Sunday, March 1, 2009

No Worries

I find it extremely annoying in a store or restaurant when I say “Thank you” and the worker responds with “No problem” or even “No worries” instead of “You’re welcome.” It grates, my how it grates!

I don’t like the implication, no matter how far-fetched, that my patronage could potentially cause any problems or worries. After all, I am the customer. Am I over-thinking this?

I never correct these folks, even though I come from a long line of Grammar Police. I have a well-worn copy of the book "Frequently Misspelled Words" that used to sit on my grandfather’s desk when he was a college administrator. He was a tough old character who would not hesitate to correct grammar or usage errors.

My own dear mom also corrected people, albeit in a kind, homey way. While going in for an MRI just days before she died, she took it upon herself to instruct the MRI tech on the difference between lay and lie. “Honey, I’m sure you have to say this many times every day, so I thought you would like to know that objects lay and people lie.”

I do not correct grammar or usage unless I am inside an English classroom or if I am speaking to the fruit of my loins. After all, I make plenty of grammatical errors myself, and I also have a painful memory burned into my mind that keeps me from crossing this line.

It was the late 80’s and I was 18. My mother had died suddenly, and I found myself home from college for the summer, trying to establish a new reality for myself. Three days after the funeral, I found a job at our favorite neighborhood restaurant. I was a crappy hostess, a deplorable waitress, and an even worse bartender. I did have big hair, a denim miniskirt, a ready smile, and a good attitude.

The other employees knew of my great loss and were kind to me, understanding, I hope, that my smiles and chatty conversation didn’t mean I didn’t love my mom, and that when I would tear up over a spilled glass of water or a botched order, I wasn’t really crying about work.

One night I was working the register when a young dad paid by credit card. Handing him the slip, I said, “Okay, sir, I just need you to write your name here.”

Young Dad: “Write my name? Write my name? What you are asking for is my SIG-NA-TURE not my name."

Me: “Sure, okay.”

Young Dad: “No. It is not OKAY. In life, you must learn to speak WELL not to speak GOOD.”

What I wanted to say was, “Look, A-hole, I know you may be looking for your own little Pygmalion moment, but you've got the wrong girl. I am not Eliza Doolittle, and I don’t need any of your personal instruction. You may see me merely as the hired help, but there’s a lot more going on with me than you know. By the way, I’m sure my SAT scores and college GPA would blow yours out of the water.”

Instead, I flushed, teared up, and said nothing.

More than 20 years later, I still remember how crappy it felt to be spoken to so condescendingly. Isn’t it amazing how the bad stuff sticks to us, while the good stuff rolls off?

So, when I hear a friend say, “Could you give it to Kim or I?” or a salesperson say, “No problem” in response to a simple thank you, I just keep it in perspective and tell myself that sometimes it is better to do good than to just do things well.


Dreamybee said...

Hi, just popping over from So Not Zen.

The "Thank you," and "You're welcome" thing doesn't bother me, but I do see your point. I guess I always sort of mentally extend the, "No problem!" to, "You're welcome! It was no problem whatsoever; I was happy to do it!"

Your restaurant story reminds me of when I was in high school and working as a hostess. We were really busy and tables just weren't moving and this customer got really mad because he had been waiting longer than we had originally quoted him. Understandable, but he really went off telling us what a bad job we were doing and how unhappy he was and how ridiculous this was, etc. In four years, I dealt with a lot of unhappy customers (although, generally, not THAT unhappy!), so that's not what made this guy memorable. The reason I remember him is because he came back up to the hostess stand later and apologized. I was shocked. I couldn't believe it, but I was impressed because I knew it couldn't have been easy for him to do, and I'm sure he could have easily justified his behavior in his mind.

So...who knows? Maybe I would have remembered him if he hadn't apologized-I do remember being pretty shaken by him-but as it is, it's been 15 years, and his apology is one of the good things that has stuck. Sorry your guy didn't see fit to humble himself a little bit, but hopefully he has mellowed with age. (And felt tremendous guilt for making that poor girl in the restaurant cry all those years ago!)

