Young folks have a word for it, or two: 'no problem'

September 19, 1996|By Kevin Cowherd

I AM 44 YEARS OLD, not a young man anymore, but sometimes I feel much older, as if I should be pulling on a robin's-egg-blue polo shirt and yellow Sansabelt slacks at 4: 30 in the afternoon and lining up for the Early Bird special at a steak joint in Miami Beach.

Tell me something: When did everyone under the age of 25 start using "No problem" as a substitute for "You're welcome"?

Was this some cosmic change in the vernacular announced on MTV between a Red Hot Chili Peppers video and a commercial for Mountain Dew?

Was it advocated in SPIN magazine next to a 7,000-word paean to Tupac Shakur, painting the dead rapper as the logical successor to St. Francis of Assisi, Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. in terms of selfless dedication to humanity?

All I know is, young people don't say "You're welcome" when someone says "Thank you" anymore. And if that sounds like a generalization, well, too bad. That's what you have to do sometimes to come up with a column.

The fact is, I hear "No problem" from the guy at the car wash, the woman at the cash register in the drug store, the guy who rips the tickets in half at the movies.

Then there was the recent exchange I had with the kid who works at a local convenience store, a skinny boy of about 19 with the perpetual look of someone who just caught his girlfriend in the back of his GEO Traker with another guy.

I handed the kid five bucks for a cup of coffee and a newspaper, and the following conversation ensued:

"And $3.72 is your change."

"Thanks."

"No problem."

"Sugar and cream's over there."

"Thanks."

"No problem."

"By the way, what time do you have?"

"Eight-thirty."

"Great, thanks."

"Hey, no problem."

I know, I know, you're thinking: "Boy, I wish I could have that kind of stimulating conversation at MY convenience store."

But if you're scoring along with me, that was three "No problems" in a 10-second snippet of dialogue.

I don't want to get too analytical about this whole thing because, unlike, say, someone playing the accordion, it really doesn't bother me.

When I say "Thank you" to someone and he or she replies "No problem," I think it's meant to convey "Think nothing of it, glad to do it," that sort of thing.

And the truth is, I hear "No problem" all the time at home, as one of the kids I live with is 14 years old.

The boy is at that delicate stage in his life when he is mortified by everything his parents do.

In particular, he seems convinced that in terms of looks, dress and hipness quotient, his dad is right up there with Bob Hope.

When we're at the mall, he will often walk 20 feet in front of me, so that there is no possible way anyone could link the two of us together, short of asking for identification.

So profound is his embarrassment that I will sometimes duck into a store and look in the mirror to see if I've suddenly turned into the Elephant Man.

In any event, the two of us were having breakfast in a restaurant the other day when I brought up this whole business of young people saying "No problem" instead of "You're welcome."

Naturally, he got all defensive, which is another common trait of young people these days.

(I know that sounds like more stereotyping. But if that's what it takes to finish this column, that's what I'll do.)

"Not all young people say "No problem," the boy insisted.

"Oh, yeah?" I said. "Watch this."

So I asked our waiter, a 22-ish thug with an eyebrow ring, for the check.

When he brought it, I said: "Thanks."

Sure enough, he replied: "No problem."

So just to make conversation, I chirped: "Isn't it interesting that when someone says 'Thank you,' people of the younger generation -- that is, yours and my son's -- say 'No problem' while people of my generation say 'You're welcome?' "

They both looked at me the way you'd look at someone who just relieved himself on your drapes.

At that moment I felt very old -- even older than Bob Hope.

More like Bob Hope's grandfather.

Pub Date: 9/19/96

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