The problem with 'no problem'

"No problem!"

Have you noticed that the traditional words "You're welcome" have largely been replaced by that trite phrase?

It bothers me.

It especially bothers me when I'm purchasing a good or service from someone, and the following all-too-familiar conversation takes place:

Vendor: "Here's your receipt, ma'am."

Me: "Thank you."

Vendor: "No problem."

Actually, it is a problem. What I expect is to be thanked for my patronage — not to be dismissed with this casual, automatic response — a response that indicates to me that the person does not get what "you are welcome" means. The phrase implies, "You are welcome to shop here and thanks for allowing us the privilege of serving/helping you." When I hear "no problem," what I think in my head is: "You're right — it's no problem at all for me to patronize another vendor/business next time."

You might be wondering: Why does this phrase bother me so much? Aren't there other, more egregious, offenses of which to take note? Yes, there are — but this one makes me pause because it seems to perpetuate the disdainful way in which people are so often ignored and dismissed; it seems to encourage the subtle message that says, "I've taken care of you, so now hit the road and leave me alone"; it seems to indicate truly that you really are not "welcome," as the saying used to go.

Maybe you're thinking, "Come on now; don't be an Andy Rooney; it's just a popular expression — and no harm is meant by it." Yes, I'll give you that much. But then that aggravates me even more, because it reinforces the notion that people just aren't listening to or paying attention to one another — which is already a problem at an epidemic level. People are sitting next to or across from others with whom they're clearly associated but who are choosing to have contact only with the 2-by-4-inch monitor in front of their faces and flying fingers. Try thanking one of these automatons for moving his chair one foot so you too may have a small space at the coffee shop table, and you're likely to be reciprocated with, "No Problem." Trust me, he's not thinking, "You're welcome to join the table." He's thinking, "No problem that you only bothered me a bit."

I've anecdotally studied whether "no problem" is a generational phrase that belongs only to the under-20 set, much like "whatever" (stated most effectively while rolling eyes). And yes, I've found that this phrase is more likely to be spoken offhandedly by younger people — in response to just about any comment made. But the scarier thing to me is that "no problem" seems to be pervasive; it's taken hold in a way that fits no single demographic. There is an outbreak of "no problem" everywhere you go.

So, the next time you're about to utter that dismissive phrase, pause a minute and think about how much more sincere (and polite) it is to say (with some eye contact and a smile): "You're welcome."

Got it?

No problem.

Paula Simon lives in Baltimore. Her email is

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