Saturday, January 16, 2010

Not a Problem

A few months ago, I went with my friend to collect his new glasses from the Spectacles Shop.

"Hello, I've come to collect my new glasses," he said. (I add a small disclaimer here as those might not have been his exact words, but they were near enough.)

"Not a problem." said the girl behind the counter.

And, d'you know what, when you have been told that your glasses are ready, and you go to the Glasses Shop to collect them, and you go and speak to the person in charge of Spectacles Collection, and all you have so far said is "Hello" followed by "I've come to collect my new glasses" - - well should you expect there to be a problem?

She was correct, as a matter of fact. There was not a problem. Amazingly, the new glasses had not been accidentally trodden on that morning, or abducted by aliens, or spontaneously combusted, or anything at all problematic. They were sitting there, patiently, waiting to be collected.

Furthermore, at the moment there's a telly advertisement for sofas which seems to be shown a lot. (And I'm telling you now, if I ever stand for political office and get to be Prime Minister, which is on the face of it very unlikely but you never know - - well, if you vote for me I will ban all commercials for sofas, because they're very dull. And also they're somewhat dishonest because any actor featured in a sofa advert is never more than about nine inchest tall, so as to make the sofas look bigger: I know this from experience, okay? So when you're about to place the cross by my name on the voting slip, do bear it in mind, won't you? Don't say I didn't warn you when all sofa commercials disappear from your screens).

Anyway, on this particular telly advert, the customer says something earth-shattering like "Hello, I want to buy a sofa." And the salesperson - - or rather the Nine-Inch-High Miniature Actor playing the salesperson - - replies with - - guess what?

"Not a problem."


(Oh look, I'm coming over all BLOCK CAPITALS again. Sorry.)

But let us imagine that there WAS a problem.

"Hello, I want to buy a sofa."

"Ahh well, I'm sorry, Sir, but although it does say SOFA SHOP above the door, and although there are two hundred and ninety-three sofas in this room, I'm afraid we don't sell them any more. We just can't be bothered lifting the sodding things. We only sell confectionery now. So I'm afraid, if you want to buy a sofa, there is most certainly a problem. But can I interest you in a Mars Bar or a nice box of Quality Street, or perhaps some Brandy Balls?"

This morning we went into the Bicycle Shop, to buy Stephen a new bicycle.

"Hello," said Stephen, "I'm interested in buying a new bicycle."

And what did the man behind the counter say?

He said "Yes, of course. Have you a particular type of bicycle in mind?"

He didn't mention any kind of problem at all. Within about ten minutes Stephen had found the ideal bicycle and within about fifteen minutes we had bought it.

Righto. Here's my conclusion. The phrase Not a Problem is extremely annoying. And it puts the idea that there might be a problem into your head, when it wasn't there before. Derren Brown has made a whole career out of that kind of thing - that you can plant an idea in someone's head very quickly and without them noticing.

So, please, could I invite you all, the next time someone says "Not a Problem" to you, to ask them, "Exactly what kind of problem was it that you think I might be anticipating, and that you are now anxious to reassure me does not exist?"

It won't do any good. But it might be fun.


Blogger WendyCarole said...

There are so many of these little phrases that really annoy me.

4:38 pm  
Anonymous mumof4 said...

My mother in law says 'Not a problem' all the bloody time. Drives me nuts. Almost as bad as 'Been there, done that, got the t-shirt,' which also makes me want to slap her, hard.
I laughed at your sofa store portrayal. Last time I shopped for sofas the problem was that I wanted one this side of Christmas and there were endless reasons it would take 6-8 weeks.
Hardly any sofa adverts in USA, but I do remember them from UK - also loads in the Sunday suppplements I recall.
I very much enjoy your blog - came via Milo.

5:18 pm  
Blogger Jennyta said...

I've noticed that particular sofa advert too and that phrase iritates me intensely. I shall certainly vote for you, Daphne. Anything to get these wretched sofa adverts off the screen!

8:54 pm  
Blogger rhymeswithplague said...

I will vote for you too. Could you be a dear and have them forward an absentee ballot to me?

9:55 pm  
Blogger Silverback said...

I was going to comment but I had a problem.

Actually I use that expression myself now and then and it just means I don't have a problem doing something that's asked of me.

Of course why a salesperson in a specialist store should be uttering it is another matter but I have to say I actually like to hear it when going into a store selling lots of different products.

"I'd like to buy a Jumbo Jet please"

Dollar Store Employee "Not a problem, sir."

11:02 pm  
Blogger Jan Blawat said...

My husband gets extremely annoyed when he says "Thank You" to someone (usually a person under 30) and the reply is not "You're Welcome" but, instead, "No Problem."

He always stops and gives them a lecture. It embarrasses our son immensely because for him the phrase is appropriate. But it has made him aware not to say it to old people, who might get cranky. If he does slip up, he'll say "No problem ..uh...I'm sooo extremely happy to be of service to you."

1:00 am  
Blogger Yorkshire Pudding said...

Slightly pedantic but nonetheless very true. If there are no gatekeepers the English language will rot away. I keep hearing sports commentators talking about "stand out" displays or players. What the hell happened to the familiar "outstanding"? In cricket, batsmen are turning into "batters". Yuk! And Double Yuk!

2:28 am  
Blogger Daphne said...

WendyCarole - oh yes, me too!
Mumof4 - thank you and it would drive me nuts too. And thank you for reading my blog.
Jennyta - thank you for your vote!
RWP - of course! Thank you!
Silverback - I've never heard you use that expression but if you have it must have been in an appropriate context! Though your Dollar Store Employee seems the MOST appropriate context!
Jan - for some reason the phrase "Not a problem" annoys me more than "No problem" and I can't quite put my finger on why.
YP - pedantic? Moi? - - Well, yes, I will never deny it!
Thank you all for your comments - much enjoyed and appreciated.

9:34 pm  

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