Thought Bubble: No Problems

‘Thank you,’ said the girl, with a pleasant smile.
‘You’re quite welcome,’ said the skipper.
1907 W. W. JACOBS Short Cruises ii. 34

I’ve heard so many rants against the use of “No Problem” as a stand-in for the classic “you’re welcome” after a proffer of Thanks. Usually they’re from pompous professors who use their 75-minute seminars to pitch a soap-box and force the trapped students to listen to how they think the world should be. It was probably this lecture that put me so off the debate in the first place and I’ve happily said “No Probs” for years since.

Nowadays, I feel like ‘you’re welcome’ is really just a way to express surprise that someone actually said ‘thank you’. ‘No problem’ is just easy and universally understood right?

Then again… this debate exists so it is not universally understood…
The No Problem/You’re welcome debate often reeks of hierarchy, a refusal to let social strata die, but an offer of gratitude and respect (for yourself and the other person) is really just basic humanity is it not?
So I’m just hipsterizing a social contract where I’m being applauded and cheating myself of good auras.

When someone drops their sweater, and I pick it up, I say ‘no problem’ and I mean it. It was a slight inconvenience to me and I didn’t mind because, well, picking it up was the right thing to do. This type of action is so off-hand that an off-hand reply doesn’t seem too abrasive. When I’m out to eat and the waiter replies “No Problem” there is certainly a bit of a bristle on my end. Not because I expect this person to kow-tow to me because I’ve deigned to enter their one-star eating establishment but because it’s so informal, it is so laid back, that I wonder how laid back is this place? Paper napkins are one thing but re-using dirty forks is another.

My biggest qualm with no problem is my own habit of saying it. When a co-worker asks me to stay late to finish their assignment because they’ve fallen behind it is a ‘problem’. I’m happy to do it for a fellow co-worker but why am I so quick to dismiss my time, work, and generosity. What I mean is “you’re welcome”, half of a public acknowledgment that I’m awesome and helpful. What I say if “no problem” meaning I have nothing better to do and whatever I was helping with wasn’t at all mentally taxing and I’ve probably done a crap job.

Further, the phrase ‘no problem’ does so little to acknowledge our own deed it belittles the person’s thanks all together. It says “wow you’re thanking me for that? It was nothing. You’re a sad person with sad priorities.” While ‘No Problem’ may be out, ‘you’re welcome’ may be outdated – particularly at work. This HuffPost article by Adam Grant suggests lobbing a thank you into a saucy ‘I know you’d do the same for me’, the Don Vito Corleone of Thank you’s. Well played Grant, well played.


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