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"In the city of my birth, I had a dream..."
The Uses of "You're Welcome." 
8th-Nov-2006 11:08 pm
What do you say when someone tells you "Thank you" when you're an native English-speaking American?

Well, chances are, it's not "You're welcome." Despite what your parents (supposedly) taught you.

Far more common and more popular choices include, "Sure," "No problem," and the all-purpose "Mmm."


Well, that's because, in the US (Land of the Free, Home of the Brave, and all that), people do not like being indebted to each other. As such, it's a social no-no to make people feel indebted to you unnecessarily, and saying "You're welcome" to someone is a tacit way of acknowledging that, "Yes, indeed, I did inconvenience myself for you." The alternatives, such as "No problem," have a different implication--they literally mean that it was nothing and that, therefore, there is no debt owed.

Interestingly, the most common uses of "You're welcome" these days are either ironic...or it is used by a person who is not thanked but believes he SHOULD be. (As in--Person #1: "Uhh...you're welcome?" [Read: Hello!? Hey, I just went out of my way for you. Some acknowledgment would be nice.] Person #2: "Oh, right! Thanks!" [Read: Yes, I am grateful for all your help, and I'm sorry I didn't acknowledge it earlier.]
9th-Nov-2006 05:19 am (UTC)
I use several different phrases. As I get thanked at work about 30 times a day. I do use "No problem." Some one will thank me for going out of my way and I see it as a way to tell them I didn't mind at all. I also use "You're welcome", and "My pleasure." If I just said "You're welcome" all day I think I'd explode.
9th-Nov-2006 09:57 am (UTC)
Actually, work is a situation different from what I described in the above post, as it requires more formality--and also because, depending upon what you do, the more you inconvenience yourself for the benefit of others, the better you're doing (or perceived to be doing) your job.
9th-Nov-2006 04:08 pm (UTC)
True, It is a different situation. You are talking more on an everyday interaction basis. You mentioned people saying "Thank You" and "You're welcome" while holding doors. Here I hardly ever hear people say "Thank You." I'm not sure why it differs where you are? I was brought up in private schools and taught to say "Excuse me" after I sneeze. I still say it every time. I think part of it is ingrained in you as a child and the other is respect you "think" you deserve. I think wanting to hear the words is wanting the validation that you are worth something. Which goes back to your theory of be indebted. Acknowledging said worth might mean you owe that person.
9th-Nov-2006 05:41 am (UTC)
I never thought it as not wanting to have someone indebted to me but that a lot of the times, it really wasn't a problem. You're welcome just sounds formal and stiff. However, the English teachers here often ask for variations on Hello, Thank you, etc. so this is a good explanation to tell them. ^-^
9th-Nov-2006 10:04 am (UTC)
*grins* People don't *think* about it this way; it's just something they feel.

I find, at least in this part of the country (can't speak for the rest), that even with strangers, people won't use "You're welcome" in situations that would normally seem to call for it...hmm, say holding the door open for someone on the way into the store. There seems to be a kind of gut resistance to completing the ritual because of what "You're welcome" actually means: You're welcome to what I've given you. So if I don't feel that I've given someone anything (or anything worth reciprocating), the phrase feels inappropriate.
9th-Nov-2006 10:34 am (UTC)
In my hometown, people don't even usually say thank you when you hold the door open. My dad laments the lack of manners my generation never got. I do say "You're welcome" when I hold the door for people (mostly because they're older and they remember to say "Thank you") and vice-versa.
9th-Nov-2006 01:20 pm (UTC)
Heh. Here, it's the opposite. People say thanks if you hold the door open, but it's rare to hear a you're welcome--or anything else for that matter--in response. They either smile silently or rush off as soon as they see you're under the archway of the door.

You know, it sounds like you personally really want people to know you're doing them a favor when you hold the door open for them (since you resent how no one says thank you). Reminds me of the last example I wrote in the original entry.
9th-Nov-2006 01:32 pm (UTC)
There's not really any resentment and I'm not quite sure how you're reading that. I was taught some things follow a standard procedure (like when you find out someone's expecting, you should say Congratulations, despite what you really think). You hold the door, the person usually says thank you, and you say you're welcome. End of story. There's no feeling of "You owe me!" or anything like that. It's a set format. You just do it. And if someone doesn't say thank you (although, again, with older people, they usually do), it's not like I snap at them. I walk in after them and don't think about it. You can say "You're welcome" without thinking about it, just like you can say "Thanks" or "What's up" without any feeling.
9th-Nov-2006 01:46 pm (UTC)
Not resentment--I didn't say that--but there's definitely a default expectation of some sort on your part that they acknowledge the favor. How often to people respond with specifically with the words "you're welcome" after you say "thank you"? It IS a ritual, at least in theory, but one that a lot of people, in my experience, never complete in the second half with the "expected" words--not because they're rude, but because they're uncomfortable with its inplications.
9th-Nov-2006 02:15 pm (UTC)
Actually, you mentioned that I resent how no one says thank you, which I don't. My dad may be resentful, but is probably just regretful. People who behave as demonstrated in your example annoy me and I would never act like that.

In any case, I'm more inclined to agree with this take on it: http://www.takeourword.com/Issue071.html, at least in regards to me and who I hold the door for. Probably the same thoughts as my dad too, although I don't think the same could be said for my brother.
9th-Nov-2006 03:07 pm (UTC)
Very interesting. I do use 'no problem' a lot. Most of it is when I'm thanked at work... which I always think is a bit odd. I mean, I appreciate the gratitude, even if it is fake, but it's my job to do that... so I don't really get what I'm supposed to say back. No problem just fits in there because it seems more polite than saying 'that's my job.'

Then again... when I think about it... I do the same thing to others... I say thank you every time the cleaning lady comes into my office to empty out my trash can. I suppose that's her job too. Interesting.

I'm going to be pondering this one today.

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