The problem with the 'no problem' problem

January 26, 2012

Regarding Paula Simon's recent commentary regarding how vendors respond to a customer's thank-you ("The problem with 'no problem,'" Jan. 25), she might be interested to know that in French, Spanish, and Italian, appropriate responses to "thank you" are, respectively, "de rien" "de nada," and "di niente." All of these phrases literally mean "it's nothing," linguistically closer to "no problem" than to "you're welcome."

Does that make these cultures deficient in civility relative to English-speaking cultures? Moreover, I think Ms. Simon is missing the point that communication has as much to do with tone of voice and inflection as it does with the words being said. Even "you're welcome" can be said dryly, coldly or even sarcastically. I suggest Ms. Simon pay as much attention to substance as to form. As for a cheerful "no problem," I have no problem with that.

Helen Glazer, Owings Mills

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