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!

Tags: ,

81 Responses to “Saying “No Problem” is Not Proper Etiquette”

  1. Lita Stone says:

    Thank you thank you thank you, for bringing this up.. I have been telling my workers this is very inappropriate for hair stylist. When someone says that to me I feel I was going to be a problem or could have been a problem… Plus it really is a negative come back.. It makes no one feel good… I found out hotels are training the workers not to say this, Chick Filet does not allow this & I hope lots of other businesses take notice.. Maybe , just maybe it would be ok if someone was working on a technical problem such as a car, computer or something that was not directed at you (the person himself) maybe, no not even then… Certainly not a customer who you want to come back and see you… Why even taking the chance to insult a person… I’m on a mission to kindly tell people not to say ‘no problem’ because it may reflect on there tip… So I give them choice & hopefully a good tip… Really folks, its just good common sense. This is a no brainer… It seems to be more in the young so I do understand some of it.. How sad for a grandparent for someone to say this.. An elderly lady once said this world is monkey see monkey do.. Lets make good decisions in life it goes a lot further…

  2. appletarts says:

    i work at a help desk i find myself saying this all the time. now i realize that ‘no problem’ is the worst thing to say so i’m going to change it to ‘you’re welcome’ or ‘my pleasure ‘ or something besides ‘no problem.’

  3. moda says:

    Amen! I found your page after searching for something I could take to work. I am responsible for education in a small hospital and I simply must find a way to redirect those who care for our customers – inpatients, outpatients. and visitors – in response to being thanked for their services. I am personally offended when someone responds “No problem” to me, because it implies that it could have been a problem; and it is sometimes stated with a bit of inflection as though sarcasm is in fact being stated outrightly. A solid, “You’re welcome” bears sincerity.
    Thank you!

  4. larissa says:

    I completely agree. I find “no problem” so cold! English is not my first language so when I hear “no problem” it sounds even rude. I agree “what the problem in the first place?”. You’re welcome is the appropriate answer because when I say thank you I am genuine and if you respond “no problem” you are not being reciprocal, you are just responding for obligation (at least it’s the way it looks). I try hard not to take it personally

  5. -_- says:

    You all must either be single mothers/women or women over the age of 60 that have not yet learned how to adapt to today’s society. You people are really over thinking this. It is just the way that the language has developed in recent years. Different words, same meaning. Stop over-analyzing this. Sheesh…

  6. Syndi Seid says:

    Dear -_-: This is exactly the point of this discussion. The way language has developed in the recent 25+ years is skewing the English language. The better educated person will know the right words to use for the right situations. This is what it’s all about. It’s not about over analysing anything. Example: When talking about distance, sports commentators often say, “He threw the ball “further” down the field..” Rather, correctly it should be “he threw the ball “farther” down the field…” Farther describes distance, further describes advancing something. Different words used, yet absolutely do not mean the same thing. Another example is how stores have 10 items of less lines. It should correctly say, “10 item or fewer.” Less is quantitative as is 10 item or less than what? Fewer just means what it is… fewer than 10. It’s all about being “in the know.”

  7. moda says:

    -_- Overthinking this? I think not. Perhaps you are under-thinking it. Not to mention the fact that you are marginalizing our language.
    Your insult to single mothers//women or women over the age of 60 did not go unnoticed, either. There is no room for misogyny is this discussion, however.
    We have all seen many examples of “the way the language has developed in recent years”, and many of us are concerned that it is quickly losing ground.

  8. Gordon says:

    Well said Syndi.
    Sadly, all too often these discussion get hijacked by “so called trolls”who’s clear intention is to ignite a controvesy that meanders off subjectand desends intoan exchange of insults. The usual hallmark of such is to annonymise themselves as seems to be the case on this entry.
    Bringing the subject back to good English (not perfect ) I do spend time analysing what I and other people say and drawing “reasonable” conclusions which is not in itself bad.To illustrate, who of us will not evrry morning look at and analyse our appearance and where necessary make reasonable adjustments in order that when others look at us they form a favourable impression. Therefore it follows that the same approach to ones Enlishcan pay the same dividends. These and those people do not further their argument any farther by “celebrating” illiteracy.
    Kind regards Gordon.

