently don’t get it. If it really wasn’t a problem, don’t try to make it sound as though it might have been. It’s infuriating, particularly with a paying customer. Or maybe just the older ones.
If I walk into an auto parts store and ask for a hamburger, they’re liable to look at me like I have six heads. If someone actually hands me a hamburger in there, I’m liable to give them a sincere “Thank you.” And if they said “No problem,” I would think it appropriate. That’s because it surely was a problem. But if I pay for my food at a supermarket and say “Thank you,” and the cashier says “No problem,” I would wonder why he or she thinks it might have been a problem. It’s a food store, for heaven’s sake. It’s where they sell food. And I’m paying for that food. If I thought it might have been a problem for them to sell me the food, I’d find a different supermarket. And why am I the one saying “Thank you” anyway? I just gave them two hundred and fifty dollars.
The other day, I sat in my car at a drive-through burger joint. I was on my worldwide mission of trying to convince these businesses that “Have a nice day” is no substitute for “Thank you.” The young man at the window handed me back my credit card and as I was attempting to put it back in my wallet from a seated position, he immediately thrust the bag of food at me (another thing their training geniuses ought to think about). I took it and sat there, waiting for the rare and elusive “Thank you.” Didn’t happen. I looked at him and said “Thank you?” (And yes, I proposed it as a question.) He looked at me and mumbled “No problem.” That threw me completely off my stated mission. I said nothing and drove away. My lovely bride, Saint Mary, has convinced me that if I actually make it a problem, they’ll spit in my food.
Flanagan said it best: “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.”
If you have taken the time to help a little old lady across the street in heavy traffic, and she says “Thank you,” a “No problem” is appropriate. Even better under those circumstances is “You’re very welcome, it’s no problem.” That’s probably asking too much.
But if you work in Pizza Hut and a customer thanks you for selling her a pizza don’t say, “No problem.” She’s paying for the pizza!
Just say, “You’re welcome.”
It’s every bit as efficient. “You’re welcome” takes no more of your time than “No problem.” Both answers have the same number of syllables and only one of them doesn’t irritate older people with Mad Cow disease, like me.
Why don’t corporations and other businesses understand this? My theory is that they do. My theory says their market research has convinced them that, as more old people die and more young people have driving licenses, fewer and fewer people recognize or care about good and appropriate service. Maybe they should consider thanking people for spending their money and saying things like “You’re welcome” for about twenty more years. After that, no problem.