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Life Arts    H4'ed 1/11/10

"You're Welcome"

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Forgive me someone, for I have sinned. Andy Rooney is channeling through me on this cold January morning. Please put his voice in your head as you read this so I can get him out of mine.

Back in the old days (which loosely translated, was not that long ago) the script went something like this:

Server brings food, friend returns borrowed item, neighbor lends a hand, sales person rings up purchase and puts it in a bag, valet brings car, nurse changes bandage, complete stranger holds door open (you get the picture); Person A offers, brings or does something for someone else. Simple enough.

Recipient of these goods, favors or services (Person B) says, "Thank you."

Person A replies, "You're welcome".

Way back when (has it been ten years, already?) Person A might have changed it up a little by saying, "You're very welcome". There was a time when Person A would sometimes even mean it and throw in a smile on his/her face to prove it.

Apparently, I'm nothing more than a nostalgic dinosaur because I don't see or hear this happening much anywhere anymore. Today's Person A is too busy and preoccupied to say, "You're welcome" and now has acquired the irritating habit of responding to, "Thank you" with two words that are almost as irritating as Rush Limbaugh:

"No problem".

I said, almost.

Sometimes, when "No problem " donors are feeling particularly generous with their syllables, they might say, "Not a problem", which is more annoying and condescending than its two-word parents. Not far behind in the make me bristle category is "Yup". You may as well just fart and call it a day.

How did this happen?

When I hear, "No problem", I feel there is the very real implication that under different circumstances, whatever person A just did might have been a problem if you caught him an hour ago. Like it might have scrwed up Person A's chances of being picked for "American Idol", solving world hunger, getting laid, winning the lottery, becoming engaged or finding the cure to cancer. But lucky for you, on this particular day, at this particular moment, this person got a hall pass from the burdens of the world and decided instead to do something nice just for you. Aren't you lucky?

"Not a problem," tells me that Person A wants you to be acutely aware that those situations or any number of other factors might or could have tipped the scales out of your favor. Person A is somehow determined to let you know that this time you have gotten away with the equivalent of murder. You're damn right you ought to be grateful. Ten minutes earlier or five later, you could have had a much bigger problem on your hands. He or she wouldn't have even noticed you.

"No problem."

I have heard these two grating words repeatedly at the pharmacy, in the supermarket, on the phone and from waiters and department store clerks. I have heard it used by my lawyers, doctors and investment banker friends. Frankly, I'm kind of tired of hearing "not a problem" because by all other indications, everywhere I look and everything I see, hear and read is telling me otherwise.

You see, I do have a problem with people being impolite or downright rude. When I take it upon myself to be person A and extend an act of kindness like allowing you in front of me in traffic or holding the door open for you as you try to exit the store with an armful of packages and snot nosed children, the least I can expect is for you to acknowledge my actions by uttering, "Thank you". When you parade through life expecting me or anyone else to extend a courtesy without you as much as looking at me, be prepared for me to say, "Next time, I won't be so nice".I'll have noproblem telling you that at all.

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Patricia A. Smith is a writer and artist (and sometimes both at the same time). A former columnist, restaurant critic and cruise line executive, Smith has lived in London, Greece, Denmark, Hungary, Egypt, Costa Rica and France. She returned (more...)
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