  9. Borislav says:

    Because I’m bulgarian, I used to say it all the time. In bulgarian, one usually replies with “За нищо” which means “For nothing”. Another common response in bulgarian is “Няма проблем” which means “No problem” or “No worries”. I’m trying to stop using it lately.

  10. Cam D says:

    You are not alone. When I ask a colleague to do their job and provide me info I thank them when they provide the info. 90% of time I now get a “np”. So now I reply “Were you expecting there to be a problem?”

  11. Joe L says:

    Syndi, well done. Along with spelling and grammar, the use of “no problem” is also a pet peeve of mine.

    P.S. On a related topic, I wanted to point out the improper use of the word ‘inn’ above. In the last sentence of the sixth paragraph, you say…”even inn movies”…, when I think you meant…”even in movies”…Sorry, but I just couldn’t help myself.

  12. Syndi Seid says:

    Dear Joe L: Thanks for the comment and catch on the typo. I appreciate you pointing it out. It’s now corrected. Syndi.

  13. kelly says:

    I disagree. There is a very subtle difference between “You’re welcome” and “No problem.” “You’re welcome” implies that I acknowledge that I have intentionally done something for you that I consider to be of value, and I do expect to be thanked for it. I go out of my way to hold the door open for you, you say “thank you,” I say “you’re welcome.” But if I’m already holding the door open for myself and only slightly delay for you, you walk through and say “thank you,” I may reply with, “no problem,” meaning I really didn’t do all that much and don’t particularly expect acknowledgment for it, although it is appreciated.

    To say “You’re welcome” is to accept the gift of thanks. To say “No problem” is to humbly deflect it. Where “You’re welcome” is used, it implies there would have been insult had the “thank you” not been offered. Where “no problem” is used, it implies that the “thank you” is a bit of a surprise.

    Of course, I assume not everyone agrees with me and that’s okay. David Sedaris, very funny and prolific author, is on a personal crusade against the word “awesome.” I also disagree with him. :)

  14. G M says:

    Hi
    In reply to Kelly.
    You are to be congratulated for disagreeing so eloquently. And, bearing in mind that this site is titled “advanced etiquette” it is only proper to accommodate a reasonable challenge of thought with good grace.
    However I have to say I am unconvinced with your explanation.
    To say that there is a “subtle difference” between “you’re welcome” and “no problem” in my opinion is an understatement. If I let a door remain open a little longer to accomodate a peer and I respond to thank you with ” no problem” then I send a signal that if that person thought that it may have been a problem then I am simply (and only) reasuring them that it wasn’t.
    That is hardly complementary!.
    However, if I respond with ” you’re welcome” then you are sending a signal that you hold that person with esteem and that it is your pleasure to acknowledge that with a compliment.
    I would hardly say that that difference is “subtle!”
    Hence the one response may be more commonplace whilst the other may not be however I would say the later is good etiquette and I use it regularly with my customers who in turn have noticed themselves how nice and how different to be spoken to thoughtfully.
    We have a saying in England ” the proof of the pudding is in the eating” try habitually using it. You might be suprised at the positive reactions.

  15. JS Banx says:

    I don’t think it’s that serious. Most people, especially me, say, “no problem” out of force of habit. I’ve been saying “no problem” for most of my adult life. Someone brought it to my attention today. Yes, I do tend to over use it…but If I am asked to do something and I successfully carry out the task, what does it matter what I say. Even if I said “gobbledegook” just take it or leave it.

    While we are focused on the nuances of the English language, we need to focus REAL issues!

  16. GP says:

    Unless you can grasp the (admittedly and sadly fading) concept of being “of service” to someone (and buy into it), you will never understand the correctness of saying “You’re Welcome” or “My pleasure” as a response to “Thank You”, nor understand the incorrectness of saying “No Problem”.

