I’ve recently become more aware that when someone thanks me, I reflexively respond, “No problem.” I don’t quite know when or why I abandoned, “You’re welcome,” but I’ve recently come to understand the genesis of responses to “Thank you.”
According to Margaret Visser, author of The Gift of Thanks: The Roots and Rituals of Gratitude, unlike many other languages, English did not posses a standard response to an expression of thanks. The use of “You’re welcome” was first introduced by immigrants to the United States whose native languages dictate an expected response. Speaking on NPR’s On Point Radio (at the 27:35 mark in the recording), Ms. Visser noted that in Italian, the expression of thanks, “Grazie,” is followed by the response, “Prego.”
While “You’re welcome” has become common in English, so have “No problem” and “Don’t mention it,” the latter of which can be off-putting for some who may interpret the speaker as saying the expression of thanks was unnecessary. In reality, I think that English speakers continue to struggle to find an appropriate response to “Thank you,” an expression originally intended to signal the end of a conversation.