Lost And Fined.

Thank you for replying to my question with “That’s fine”. I just wanted to know where the bathroom was, but you reassured me that it wasn’t a question that violated some obscure rule of etiquette that I’m unfamiliar with. And while I’m at it let me also thank you, a completely different person who told me “That’s fine”, when I brought you your package. I didn’t think it was fine that the delivery guy left it at my office, three floors below yours, but rather than wait at least twenty-four hours to give it back to him I thought it would be easier to bring it up to your office. Maybe that’s what you meant was fine: that a stranger went out of their way to make sure your overnight package got to you on time. And also, thank you pharmacist, for assuring me “That’s fine” when I told you I wanted to pick up my prescription. I didn’t realize it might be a problem—I kind of thought it was part of your job description to fill prescriptions and dispense them–until you said that, but I’m glad it wasn’t. I’m glad it was just fine.

When did “That’s fine” replace “Okay” as a way of saying, “I am responding affirmitavely to acknowledge my understanding of what you have just said”? For that matter when did it replace “Thank you”? Or maybe I’m the only one who’s noticed this. Maybe it only happens to me. I do occasionally get a little flustered in social interactions with complete strangers and sometimes that causes me to babble out lengthy explanations of what’s usually obvious with the result that I sometimes include completely superfluous information.

“Hi, this is your package, the delivery guy left it downstairs by mistake and, uh, rather than wait and give it back to him so he could deliver it tomorrow I thought I’d come up here and drop it off with you because it’s just a short elevator ride and I needed a quick break from the spreadsheets I’ve been looking at all day and I remembered what a cool view you have from the plate glass windows up here. My cubicle doesn’t have any windows and sometimes I wish it did. I have to get up and walk to the other side of the office to see any windows and it’s amazing how the view has changed over the years and I remember when we could open the windows. They won’t let us do that anymore because they say it throws off the air conditioning, but sometimes there’s nothing like a little fresh air when you’ve been looking at spreadsheets all day, even though my office is right over the parking garage where some people go to smoke. There aren’t as many smokers as there used to be, though. It’s amazing how that’s changed, isn’t it?”

Granted most of this stays in my head but maybe people sense that I’m anxious when I’m dropping off a package or picking up a prescription although I’m not sure I want to know if, or at least how, people are sensing that I’m in need of a bathroom even before I ask. Maybe “That’s fine” is just a way of shutting me up before I start babbling away like a chipmunk on meth.

And maybe I’m getting cranky in my middle age, although I’m pretty sure I never thought “That’s fine” would be an acceptable substitute for “Thank you” at any age, but I have a problem with using “That’s fine” to replace “Okay”. Sure, it’s the same number of syllables, but it’s twice as many words, five more letters, and an apostrophe. If it weren’t a strictly spoken reply it would be typographical overkill.

“That’s fine” is a phrase used to reassure someone that something really is fine.

“Hey, I’m sorry I ate the last of the leftover pizza and then panicked and burned down the house to hide what I’d done.”

“That’s fine. I was planning to move anyway. Wait, what do you mean the pizza’s gone?”

Replying with “That’s fine” to an innocuous statement or question also seems condescending, a way of dismissing the other person’s statement or question, of haughtily telling them, “I’m in charge of deciding what’s acceptable around here.”

Although if you ask me there’s nothing wrong with being condescending or dismissive or even haughty. In fact if you do ask me I’ll just say that’s fine.

17 Comments

  1. Ann Koplow

    This post is very fine, Chris. Thank you.

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      Thank you, Ann, for another very fine comment.

      Reply
  2. Ray V

    Common sense, along with common courtesy, is not all that common. That’s not so fine. Good story, Chris.

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      Thank you. Einstein allegedly said the two most common elements in the universe are hydrogen and stupidity. It’s a sad thing that maybe we should amend that slightly to add that common courtesy is one of the rarest.

      Reply
  3. Chuck Baudelaire

    Huh. When I say “That’s fine,” it’s usually code for “I would leap across this desk and bite you in the eyeballs if I thought I wouldn’t leave DNA evidence behind.” What a world, what a world.

