In any language, the exchange of gratitude is one of the simplest and most profound expressions that can pass between two people. You can save a marriage, avoid a war, repair a misunderstanding, or just make someone’s day a little brighter just be uttering those simple words.
Xie xie .
And then there’s the rejoinder, which for a long time was always the same in English: “You’re welcome.”
There is a richness to “You’re welcome.” In many languages, the rejoinder “de nada” or “de rien” (it’s nothing) takes the place of “You’re welcome.” You hear people say that in English, too. And I’ve always seen that as sort of sad. If you look at it literally, “de nada” diminishes the value of the gift. It says, no, it is nothing, really, I didn’t do anything, when you really did do something.
“You’re welcome,” on the other hand, is a gracious reply. It enhances the stature of the recipient. Instead of saying that what you have given me is of little value, or literally nothing, what the giver is saying with “You’re welcome” is that you, the recipient, are indeed worthy of the gift.
Somehow saying of a gift that “it’s nothing” lessens the significance of the whole transaction. If it was nothing, why give it in the first place? And if I give you something that I then tell you is worth nothing, what am I saying about how I value our relationship?
Recently, my wife and I were having dinner out. The waitress brought our food and we thanked her. “No problem,” she said. My wife thinks I’m being too literal, and I have learned to keep my thoughts to myself at such times, but I can’t help but think that “No problem” is, in fact, a problem. At least, it is for me.
I’m thanking you for the food and the service, for which I am paying, and in return you are telling me that I am not a problem. I was pretty sure when I walked in to the joint that I wasn’t a problem; I was a customer. It doesn’t have the same elevating quality as the elegant, “You’re welcome.”
This is hardly the end of the world. Even as linguistical issues go, this is a second- or third-tier problem. With all the foul language that passes for normal in ordinary conversation these days (don’t even get me started on overheard cellphone dialogue), I guess you could say that the change from “You’re welcome” to “No problem” is a low-priority item.
But don’t words matter? Don’t real meanings matter? In a culture of “whatever” and “it’s all good” (news flash: it’s not), we shouldn’t have to mentally reframe everything we hear with an unspoken “you know what I mean.”
We could, instead, just say what we mean.
Thank you. Simple word. Huge concept.
You are very welcome.
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