Why I’ve a problem with “No problem!”

 

OK, here comes this year’s silly season, apropos nothing, totally off-the-wall post.

Fly in the soup

At a restaurant not long ago, my friend and I were served by a waitress who was both able and pleasant.  The only fly in the soup was that in response to everything – and I do mean everything – we said or even in response to nothing at all, she would say “No problem!”

“Do you have a table please?“ – “No problem!”
“That’s great, thanks” (upon being shown to our table) – “No problem!”
“Thank you” (for setting the table) – “No problem!”
“Ah, we haven’t quite decided yet…” – “No problem!”

And so it went on.  Each course arrived “No problem!” as did the wine and tap water and I think she might even have said “No problem!” as we exited through the doors.

Pat little phrase

Anything repeated ad nauseum becomes annoying but hearing this pat little phrase perhaps two dozen times (well it felt like it) over two hours brought home how it’s become the de rigeur, catch all response of our times.

Every era has one.  Which swinging 60s film has the young female lead repeating a bemused, bedazzled “Super!”?  Then there’s the hippy era’s “Groovy!” even if perhaps mostly in mythology.

Ours is not ‘Perfect!’ as proposed by a New Statesman columnist recently but this problematic little proposition.

Problem solving

So why do I have a problem with no problem?  Because why would there be a problem?  We were in a restaurant doing what people do, following the etiquette, enjoying our food, paying the bill, leaving a tip and the waitress was doing her job.  Why would we need multiple, ongoing confirmations that there isn’t a problem?

I suppose it’s trying to say “Nothing is too much trouble” except I don’t hear it like that.  “No problem!” is like the lesser relative of EastEnders’ bully boy Phil Mitchell’s “You got a problem?”  The phrase comes tainted with latent aggression.  It implies that the graciousness of declaring all is well is entirely the prerogative of the no-problemer.  It takes back power, is designed to induce unease.  It’s saying: I don’t have a problem with you right now, but If that changes you’ll soon know about it.

So please may we dispense with this robotic, passively aggressive patois?

How about adopting the charming and embracing “Prego!” (“You’re welcome!”) of Italian restaurants?  I’d have no problem with that.

Loved up and shoulder to shoulder

The other day, a young (20-something) couple walked by me with their arms wrapped tightly atop each others shoulders.

Seeing this took me back forty years in an instant.  This is my memory of how young people embraced in the hippy and post-hippy eras; no longer standard 1950s’ hand-in-hand nor the boy’s hand curling round the girl’s waist but this egalitarian, unisex – and surely quite uncomfortable – expression of lovedupness.

The couple would typically be patch denim clad, flared trousered, smiley badged kids who might have walked out of a youth club or a Coke advert.  Their embrace, in its compression, drew them together and down towards the ground as if they were a little overpowered by their own affection (and affectation).

Hippy embrace

This shoulder hugging memory had become so faded that I didn’t know it was there until I saw it played out before my eyes.

 

Here, the arms aren’t nearly high enough to qualify, they should be virtually horizontal, but this is the best image I could find.

Cold shoulder

I wonder why the shoulder-top embrace has become so rare?  Perhaps it lives on at festivals.  Or might it not now seem a little too soft or even drippy for a high-fiving, snapchatting world?

Maybe modes of behaviour subject to revivals just as fashions are.  Or perhaps the couple I passed by really were ghosts from the early 70s.