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      I’ll keep that in mind and should you ever say “That’s fine” to me I’ll be sure to take a step back. In the meantime, though, there must be a way to bite someone in the eyeballs without leaving DNA evidence.

      Reply
  4. Spoken Like A True Nut

    This greatly offends my polite Canadian sensibilities, and that’s not fine. Use your pleases and thank yous, people, please and thank you!

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      Thank you for that reminder that we should always use our pleases and thank yous. I always do because I never know when I might run into a Canadian, and the last thing I’d want to do is offend their sensibilities.

      Reply
  5. halfa1000miles

    I haven’t experienced the “that’s fine”, but I’m not a fan of “no problem”. Yes, I know it’s no problem. Thank me for coming to your establishment and ordering things. “You’re welcome” is also the response to being thanked.

    This reminds me of last week when I found a random cell phone. I didn’t want to leave it where it was because why would they know they left it there? I spent some time calling numbers in it to find the last person they called, the last person that called them, etc. until I got the right person. When they came and got the phone from me, they took it silently and left. Hmmmph. Please know that if you find my phone somewhere, you will be rewarded monetarily and with effusive praise and hugs. You will be my new bestie.

    Reply
    1. BarbaraM

      Boy! You beat me to the punch with your reply! I was formulating a mouth foaming rant about how every time I say “thank you” someone responds with “no problem”. Well, it could be a problem if I ever call you on it. “You’re welcome” takes longer to say, but dammit, say it anyway. “No problem” is becoming a big problem with American speech (don’t know if other English speaking Countries also use this term).

      Reply
      1. Allison Everett

        No problem irritates me for the same reasons you’ve indicated above. I also hate “Have a good one!”

        I know we’re a casual society, but we need to remember that words matter. Dammit.

        Reply
        1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

          Now I feel guilty because I’ve let “Have a good one!” slip from my lips on occasion. I genuinely hope the other person has a good day, but, yeah, it sounds like an order, and the last thing I want to do is boss anyone around. But still that’s not quite as bad as when a waiter or waitress brings me a meal and says “Enjoy your food” and I blurt out “You too!”

          Reply
      2. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

        If you hop over the pond to Britain you’ll find people respond with “cheers” or “ta” as a substitute for “thank you”. And I’ll admit that I kind of like “cheers”. Someone did a little something nice for you and it’s a way of saying you hope they feel happy. “Ta”, on the other hand, gets on my nerves because it sounds so dismissive, especially when someone says “ta very much”. How much harder is it to change that “ta” to a “thanks”?
        Anyway I enjoyed your comment. Cheers!

        Reply
    2. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      Now I feel a bit guilty because, well, I’m guilty of using “no problem” on occasion, although the older I get the more inclined I am to say “You’re welcome” because, well, now that I think about it, “no problem” implies that it might have been a problem and that might make the other person feel a little guilty, and that’s not fair. When I do a mitzvah I shouldn’t give someone any tsouris.
      But still any time you help out a stranger at the very least they do owe you a “thank you”.

      Reply
      1. BarbaraM

        (tsuris or tsoris). 🙂

        Reply
  6. Arionis

    Wow, some major hate on for the “No Problem” response. I have to admit, I use it often. Not all the time, but normally in response to someone who has just thanked me for doing something that they would consider would have put me out. It’s my way of telling them I was happy to do it and it was no problem. So many of “You’re Welcome’s” seemed canned or forced and not sincere. How about this? What if I add an “O” to the end and say “No problemo?” That make it any better? If you all still don’t like it I understand. That’s fine. 🙂

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      Okay, I have to admit that being on the receiving end of “No problem” can feel pretty good. I’m glad that when I ask someone for something and they say “No problem” or even “No problemo” that it’s not a problem. Most of my communication is business, though, and even without the “O” it’s a little too informal. With friends, however, I can get away with replying to requests with something like, “Will do, mildew.”

      Reply

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