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.
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.