  17. I knew my skin crawled each time I heard “No Problem” but couldn’t remember what used to be said before this phrase became the norm. THANK YOU for reminding me that “You’re welcome” is the much better response.

  18. S Hetzel says:

    I love this page! This is also my pet peeve — every single time I thank “the new generation” the reply, is “no problem”….My husband went out the other night and the ONLY statement we ever got from our waiter was “no problem”…you can only imagine how many times I thanked him for something and that is the reply. We have a new receptionist at work, and all day all I hear her saying is “no problem” – in a law office? Really? I have mentioned to her, but it hasn’t stopped — she has even written a large note taped to her computer screen that says “No not say No Problem”…as a reminder, but it apparently doesn’t work either. Please people, learn proper terms and properly reply to a simple Thank You!

  19. B P says:

    I think the meaning behind the words is more important than the words themselves. It is mostly (young) people that aren’t yet self aware that say “no problem”. They don’t mean any harm by it. They’re trying to be friendly and that’s what I focus on. I’ve seen cashiers that won’t acknowledge a “thank you”. I would rather hear “no problem” than for them to say nothing.

    I think it’s important that when you say “thank you”, that you do it out of the goodness of your heart and don’t expect validation in return. Better for your mental health to be grateful for the courtesies you receive. If you expect everyone to say “you’re welcome”, you’re going to be disappointed often, because that’s the way much of society is and you can’t change it. Best thing to do is lead by example.

    Remember, many people in the service industry are doing the job because they feel they “have to”. It is likely they aren’t enjoying serving you so if they are to say “you’re welcome”, they will essentially be lying to you. Would you prefer people lied to you or would you rather they be true to themselves thus honest with you?

    Last but not least, by expecting people to say “you’re welcome”, you are being hard on them, which naturally means you are hard on yourself. The more peace you can make with yourself accepting your flaws and realizing you’re not perfect, the better you can tolerate others.

  20. Andrew says:

    I have had the pleasure of being in management for almost 30 years and have trained many customer service / sales people about proper etiquette with clients in a variety enviroments and situations. The words ‘No Problem’ are like an infestation of cockroaches that need to be eradicated. I count myself as one of the minions who have waged a personal crusade against this pestilence. ‘No Problem’ is a problem!!

  21. HW says:

    The transition from “no problem” to “no worries” has exacerbated the ‘problem.’ Both are inappropriate and downright absurd. When I thank a server or a store clerk and he/she says, “no problem” or “no worries”, my immediate reaction is “Of course it’s not a problem (or, “of course I have no worries”); IT’S YOUR JOB! I would not expect you to have a problem performing your job, nor would I worry about you performing your job. On the other hand, a response of “You’re welcome” or “My pleasure” would be most welcome and a genuine pleasure.

  22. Rolando says:

    I must admit that I don’t like it at all. I have been an expat in Central America for twenty years so I missed out. Whew!! People didn’t use it before the end of the 80′s or beginning of the 90′s. Growing up in D.C. in the 70′s and 80′s I don’t ever remember hearing it. Maybe it was that silly puppet Alf that popularized it.

  23. G.Morris says:

    To BP
    I read your contribution with interest whilst I agree with you that people may unwittingly use the expression “no problem in good faith with the best of motives out still remains that to allow good etiquette to degrade without any attempt to try to encourage the proper use of English and especially in customer service environments, it then becomes a self fulfilling prophesy that the language will degrade even further and then where do you draw the line?.
    What if you apply your logic to someone who replies yeah man no s**t! come again! ( said in good faith with a good motive?. It’s out not better to proactively attempt to encourage good English before it gets to that.
    These expressions were not always in use but have crept in because of lax attitudes which lead to lax speech and lax customer service. Even king Cannute which you seem to suggest we parallel made an attempt.
    I recently raised the subject with a hotel manager and we had a long discussion about the subject and he thanked me and told me he would immediately be putting my suggestions into practice with his staff. There is a proven connection between generating profit and the use of good etiquette and composites invest millions of pounds in training their staff on this subject to have a competitive edge in the market place. , “An old proverb says manners maketh man”-. Have a nice day!

