Tuesday, April 29, 2008

In a Manner of Speaking...

Before the Baroness begins, let me first say that I do not wish to offend anyone. I'm merely puzzled, and thought that my ever-so-helpful readership could help me out. I realize that I may be opening a gargantuan can of worms with this, but I'll brace myself for the fallout, and let the worms wiggle where they may.

My question:

Why, oh, why in the United States (note here that I do not say "North America"), when someone is thanked for something or other, is the response consistently, "Uh huh"?

I have been all around the States, and nothing seems to have influence over the response of the "Thankee" - geographical location, education, economic strata, age. It's always the same - "Uh huh."

I acknowledge that our pucker-butt Canadian standard, "You're Welcome" - when deconstructed - really doesn't make a lot of logical sense. Really.

"Thank you for pinning me down for 2 hours and giving me that root canal."

"You are welcome."

Huh? OK, I agree - it's kind of silly and over the top. Welcome for what?

"You are welcome (to come back to my highly overpriced dental office any old time for unneccessary procudures)."

But it's what I've heard my entire life and it's what I would consider to be polite. And by and large, we Canucks are all about the politeness.

So why is it that everytime I hear "Uh Huh" I'm checking for slack jaws and toothless grins? Looking for a sign that I'm not knee-deep in hillbilly country? Listening for banjos?

My fellow North Americans, please illuminate. Baroness von Manners has to know.


Bubs said...

Interesting. I've found that "you're welcome" has largely been replaced by "not a problem".

"Not a problem" sounds as if the person I've thanked is condescendingly letting me know that I did, in fact, cause them a problem, but they have graciously decided to overlook it. It pisses me off.

Baroness von Bloggenschtern said...

Count Bubs: Oh, I completely forgot about that gem! Or "No biggie", or "No problem". I agree - totally condescending, and more annoying when uttered by a 17 year old salesperson.

Writeprocrastinator said...


It's a symptom of a larger problem, that merely signifies that either:

A) They are showing their open comtempt of you.
B) They have shut off their brains.
C) All of the above.

They say the same thing when they block a supermarket aisle or the sidewalk and you say "excuse me."

Lisa said...

I'm probably guilty of every response possible, including "For what?" Context makes all the difference -- sometimes 'not a problem' may be a perfect response, sometimes not. I guess "YW" is safe, but for those of us who usually walk around with at least one foot in the mouth at all times, the urge to say something inappropriate might just be too much to resist. .. Barbra Peapod

kevin said...

These are the same people who, after being miffed by something or someone, shout UH UHHHH!.

cartoongoddess said...

My own response to, "Thank you" has always been, "You're welcome". I masquerade as an American, but alas I am from Mars.

You've outted me.

Stacy said...

uh huh...

it's like nails on a chalk board!

when i'm thanked for something i'm more of a 'my pleasure' kinda gal.

MommyWizdom said...

Disdain, irreverence? I don't know... but we have the power to fix it... by teaching our kids to use "you're welcome;" correctly and often!
'Course we're still working on "please" at our house! Lol.

Not Afraid to Use It said...

I am very guilty of the "No Problem" answer. Because in my head, the dialogue goes "No problem! I was my pleasure to do it and I am very glad that I could help you!" But most people do not have the patience to sit through that, so I keep the remainder to myself.

I find it interesting so many commentors use the words 'disdain'. Is that a reflection of the disdain they are feeling towards others?

I remember my Newfie colleague in Sweden would become livid every time I used the term "Yes Ma'am". She found it horribly disrespectful and thought I was being a wretched bitch every time I used it. After having spent so much time in the South, it was (and is) a part of my speech pattern. I didn't bitch at her about the "eh" she threw at the end of every sentence. I didn't bother me at all, but I thought she could have shown a little more cultural sensitivity.

Anonymous said...

This has certainly erked me for all my trips in to the US of A.
Obviously being Canadian I get it just as much as you do, but again I am very confused about it.
I find it to be very rude actually, but I guess that is just part of our Canadian upbringing, like you said.
But my question, is how does a border change the way you act with people?
Taking a drive down to Bellis fair, and hearing UH HUH is not hard to find. It must be all but 20 mins away from my house (without border traffic) but it is still prevalent.
So I know you can't answer this, but more so a rhetorical question on my part.
Why does a border change the way we treat people? It shouldn't!

