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The ‘No-Problem’ Problem

Image courtesy of Nic McPhee

In today’s hyper-fast, modern world of anagrams, walking up the stairs while texting, and speed-dating, the human spirit always seems to find even more short cuts. Here in NYC, the pace is even more frantic. Just take a look at the streets of Midtown in the summer and you’ll see the impatient faces of New Yorkers shifting gears while attempting to pass random hoards of disorganized map-wielding tourists all looking up in different directions while they shuffle along in the general direction of Times Square.

And with our all-consuming need for speed, young Americans have resourcefully found one, singular mega-multitasking response to situations that call for: an affirmative or negative answer, “Thank you” or “You’re welcome”.  It’s the now ubiquitous, “No Problem”, the cure-all for modern communication, or lack of it. You hear it used repeatedly by the staff in quick service restaurants, retail stores, and anywhere young peeps are employed or hang out. I used to think this phrase was only heard during that weeklong Caribbean vacation and scuttled after returning to the grind. Now, it’s omnipresent.

“Waiter, can we have more water?” “No problem.” “I ordered the squid, not the octopus.” “No problem.” “Thank you for moving over.” “No problem.” “Sorry, I stepped on your toe. “No problem”.  I can keep going, but we all hear this neutral, yet annoying mantra deployed on a daily basis to address a cadre of situations. First, it usurped, “You’re welcome”, and that seemed oddly acceptable. I say, “Thank you,” and someone responds, “No problem”. Why would there be a problem?  Maybe this began when we started thanking employees at retail stores for doing their job at the cash register, with our, ”Thank you” implying, “Thanks for ringing up these shoes for me.” Could situations like this be when, “No problem,” popped into our culture and took root?  Maybe, but however it emerged, its uses have rapidly expanded and the trend doesn’t seem to be going away.

I wonder how far this will go. Will we reach a point where “no problem” becomes the go-to response to “Hello”, “Goodbye”, “I’m sorry, but you’re very ill and don’t have much time”, and “Will you marry me?” Let’s hope not, but if it does, what else can we say, but, “No problem.”

Do you have a problem with that?