If you have ever stood behind someone ordering a drink in a Starbucks, you may have noticed a lack of grace on their part, (and maybe your own). The Starbucks baristas—always polite to the point of extravagance—ask what they may get for the customer on this fine morning. The customer says they will have a double pump vanilla bold, stir the whip and hold the cinnamon. This is the moment when I play a little game with myself, guessing what the odds are that the customer will end the order with "please." I always bet that they won't which gives me a perverse thrill (which almost always happens), when they don't.
Even though I win the bet, this makes me very sad. When people are impolite, I always wonder—where are their grandmothers? My grandmother never gave me anything I asked for unless I asked for it with a "please" attached. For that matter, neither did my parents but hearing a rebuke from my grandmother seemed to count more. Most of us have at least one grandmother that we loved, sometimes two. I wanted to please my grandmother. My grandmother liked nice manners.
Since I perform a service for people, I have many occasions to execute the service over the telephone which beats fighting traffic, but I have another little game that I have come to play. After performing the service, I will always thank my customer—and then I wait to be thanked in turn. Too often, I am disappointed.
I would like to be able to tell you that I know the reason for this boorish behavior, but I am sorry to tell you that I do not. I could blame the grandmothers, but by the time you get to be a grandmother, no one should blame you for much so I will not blame grandmothers. Personally speaking, my children make good use of please and thank you, but I have noticed a disturbing trend in their speech: They have now substituted "you're welcome" with "no problem."
This is disturbing to me, because when you say "no problem" instead of "you're welcome," you are inferring that this person caused a problem. You have done something nice for someone because they have given you a problem? Do you want them to think that? I know that I do not want my customers to think they are a problem to me. As if!
I am not the only one who dislikes this trend. There are entire companies that are service providers who have forbidden the customer service reps from saying, "no problem." Another phrase that is creeping into the daily vernacular is, "you're fine." An example of an occasion when this happened to me was when I stepped in front of someone in an aisle in a store and said "excuse me." The woman replied, "you're fine." Instead of "that's quite alright," I am now "fine." How does she know I'm fine? Maybe I'm not fine. A perfect stranger is making a judgment call on my fine-ness. This is so ridiculous. How do we get to perverting and molesting our language this way?
Here is the rule when it comes to "please":
Whenever you are asking someone for something—anything—you must say, "please."
Here is the rule when it comes to "thank you":
Whenever someone has executed the "something—anything" for you, you must say, "thank you."
Here is the rule for "you're welcome":
Whenever you have been thanked for anything, you must say, "you're welcome."
I'm sure you are very grateful to me for setting this down for you.