  24. atfaught says:

    Organizing a petition to change a modern colloquialism simply because it bothers you is quite the futile act of frustration.
    I always have to wonder what would happen if all the people that spend so much time and energy rallying against relatively inconsequential things, actually focused that passion and energy into the process of changing themselves (which is the ONLY person any of us can control anyway) in order to be a living piece of the solution to so many of the destructive personal, national, and international problems that are threatening life as we know it.

  25. Greg says:

    I agree for most circumstances, “You’re welcome” is the best. I used to use “No problem”. What I hear in many cases recently is “No worries”, which is used to avoid the “problem” issue and further to communicate that the gesture for which one is being thanked is an expected or assumed one, and does not require a “Thank You”, and is mostly used in situations of minor import.

    Holding a door, helping someone pick up something that was dropped like a book or a pen or some coins are things that in the eye of the
    “helper” may not require formal thanks. However changing someone’s flat tire or performing an actual service that is more than a trvial act surely requires a “Thank You” and a “You’re Welcome”.

    I

  26. The awareness of proper etiquette is so scarce that to read this was a breath of fresh air. Especially in the service business. The lack of etiquette and language education makes me feel sometimes to create my own course specially for the service business to get rid of this! Another thing when someone says no problem, it can also come across as arrogant – almost ‘like’ don’t do me any favors!

  27. Angie says:

    I would like to respectfully disagree with the notion that “no problem” is dismissive or disrespectful. In fact, I believe that the phrase has taken hold as a result of certain bastardizations of the phrase “you’re welcome,” which have become trendy in recent years. I can think of two fairly recent new uses of “you’re welcome.” Both are intentionally sarcastic and condescending.

    The first is the use of “you’re welcome” delivered in such a manner as to imply that a “thank you” was deserved but not offered. For example: I, a cashier, might tell my customer, “Thank you very much! Have a great day!” But every now and then I get a rude customer that blatantly ignores me and walks away without responding. Then I loudly think, “yeah, you’re WELCOME” as they walk out the door.

    The other use of “you’re welcome” is the snide way of saying “Look what I just did for you. I totally deserve your appreciation.” For instance: I might jokingly (albeit rudely) tell my coworker “I just put away all those supplies you left out yesterday. You’re welcome.” My coworker understands that I am joking. But I’m always afraid my customer might hear “you’re welcome,” but infer that I think I’ve just done him or her some huge favor by giving them a minute of my time.

    For these reasons, I choose to say “No problem.” I believe it is a humble, happy medium that does not imply that I believe myself entitled to thanks of any kind. I didn’t do the thing for want of appreciation; I did it merely because I wanted to help you. Alternately, to use the interpretation of “No problem” as meaning “It’s nothing,” I am also trying to communicate, that the person did not burden me in any way. It was no trouble because I wanted to help.

    Times change. Languages evolve. Not everyone will experience the same negative connotation of “you’re welcome” that I do, but I believe “no problem” will remain a popular choice as long as “you’re welcome” remains a popular conveyance of derision and frustration.

  28. Syndi Seid says:

    Angie: Yes, it is a matter of perspective and your comments are appreciated, which is the purpose of blogs. To engage in conversation about various topics.

  29. Shabazz says:

    waiting for an employer to call me, I took the initiative and called this evening after waiting the full day – his response was an apology and formal reason and that it would be accomplished tomorrow – I wanted to respond no problem…. is that incorrect? (in a situation like such)

  30. Syndi Seid says:

    Dear Shabazz: Yes, I suppose saying “no problem” in this situation is fine. However, because “no problem” has become such an overused phrase that I avoid it like the plague! It’s a phrase I feel never has to be used… in lieu of other equally meaningful words. Perhaps when the person apologized you could simply say, “No apology needed. Thank you for explaining.”

  31. gordon says:

    Excellent answer.
    However I would be cautious of a future employer who displays a level of incompetence that he or she would not tolerate from you If you were given the job. it’s not just words but actions that matter.

Leave a Reply