Anonymous said...

I must admit having gotten used to "no problem," but the one that really grates on me is an eye roll & a terse"Just a minute!" when I ask someone whose job it is to wait on me, to actually wait on me....~Mary

Madge said...

The other day I was in the drive-thru line at Starbucks and I hesitated before pulling up when it was my turn. The car behind me yelled out there window "MOVE!!"

Oh, I was mad. I wanted to get out and say, "Hey! I'm having a bad fing day -- BACK. OFF."

But I didn't, cuz really that's not me and probably they were also having a really bad day -- thus the yelling

not really the same thing, but you made me think of that...

Debbie said...

I love how you tied this together in the end! Although the me and I think still drives me nuts.

Christy said...

Wouldn't it be something if that guy happened upon your blog? Stranger things have happened. I feel for you...just this past January I found myself being totally unreasonable to a fellow passenger on a plane. My husband's mother had died unexpectedly the day before and we were flying over to arrange the funeral, etc...and I totally snapped at a guy trying to put his luggage above my seat. Less than a minute later I went over to him and apologized saying something to the effect of, so sorry, mother in law died, not myself...I hope if he remembers anything of that, he remembers the apology not the crazy woman.

P.S. your mom sounds like she was quite a character...sorry for your loss, even though it was a while ago.

Keetha said...

Bad grammar sets my teeth on edge, but generally no good can come from pointing it out. Unless it's your child or something.

I agree that sometimes good is well enough.

L said...

I am so mad at that restaurant guy! I do hope that he saw the error of his ways at some point - and will try to forgive him. Goodness knows I have been jerky enough to people along the way. Thanks for the wonderful reminder that speaking my annoyance is usually NOT the right thing to do.

Jbhat said...

Oh, I feel your pain. I supervise college students at a university, and every time I hear one of them say "Her and I went..." or similar offenses I cringe and want to correct them, but I don't. Should I?

I recall once when an extremely learned man corrected my pronunciation of the word "asterisk," a word that trips up many people. I am glad he did, even though it was oh-so- humiliating at the time.

Jbhat said...

Ugh, speaking of humiliating...I left out a comma above! Sorry.

Kate Coveny Hood said...

Absolutely right!

I have a friend from Baltimore who says "her and me" and it drives me crazy! But it's just one of those things she heard her whole life - so it *sounds* right to her.

I would never correct her. In the end, THAT would be far more inappropriate than any grammatical error.

bernthis said...

I made a grammar error in the title of one of my webisodes and I'm not sure if it was you who corrected me but I was glad for the info b/c I know it was given in a kind way.

I agree doing it good sometimes has to trump doing it well.

Gretchen said...

Ah, my grammar-loving soul sister. I too am a lover of the English language. I tend to overuse the comma too often, but I love to give myself a little internal high-five when I hear someone misuse "me" and "I" or "lay" and "lie", knowing that I know the correct answer. Yes, I admit, it's a bit smug. But I don't rub their face in it and it makes my day about 5% better, so what's the harm? hee hee

Pamela said...

Mrs. Rogers, my beloved high school English teacher, would have loved having more mothers like you and your mom correcting children at home. As part of my job, I just today moved two periods inside the closing parenthesis when proof reading someone else's report.

Ria said...

Your story reminded me of when a distant acquaintance of my father proceeded to tell me I was foolish since I didn't know the difference between "farther" and "further"! I was 14 (I know I should have known), just finished my finals, wanted to have some fun and hated that guy for humiliating me in front of my family! But to this day when I notice a mistake (I notice more science related mistakes), I remember him and spare the young kids a long lecture. If it's friends, I tell them research shows otherwise.

Jennifer said...

Texan Mama sent me over here to read your post. Very good by the way. I had a mini-grammar vent tonight. I would never, ever say anything to someone's face, but sometimes you just have to get that burden off your chest. My big grammar faux pas', too many commas and I write in phrases. The same way I talk and think. LOL