What does it mean? When I pay fifty dollars at the grocery store and “Thank you,” slips out of my mouth because my mother taught me to say that, what does it mean when the clerk says, “No problem”? People have said it to me for years and I still don’t get it. I understand new use of words like spyware, agritourism, or mouse potato, but “No problem,” is baffling.
I know meanings change. Years ago gay was a simple three letter word that meant happily excited and merry. The day after my aunt named my cousin Susan Gay because she hoped for a happy baby, the word was hijacked to include and then be overtaken by slang for homosexual. What is to be done? Reluctant to be called Susan Homosexual by classmates, my cousin abandoned her given middle name.
There is no fighting the tide of popular definitions. In the name of inner peace, I’ve known for years I needed to settle my “No problem” dislike.
“No problem,” says the repairman of a clogged drain. “No problem,” says the waiter in the restaurant with white tablecloths. “No problem,” says the tiny woman I asked to explain the levels of membership in a local fitness club. “No problem,” says the ticket taker when I board the airplane.
Perhaps my problem is not another’s problem. To the plumber: I think a drain that clogs an hour before six dinner guests arrive is a problem. To the waiter: As the woman on table eight who spilled her water like a three-year-old and needed attention during the busiest pre-theatre hour, I know I have created a problem. To the fitness woman: Not knowing the answer to my question was, if not a problem, at least a curiosity or annoyance to me. To the ticket-taker: Do
you think I really care that it’s not a problem for you when I’m following all of Homeland Security’s dictums to not call attention to myself and just get this whole experience of flying in an overheated sardine can in the sky over with?
Instead of me not being or having a problem, maybe my fleeting presence in a person’s life is of no concern or value because already that person is working to forget me. That is understandable.
The plumber is doing his job, which under some circumstances is worth more than he charges, so let him talk in social cliche, as long as he gets down to the business of fixing the drain. If the waiter wants to block me out of his consciousness with a strident, “No problem,” fine with me, though he’s lying. His attitude and gestures will mean more to my feelings of humiliation in the moment. I clearly am a nuisance to the fitness person who I unintentionally interrupted during a work-out session since her voice tone carries death knells. As I hold my ticket stub and walk toward the plane, I say, “Thank you,” to the ticket-taker who responds with, “No problem.”
I suppose like a seamstress taking one more stitch, or a cook flipping one more hamburger, the work I require is two more seconds spent at a job. As long as I stay in my Homeland Security low profile, I am recognized as not a problem.
That’s it! That’s it! I don’t like, “Not a problem,” because it’s dismissive. It defines me as a player in a bitter, boring workday moment and I am the thousandth stitch or the hundredth hamburger. A “Thank you,” my mother taught me, indicated shared human spirit, and “You’re welcome,” recognized me as the thousandth human stitch, the thousandth human hamburger. Thank you Writing Muse Irma. You’ve solved it for me again.