[thechat] Pet Hate

Sean German ethanol at mathlab.sunysb.edu
Thu May 26 16:29:04 CDT 2005

> While I'm with you on the broad point, I reject the idea that 
> "not at all"
> is an inappropriate response to "thank you." Likewise, I 
> think "no problem"
> would be perfectly fine in casual conversation. I am not 
> suggesting that we treat our friends less politely than 
> strangers but that our language can be less formal. Why not?

Point taken.  I wouldn't want to get hung up on a specific wording or

My general point is courtesy should be acknowledged with courtesy.  I am
wary of responses to a "thank you" that sound like I'm discounting sincere
thanks.  Someone takes the time to thank me, I should take a moment to
acknowledge that thanks.

Of course there is nothing wrong with tailoring a response to a situation.
I'm in the market, someone asks for a hand with a heavy item, I lend a hand.
They say, "thank you."  I say, "you're welcome."  Pretty straightforward.

As opposed to, I'm at home eating dinner.  My wife compliments my cooking, I
in turn thank her, and she responds, "No, thank you for cooking."  This
simple exchange occurs often and without further comment.  But I could
easily read more into such an exchange.

Cooking is just one of those things that must be done.  I cook because I
like to eat.  No thanks necessary.  So I might respond in that instance with
a "not at all."  But the compliment is above a routine recognition that the
chore of cooking dinner has been done.  That compliment should be
acknowledged with a "thank you."

However she has not done me the courtesy of acknowledging my thanks.  She
has denied it, refused me the pleasure of returning her courtesy.  Oh dear.

I merely use that example to demonstrate there are indeed times when no
thanks is necessary.  But if we routinely brush off "thank you" with "not at
all" or "no problem" then how do we know when we are casually acknowledging
a thank you and when we are brushing off a thank you as unnecessary?

Going back to the original question of the tea offer, if "I'll have if
you're having" becomes an acceptable replacement for yes or no, how do you
know when someone really means yes or no, and when they really mean "I'll
have if you're having"?

The answer is, you have to take someone at their word.  If you offer someone
a cup of tea, and the response is other than an unambiguous "yes", "I'd love
a cup", or other clear response, then you have no obligation to provide a
cup of tea.

Yes, as someone who rarely offers anyone a cup of tea, I've spent way too
much time contemplating such a scenario.

Sean G.

Off to cook dinner now.

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