My language-sensitive friend Suzanne Ecklund e-mailed me the other day, hoping e-loud that I would share her consternation at the reluctance of the "under-40 crowd" to say, "You're welcome."
Instead, it's "no problem."
I have feelings about this, but they're not as much outrage as perplexed sadness.
I think this discomfort with the traditional thank you/you're welcome transaction betrays confusion about who we are, what we deserve to get from one another and what we are responsible to give.
In the dark about all of that, and thus afraid to owe or to be owed, we try to turn every interaction into a neutral trade. Every transaction is a "win-win," every teacher learns just as much from the students, and every kindness wasn't a kindness at all. It was, instead, "no problem." (Or, as a sweet-voiced Australian hotelier once said in words poetic to these ears of mine, "Not a worry, mistah Murray.")
I'd like to declare myself above this syndrome, but hell, I haven't been 40 for long and just today I ran a piece of equipment across town for someone who needed it. When he thanked me I said, "Oh, no worries. It was actually a nice motorcycle ride over here."
That was true.
But it was also true that he had apologetically asked a favor and had thanked me for doing it, and it was my social duty to say, before "no worries" and the gracious motorcycle anecdote, "You're welcome."
Why are we afraid of such modest intimacy? And why are the younger of us more afraid than the older?