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Miss Conduct

Advice: So you want your server to stop saying “no problem”?

Plus, a woman struggles with unwanted romantic attention.

When I thank waitstaff or some other people who have just done something for me as part of their job and they say “No problem” instead of “You’re welcome,” I want to say to them, “It shouldn’t be a problem; it’s your job.” But there must be some other response that might help them break that habit. Do you have any ideas?

J.K. / East Falmouth

Leave them alone. There are all kinds of sociolinguistic reasons why “No problem” is an entirely acceptable response to “Thank you,” but said reasons would probably not persuade you. You hate “No problem,” and that’s fine. Believe it or not, some people prefer “No problem” to “You’re welcome,” which strikes them as formal and condescending.

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There are also people who hate “ma’am” or “sir” or “I’ll be taking care of you tonight” or “you guys.” I know this because all those people have written me, asking how they can make restaurant servers talk the way they would like them to. And they always get the same response: It’s rude to even try. Waitstaff are busy enough, and every customer has his or her own particular linguistic pet peeve, so trying to keep everyone happy is a mug’s game. You can ask to have your pizza or your latte customized, but not your discourse.

I am a thirtysomething woman in a long-term relationship, though I do many social activities without my boyfriend. A member of my book club has developed an interest in me and seems to want to pursue a relationship. He made an appointment for an ostensibly legitimate office visit, but when it was time for the appointment to conclude, he simply wouldn’t leave. What is a good way to get someone like this out of your office without causing a scene? How might I dissuade this person when reminding him of my committed relationship will not suffice?

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D.G. / Shawnee, Kansas

Stop worrying about causing a scene and being “polite.” If a client in your office refused to leave because he wanted all the cash in your safe, how would you handle the situation? Mr. Bookclubby wants something just as unattainable, to which he has just as much entitlement. He should be treated with no more delicacy than any other boundary-smashing bounder.

Do not accept any further appointments from this man. Professionals can choose which clients they work with, and you no longer think that your services are an appropriate fit for Mr. B. (Repeat this phrase until it flows trippingly off the tongue. Under no circumstances offer excuses, reasons, or apologies.) The fact that you are in a relationship is irrelevant. The fact that you have already said no to Mr. B and he is persisting in the face of your refusal is what matters.

The next time Mr. B makes a move — or before that, if you prefer — say: “We need to clear the air. I am not interested in any kind of romantic adventures with you. If I’ve misinterpreted your message, I’m sorry, but that’s the bottom line.” Go ahead and offer him the face-saving excuse that you’re reading him wrong, since that’s what he’ll try to argue anyway. If possible, try to have this moment in front of other people, so that there are witnesses.

If he continues harassing you, let the rest of the book club know that they have a choice to make: Either you can remain in the club or your harasser can. I hope they make the correct choice.

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Miss Conduct is Robin Abrahams, a writer with a PhD in psychology.


WHAT ABOUT BEING A CUSTOMER (OR A CLERK) LEAVES YOU SCRATCHING YOUR HEAD? Send your questions to Miss Conduct at missconduct@globe.com.