Well, That’s a Problem
You’re welcome.” I just had to get that out. You may be wondering why I dangled that without so much as a “thank you” preceding it. As I said, I had to get it out there – and fast, because it may be the last time you’ll ever hear it.
That’s right, my friends, “you’re welcome” is dying away.
It appears to be fading into the same archaic ether as thou shalt not, your chariot awaits, and I need a new typewriter ribbon.
Lest (ahem…) you think I’m someone who pines for earlier times, let me assure you I’m as much a modernist as anyone who paints their walls gray. I might even call myself a futurist, rinsing my cans and bottles before recycling, and hoping we find evidence of life on other planets before I die. I dress on trend, even if that trend skews middle-age. I take heart when I read that 50 is the new 35, and 35 is the new 20. I may take heart but I don’t take it to heart. I’m not getting pop-up ads for Huggies anytime soon.
Yet with all my gazing toward the cosmos, I long for customs that we learned as kids, like saying thank you and you’re welcome. We were told to thank Aunt Millie for the nice eggplant casserole, and with those instructions we learned to be grateful for another’s efforts and thoughtfulness, even if we fed it to the dog later on. If we were thanked, we welcomed it. I’m not meaning to imply that we have become a completely barbaric society – that’s a topic for another column. People still offer a thank you and answer to it.
But here’s the rub, more often than not my thanks receives a “no problem.”
It seems as though in this world fraught with problems, nothing is ever a problem anymore. How can that be? Just this morning I had a problem with my coffee maker. Last night my window shade kept snapping up and sounded like a gunshot. The glue used to hold my kitchen tiles in place seems to be failing. My iPhone… oh, don’t get me started. In short, I have problems all the day long. It’s true that some are minor, and then there are the calls to straighten out a big accounting mistake with a hospital or utility. Have you ever been there? That’s a bottle of Excedrin problem.
Although I seem to have problems, big and small, the people I encounter doing their jobs seem to be immune. The barista concocting a grande latte, laced with caramel, sprinkled with sea salt, topped by hand-ground cinnamon, garnished with mint, and donned with a cap of dense foam that could float a small boat, well, he hasn’t a problem filling that order. The guys delivering the sofa that wouldn’t fit through my door, they hadn’t a problem either. The saleswoman who spent most of her morning helping me find a light bulb they no longer manufacture, hadn’t a problem with it. I overheard a technician at the Geek Squad, who fielded a hundred questions from a computer novice, say “no problem.” But I didn’t believe him. He took the rest of the day off.
I like saying thanks, expressing gratitude.
I like being polite. My mother would approve. Although the circumstances are often problematic, like deciding whether to return a sofa or slice it in half, I don’t think I am being a burden. So the assurance of “no problem” feels like I’m being absolved of the guilt I should be feeling. I’d rather my profuse gratitude, augmented by an obscene tip, be welcomed.
Where I live in Manhattan, we have a nice diversity of ages – lots of young people, families and loads of seniors. It makes for intergenerational friendships and I like it. However it’s mainly the seniors who populate the local buses. The bus drivers are good about easing the way for their passengers to board by lowering the front step. It’s appreciated and since it only entails pressing a button, it’s quite literally no problem for the driver.
On a recent evening I waited at a bus stop with quite a few seniors. The doors opened but the step wasn’t lowered. I watched as one by one, people hoisted themselves up the high step and onto the bus. At the time it seemed not so nice and yet everyone managed, and maybe even felt good about the bit of exercise and the accomplishment.
Nevertheless I was bothered by it, and for my entire ride I wondered about this sweet-faced driver and why he would compel his older passengers to exert themselves that way. Was something sinister lurking behind his engaging smile? Did he dislike the elderly? I wondered whether he would have lowered the step had someone really struggled. I never found out. But I did find out something else.
As I left the bus through the front door, as most New Yorkers do, I threw out my usual “thank you” to the driver. He threw back a jovial “you’re welcome!” And that’s when I decided that “you’re welcome” was just a step up.
Arlen Hollis Kane
Arlen Hollis Kane is a Manhattan-based award-winning writer. Memos from Manhattan, her regular column for 50PlusToday, is reflective of her love affair with her hometown. Her focus is on writing about the ever astonishing people, places and events that inspire the phrase “only in New York.”
After reaching 50, she fulfilled a childhood passion by enrolling in the Fashion Institute of Technology. She designs and hand makes scarves, handbags and jewelry. Her abstract acrylics and photographs have been featured in a one-woman show in the Gallery of the Borough President of Manhattan, and in juried shows, including at the National Arts Gallery.
Arlen volunteers for Dorot, an organization that helps seniors stay engaged and socialized, and Big Apple Greeter, which gives visitors the experience of seeing New York with a local.