Saying “No Problem” is Not Proper Etiquette

Do you have one or more words or phrases you can’t stand?  I do.  Among them is the word “further” instead of “farther” when talking about distance.  Another is common on signs in stores, saying “10 items or less” when it should read, “10 items or fewer.”

But my Number One worst pet peeve is how people constantly use “No problem” as the response to almost everything.  It’s become a so trite, clichéd, unoriginal, and commonplace.

I knew I reached a boiling point when I saw this quote by the British author P.G. Woodhouse: “A slight throbbing about the temples told me that this discussion had reached saturation point.”  Not only do my temples throb, but my brain screeches every time I hear those two words. And sadly, I hear them all too often. Cashiers say “No problem” after I thank them for the change I receive for my purchase.  Waiters say “No problem” when giving me change from the bill I just paid. Front desk attendants say “No problem” after I thank them for giving me my room key.

What was the problem in the first place?  What happened to the simple yet powerful phrases of “You’re welcome” and perhaps “My pleasure?”

It’s not just people in the service field who say it. I recently heard it out the mouth of a 6-year-old boy, and worst of all I’ve caught myself saying it.  (By the way, if you ever hear me saying “No problem” please feel free to call my attention to it, if I didn’t already do it first.)

In many other languages, the customary reply to “Thank you” is not always a literal translation of “You’re welcome.”  In French, for instance, the reply is “De rien,” which means, “It was nothing.”  In Spanish, a common response is “De nada,” which means, “It was nothing” as well.  In the U.S., Americans even use the slang “No problemo,” a bastardization of the more correct Spanish phrase, “No hay problema,” or “Ningún problema.”  Is that where we get it? The more we hear and see the term used – even in movies — the more correct we think it is.

No matter how you slice it, in American English, to use the phrase “No problem” as the correct response to “thank you” and most other situations is not accurate.  In fact, it’s inappropriate, in most instances inaccurate and in some instances rude. The correct response… one more time is “You’re welcome,” or “It’s my pleasure.”


Help Me Stamp out “No Problem”

I’m declaring a personal crusade to stamp out the use of “No problem” in our society.  Henceforth, this subject will be a standard item in all my seminars and presentations, as are a few other topics, such as writing thank you notes. If you agree, please join me in a crusade to stamp it out.  Here’s all you need to do:

1.  Post a comment in the area below to show support of my efforts.  I’d love to know I’m not alone.

2.  Share your own stories about situations you’ve encountered where you heard the words “No problem” in lieu of what you think would have been a better choice of words.

3.  Submit your own commitment to making every effort to eliminate these words from your writing and speech.

4. For parents and teachers:  Educate and encourage your children and students on the merits of not using these words.

5.  As an employer, share this article as something for your staff members to not use in front of your clients and customers.

If we all reduce the use of these words in lieu of other more appropriate words, over time it will become less and less common and appropriate to say.  This is exactly how etiquette comes into effect.

Together we may be able to make a positive change in our society.

Happy Practicing!

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