The right answer is "You're Welcome"

I was upset for a while by the remodeling hysteria that I believe was created by the home decorating cable TV channel. Two many ladies looking at properties they were considering buying, turning up nose after nose scoffing "This bathroom needs updating" this, and "That kitchen needs remodeling" that, I believe this is the real cause behind the collapse of the prime mortgage housing economy—people pouring money into properties they couldn't afford to live a luxurious life they think will be theirs by getting marble countertops and new faucets and lighting fixtures. Well, I say formica countertops were good enough for my parents, and if it's still hygienic and functional let's lower our expectations a little and live within our means, maybe even save a few dollars for our children's education and our retirement.

Just when I was starting to accept the inevitable I was hit with a new social ill that I think has the potential to take our civic civility down several notches. This is my new pet peeve: people who are serving you who say "No problem" in response to your saying "Thank you." Does this annoy you, too? When you're paying the bill at the restaurant and are trying to be polite, and proud of your own manners and as you prepare to depart say "Thank you" (when perhaps it should be them that is thanking you for your business), and then they reply "No problem."


Making this observation has become my new litmus test for checking out someone as a possible friend. It used to be I'd casually work into the conversation that I have an extensive rubber stamp collection. That hobby began when my older brother gave me a rubber stamp of a hi top tennis shoeI as a send off for college. During my freshman year it became an obsession and I developed a habit of buying stamps out of the Hero Arts catalog, like their classic "Godzilla Eating a VW Bug", back in their early days, before they got all mushy and turned all Hallmarkish. Sensitivity to rubber stamps became a way to categorize people into two groups—the 80% who would look blankly at me and ask "Huh?", and the 20% whose eyes lit up and asked if they could come over and play with them.


The confidence level increased in the 20% who passed the first test passed a second trial as well. For this I casually put on João Gilberto's João record on the hi fi, the one with added instrumental layers arranged by Clare Fischer for João Gilberto's album João. 80% of people in the second phase of testing would continue to talk over it as if it were just one more piece of music to be  ignored rather than giving the respect it deserves. The other 20% of those in phase two testing were unable to continue the conversation. Their mouths hung open and eyes bugged out when we got to the parts with Clare's amazing clarinet choirs and the other backgrounds that he added to the basic tracks João sent him.

The increasing frequency of "You're welcome" in conversation today is part of the the slippery slope down into a loss of manners, which I suspect has to do with the majority of civilians drifting into texting instead of having voice and non-verbal communication. Please, supervisors, train your staff respond with "You're welcome" when someone says "Thank you." Sure, there may be rare situations in which your staff has gone out of their way to be of service and the customer is falling over themselves apologizing and emphasizing how grateful they are for the extra help and mileage the employee went to way above and beyond what could reasonably be expected. Yes, then it could be appropriate to politely let them know that they can stop their worrying that too much has been done and that you were in no way put out with a gentle "Oh, please don't worry any more about it, it was no problem.".

If you're going to be serving the public hopefully you enjoy the opportunity to help others and serve them, if necessary taking comfort in the idea that what goes around comes around, and that you will be served by others in turn. Of course you can't be expected to be delighted about serving every customer in every situation, but at least once in a while hopefully you will feel some satisfaction, if not a tingle of joy, in helping, and in those cases I suggest that you do like they do in Brazil and answer "It was my pleasure." I'm going to try saying that more often, and to also be more sincere and generous with my gratitude.

I considered a performance art piece where I could start saying "No problem" in even more inappropriate situations, like someone calls on the phone and leads off with "How are you doing today, Sir?" and I come back with "No problem." This could hopefully start a chain reaction of people wondering why someone would say that in that situation, and eventually connect the dots and realize it's not the right response to "Thank you." My younger brother pointed out that it could have the opposite effect though and start encouraging people to say it even more often, and what would happen if my teenagers started using it in the sarcastic tone that only the young can achieve, like I say "Would you please scoot over on the couch so I can sit down?" and they say "Sure, Dad, no problem" in a tone of voice as if I've asked for too much again. I thought this growing annoyance was another sign of advancing age, but then my brother said his wife is annoyed by the same thing.

I think what needs to be done is to activate the idea that's been percolating about launching the Lovely Thinking T-shirt line. The first design is going to be "Thank you" on line one, "No problem" underneath it with a line through it on line two, and "You're welcome" on line three. Get yours before supplies run out!