No problems

I took my car for an MOT this morning. The woman who runs the garage is very efficient, but she has a really irritating vocal tic. Her answer to virtually any inquiry is “not a problem.” It’s a variant of the increasingly common “no problem” spoken, for example, when you are given change in the shop. You say thanks, the shop person says “no problem”. Well, no, obviously – why would it be a problem? I am entitled to my change, no? At the garage, I overheard a telephone conversation which went like this:
Caller – (whatever, I couldn’t hear)
Garage woman – Not a problem Mr Davies
Caller – Blah blah blah
GW – Not a problem
Caller – Blah
GW – That’s not a problem, no.
Caller – Blah
GW – That’s not a problem in any way, shape or form…

What about that last one?
I imagine this woman’s awesome power to smooth out problems could be used to solve global difficulties. Let’s get her up to the G8 meeting. I imagine the press conference:

Andrew Marr: Do you have a plan to end world poverty?
Special Envoy Garage Woman: That’s not a problem
Adam Boulton: What about AIDS?
SEGW: That’s no problem at all
Jon Snow: Can you fix global warming?
SEGW: That’s not a problem in any way, shape or form.
All: Hurrah!

CC BY-SA 4.0 No problems by Dr Rob Spence is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

13 Responses to “No problems”

  1. Hi Rob, great dialogue ;-). There’s an add-on in the German language that says: “no issue” (in German: kein Thema). I tell my students: Do some research on dieting.
    Answer: No issue.
    I: What are you telling me? Dieting is no issue? Doing research is no issue? There aren’t any issues?
    Students: No, no, that’s just not a problem…
    Nogbad made me aware of your blog because you also list Ulysses as one of your favourite books. I’m glad he did.

  2. Thanks for that, Francesca. You can imagine Joyce constructing some baroque linguistic edifice out of “kein Thema/ no problem” can’t you?

  3. I wonder if “no problem” has crept north from the Med? I remember working with Spanish waiters who would always shrug and say “No problem” however busy the restaurant became and how silly the manager’s next request was – “Can you take another three tables of ten people each and get them served and out again in 30 minutes?” Answer was always “Sure! No problem”. Might it be culturally related to “Manyana”?

    Certainly when I worked in Bavaria “egal” usually meany much the same when offered with a shrug.

  4. ‘Er indoors, a Germanist by trade, knows “kein Thema” as the sort of thing you might say when someone is protesting that you are going out of your way to help them – “You’ll drive me to the airport? ” “Yes, really, it’s no problem.” – that would be a legit use of kein thema / not a problem I think. Francesca might have seen a new usage. On “egal” I always hear that as the equivalent of “whatever”- with the intensiefier “Scheiss” though it’s really ” I don’t give a toss!”

  5. Hey, so much to catch up with!
    Oh yes, Rob, I can easily imagine J.J. saying something like: Talking beesknees: No Themes, probapossible no Props. Kains.
    Nogbad, you might be on the right track. Let’s have a look where the problem comes from (I think old French: problème, old Latin problema) and this might be the clue to where the no problem comes from, too 😉
    Egal can mean – in a positive way: I don’t mind (doing something for you, actually I enjoy doing a favour..) or it can have those negative connotations you mentioned. So, if my students say: no issue – do they want to tell me they don’t give a damn or they are just indifferent to whatever suggestion I make?
    And Rob, the Francesca is really just NOT A PROBLEM!

  6. Francessa – thanks for that, especially the impressive JJ impersonation. And thanks for forgiving my spelling errror – it’s never egal to me when I make a mistake…

  7. Egal can mean – in a positive way: I don’t mind (doing something for you, actually I enjoy doing a favour..) or it can have those negative connotations you mentioned.

    Yes I know it can be used in both ways and that’s where tone of voice is important isn’t it? “Ganz egal” 🙂

  8. …and tone of voice is so difficult in e-mail and similar isn’t it? Hence emoticons etc. Trouble is, I’ve kein Bock for the technical side of t’internet.

  9. I think grabbing some of the technical side of t’internet is akin to learning something of the way English works as a language. You can use it without knowing the rules but getting your arms round some of the basic rules makes it a bit easier to go out and break them 🙂

  10. They are part of the intro! If you can’t survive on cold pizza and drink nothing but Coca Cola I fear your nascent career as a t’Internet guru may flounder. Just remember that donning a baseball cap reduces your IQ by 50% and then wearing it backwards hits the remainder by a further 50%

    After that it’s just a question of nodding sagaciously whenever anyone asks what you think of HTML 4 compliance on the W3C site or how BOBBI treats tables (and trying not to belch and burp after all that Coke and cold pizza)

  11. I read what scary cheri said about Coke – ugh!
    As for the backwards baseball cap, I always liked Clive James’s line about that – “it’s the international sign of the moron”.

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