The Meaning of “No Problem”

I’ve been thinking about how often each day I say “thank you” and how often others respond by saying “No problem.”

Most of us over the age of (you fill in the blank) were taught as children to say “you’re welcome” when someone says “thank you”.

What does it mean to speak the words “you’re welcome”?  It means that the speaker feels that the listener is welcome to all kindness, time, service, good will, energy, work, help, support, etc. that was given. It means that the speaker is pleased to give to the listener.   It expresses care for the listener.

If we look at the way speakers of other languages respond to an expression of gratitude, we see that it’s often about expressing pleasure in the act of giving.   Italians, in fact, use a word that means “pleasure” and “to please”.   Speakers of French and Spanish use words that actually mean “nothing”:  expressing the their sentiment that giving actually felt like nothing, compared to the pleasure one received in the giving.

What does “no problem” mean?

It means “you did not cause me a problem”.  It means “I don’t like problems, and I’m glad that you did not cause me a problem”.  Perhaps it means  “If my giving to you was going to cause a problem for me in any way, no matter how small, I may not have extended myself – or there might have been unhappy consequences.”

This is quite different from expressing pleasure about the act of giving.

Yes, I know that “no problem” is a “generational thing”.   But how do you feel when someone responds to your expression of gratitude by saying “no problem”?

If you feel uncomfortable in even the tiniest way,  might this be an important topic to discuss with your daughters and sons who are learning to navigate polite conversation to enhance relationships?

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