SitNews - Stories in the News - Ketchikan, Alaska


You Got A "No Problem" With That?


March 08, 2010

Ketchikan, Alaska - I have a problem. Well, it's not really a problem. It's just that I say "no problem" a lot. That's not really a problem. Unless of course you are one of those folks whose has a problem with how often I say "no problem."

jpg Dave Kiffer

Oddly enough I have discovered that (particularly among those "experienced" folks in our community - "experienced" meaning anyone more "experienced" than me) there is a train of thought that posits that "no problem" is absolutely, positively the rudest possible response to "Thank You." You, of course, know whom you are. Thank you for sharing.

Those "experienced" folks often explain to me that by saying "no problem" I am implying that whatever I did was of so little consequence that it was literally nothing. Therefore, it was beneath them even saying "thank you" to begin with. So I was "insulting" their heartfelt "thank you" by saying it was no big deal. As if I wasn't actually helping them, I was really just engaging in an involuntarily reflex and not consciously going out of my way to help them. Therefore, they and their activity, meant little more to me than digestion (which, let me tell you, does mean a lot to me, even if I don't spend a lot of time bragging about it).

Whew. Some people (obviously not me) think way too much. That's what I think, anyway.

I come by my "no problem" honestly. Years ago when I spent a few ill-considered years in Lost Angeles, I was enchanted by the Spanish speakers use of "no hay problema."

I used to hear that phrase punctuate conversations on the Rapid Transit District - as the bus was known then - all the time.

Speaking of the LA bus, I use to find "Rapid Transit District" to be a pretty funny name. Ever take the bus in Los Angeles? If you have, you are probably still on it.

People have been born, grown to adulthood, and died before the completion of some of those routes. In fact, I'm sure there are some drivers who have reached the 30 year retirement before reaching the end of the line, even once. Seriously, Rapid was not the word I would ever use for the LA bus system (and they don't either anymore).

I remember at one point, the good citizens of Los Angeles spent a gazillion dollars to come up with an evacuation plan in the event of a nuclear attack. The plan said the best idea was to use the bus system. It estimated that would take just about eight days for the bus system to evacuate the entire LA basin (get ready Palmdale!).

Of course, in the event of a nuclear attack, they probably wouldn't have eight days notice to evacuate the LA basin. The only way it would take the missiles that long to arrive would be - wait for it, wait for it - if the Russians (or whomever) used the Rapid Transit District to deliver them.

But, as usual, I digress.

Back to "no hay problema."

The Spanish speakers said it with such enthusiasm that indicated it did mean something and so I adopted it. Of course, when I came back home it seemed pretty affected to use "no hay problema." Ketchikan is not known for its embrace of "foreign" languages.

Unless, of course, you - like many residents - consider proper English to be a foreign language. But that's another digression for another day.

And besides no one knew what was I saying anyway. They confused "hay" with "aye" and they then got even more confused because they thought I was referencing some obscure pirate phrase.

So I switched to a cheerful, upbeat "no problem." Unfortunately, I realized that - over time - "no problem" is like "you're welcome" in that sometimes you can't really use it in every response to "thank you."

Say, you help someone lift a 2000 pound rock out of their driveway. And they "thank you." You can't say "my pleasure" because under no circumstances was it your pleasure. Same with helping someone unclog their
septic system.

You can't really say "no problem," because the last thing you want imply is that you'd be happy to do it again cause it was no big deal. Even "you're welcome" is a non-starter in those situations because there is no way you can say it with a straight face.

Heck, even "you're welcome" sometimes comes fraught with peril, anyway. For example, when I was in Ireland folks often said "You're welcome" instead of the more simple "welcome" when greeting folks. That of course left me wanting to say, "But I didn't say thank you." First time I responded with that line, I just about came to grief with the business end of a shillelagh.

Anyway, I digress, again. It's been that kind of a week.

So I started "underplaying" no problem a bit by saying it with a little less enthusiasm and now it has morphed in a verbal tic and that does lend some merit to the complaints of the "experienced" folks. In reality I sometimes give "no problem" about as much forethought as I give to a photic sneeze reflex.

And yet, today alone, I probably said "no problem" at least half a dozen times. Most likely I said it because "your welcome" seemed too lame and "my pleasure" would have been an outright lie.

You got a "no problem" with that?



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Dave Kiffer is a freelance writer living in Ketchikan, Alaska.
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