I hate it when people say “you welcome.” There, I said it; consider it a confession. See, there is nothing wrong with responding to “thank you” that way. Obviously, it’s a mispronunciation of the standard response “you’re welcome,” but if you think about it, “you’re welcome” doesn’t really make much sense either. Both responses, therefore, are simply convention. One convention is not necessarily better than the other — even though to my ear, one sounds uneducated and plain wrong. Both are twists of whatever was the original statement and meaning; many words and phrases are like that. You could say all words are like that.
Even though it’s ok to say “you welcome,” I only ever hear it at the wrong times. Usually, it’s in response to my thanking a server at a drive thru or other restaurant. When someone who’s paying you for a service thanks you, the proper response is “thank you” with emphasis on the “you.” My parents taught me this as my siblings and I went door-to-door selling candy bars for our school. I remember responding “you’re welcome” when thanked by a neighbor — because that’s what you say when someone thanks you — but my parents corrected us. They explained that the people are helping you out, they’re doing you a favor; you should thank them. I remember being confused and asking what I should say instead, and they answered “say thank you back.” This sounded weird to me.
Why thank the server at all? They’re doing their job by serving you. They’re not being kind because they like you.
First, we had learned the convention of responding to “thank you” with “you’re welcome” from toddlerhood. We knew the correct response to the phrase “thank you” is the phrase “you’re welcome.” Second, even if this was a valid exception, why would you respond with the same thing that was said? I thought we’d sound pretty dumb saying “thank you” again to someone who had just said it. We did what my parents said, though, and it was fine. My mind was forever changed.
My repulsion begs the question: why thank the server at all? They’re doing their job by serving you. They’re not being kind because they like you. Then again, not every server is kind. Some are rude and disinterested. Problem is, I would thank them anyway. I thank people regardless of the degree of service. I might change the inflection of my voice to distinguish between the habitual and actual gratefulness, but I thank any server by nature. Come to think of it, I tip that way too. It may be that the act of serving deserves thanks, and payment does not satisfy or remove that right.
“When someone who’s paying you for a service thanks you, the proper response is ‘thank you’ with emphasis on the ‘you.’” Proper. Who determines what is the “proper response?” The answer is no one; the proper response is determined by convention.
Think of soldiers; they’re paid by our taxes to protect us but still, clearly, deserve thanks. It may be that the job of serving is always worth more than the amount anyone can pay; that is, its worth goes beyond money.
“When someone who’s paying you for a service thanks you, the proper response is ‘thank you’ with emphasis on the ‘you.’” Proper. Who determines what is the “proper response?” The answer is no one; the proper response is determined by convention. Still, the suggestion that the person on the other side of the window is doing me a favor, somehow, is annoying at best. I don’t owe the worker; the worker owes me. If we both say thank you, we are both on the same step. If I say thank you and you respond “you’re welcome,” you are one step above me. I am not in your debt anymore than you are in mine. I needed food; you provided it. You needed money; I provided it.
Really, it’s not true to say “the worker owes me,” though I feel that’s right. The worker does not owe me for the same reason I do not owe him. It’s the essence of trade. The reason it feels right to me is, like the server, I feel as though I’m doing her a favor by purchasing her services. After all, I could have gone to another restaurant or cooked at home. I’m not really doing her a favor though. My feelings in this instance are wrong. She’s also not doing me a favor; she’s doing her job.
featured image by Tim Malone, www.timmalone.id.au [CC BY-SA 2.5 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)], from Wikimedia Commons