No problem?

The young clerk smiled as she aimed her portable electronic reader at the bar code on my membership card. It beeped, and I was free to enter the YMCA. “Thanks,” I said. “No problem,” she replied. Increasingly, that’s the answer I get from people when I offer a simple “thank you.”

Whatever happened to “you’re welcome?” That’s the appropriate response I was taught, along with other gestures of good manners, such as holding the door for someone, taking off my hat when entering a building or room (and certainly when dining).

“No problem” is an unwelcome response to this senior. It feels rude. It seems that you are really saying, “What I did is a problem or inconvenience to me, but I forgive you for causing it.” It brings our attention to the inconvenience one has caused the speaker.

Clearly, our perception of this “no problem” response varies with one’s age. A younger person thinks it entirely appropriate to say “no problem” in response to a “thank you,” but an older person tends to see it as rude. One young person explained that using that expression means he or she is simply being polite. Doesn’t feel that way to me.

It feels rude, right up there with addressing older couples as “you guys.” In polite terms, I once asked a waitress not to keep addressing us in this way. She couldn’t think of a suitable alternative. “How should I address you then?” she asked. “How about simply ‘you?’ I suggested.

Works for me. “You’re welcome” does, too.

Today’s word (phrase) “I was like.” This makes no sense as a substitute for “said” used in attribution. “I was like, are you kidding? I would never go out with you.” “He was like, ‘Would you consider my brother instead?'” Like “no problem,” this is a generational thing. Adults tend to prefer simpler — and more sensible — attribution. I said, he said. Try it.

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