Wednesday, September 27, 2017

“No problem” vs “you’re welcome”

My daughter pointed me to this piece by Gretchen McCulloch, which gives me some insight into what I have considered the annoying habit of younger people to always say 'no problem' instead of 'you're welcome.' A clip:
Speaking of linguistics, there’s one particular linguistic tick that I think clearly separates Baby Boomers from Millennials: how we reply when someone says “thank you.”
You almost never hear a Millennial say “you’re welcome.” At least not when someone thanks them. It just isn’t done. Not because Millennials are ingrates lacking all manners, but because the polite response is “No problem.” Millennials only use “you’re welcome” sarcastically when they haven’t been thanked or when something has been taken from/done to them without their consent. It’s a phrase that’s used to point out someone else’s rudeness. A Millennial would typically be fairly uncomfortable saying “you’re welcome” as an acknowledgement of genuine thanks because the phrase is only ever used disingenuously.
Baby Boomers, however, get really miffed if someone says “no problem” in response to being thanked. From their perspective, saying “no problem” means that whatever they’re thanking someone for was in fact a problem, but the other person did it anyway as a personal favor. To them “You’re welcome” is the standard polite response.
“You’re welcome” means to Millennials what “no problem” means to Baby Boomers, and vice versa.The two phrases have converse meanings to the different age sets. I’m not sure exactly where this line gets drawn, but it’s somewhere in the middle of Gen X. This is a real pain in the ass if you work in customer service because everyone thinks that everyone else is being rude when they’re really being polite in their own language.


  1. When I was in Australia about a decade ago, "No problem" was a standard response in many situations. It must have drifted over here.

    My impression was that it was simply their way to respond. It was often spoken in a rather (sincerely) cheerful voice. It's not something one would expect someone to take offense at.

  2. As an alternative, there's the wording suggested by influence expert Robert Cialdini:
    Not really good for a customer service situation, but perhaps effective in a business or personal context.