The Guv'ner said...

HA! I have noticed this as well. I hear it several times a day in fact! It's smug. It's like "Why yes, I AM f*cking fabulous for helping you!" But then they can't spell "colour" either.

/I love America
/Well maybe not Dubya

MommyWizdom said...

I mean to say that "Uh huh" is disdainful. It's like saying, "I don't care enough to actually use words."

And I gotta agree with Not Afraid to Use It. When I say "No Problem" (which I find I say to my boss) I mean to say that I really didn't mind doing it... blah blah blah... I don't mean it to be rude.

I would hope that if he has a problem with the term that he would tell me. Anyway...

Nice post, Baroness!

Candy said...

I will answer that if you can tell me why today, on the day my lovely daughter will be arriving in Montreal - on this day that is very nearly MAY! - it is supposed to snow lightly there? Are you people crazy? It's Spring for the love of God.

Mental P Mama said...

Well, being from the hills of Tennessee, and therefore a hillbilly, I was raised to always thank and say "you're welcome." As a matter of fact, I am continually disappointed in my neighbors' lack of good form. To me, proper manners show regard for others. I've instilled this in my children as well. Gah. Thanks for letting this crotchety old lady air her two cents as well!

Asthmagirl said...

As one of the tirelessly polite people on the planet ("Thank you so much" and "You're more than welcome"), I think it's kind of generational, at least here in the USA (where not everyone likes Dubya, I promise you)

I do remember one customer service training I sat in on where BVA's (brief verbal acknowledgments) were encouraged when a client was peeved... "Mmm hmmm, oh my, uh huh" were all acceptable as the clients wants to be acknowledged but not interrupted.

I must admit, one of the things I like about visiting Canada is that there are far fewer surly shop folk than in my neighborhood. And I don't always frequent the touristy stuff.

So... how is Bellis Fair? I've not shopped it, but driven past many times on my way to the border... to sit in line and wait... and wait...

Baroness von Bloggenschtern said...

Count WP: Isn't everything muttered these days ultimately contemptable? Except maybe in Harlequin Romances and Barbara Walters Stroke-o-Rama specials?

Countess Lisa: You are definitely right on about context being everything; sometimes I guess I'm just to lazy to take that into consideration.

Count Kevin: Too true.

Countess Cartoon G: With manners like that, it would appear, then, than Mars might be a lovely travel destination this summer!

Countess Stacy: And when you say "My pleasure", I just know that you're doing it from a geniune place. Sarcasm does not seem your thing. Thank you for that!

Countess Mommy Wizdom: Believe me, with countless repeating, badgering and subliminal messaging (while they're asleep), please and thank you can be acheived at your home too! Have hope.

Countess NATUI: Who says the art of conversation is dead? It's just been abbreviated for the impatient listener. As for the Ma'am thing, I completely understand it as a term of respect in the South, and found it to be quite lovely. Here, though, I tell my sons, who are both in customer service - don't call women Ma'am - it makes them feel about 80 years old. "Miss" works much better, and makes older women feel younger, and younger women feel somehow formal & appreciated.

Countess Leah: Excellent question, and one worth pursuing - why does an imaginary, arbitrary line make such a difference?

Guv: You're a politeness transplant, and no one is taking their anti-rejection meds. Please use your made graphing skills and sphere of influence to change things. Today, NY, tomorrow the world. Or at least, Jersey.

Countess Mommy Wiz: No clarification needed. I know that the No Problem response is tricky, and depends on the intent and tone.
Most who say it really mean it in a kind way; it's the surly, sarcastic ones who I take offense to.

Countess Candy: While the calendar may indicate Spring, we're just not quite done with the intricate beauty that is snowflakes and skating outdoors. I'd say June might be a good bet, but I could be lying. I'll have to consult with my buddy A. Gore and get back to you. I'd say sorry, but we Canuckers gave up apologizing for our crap weather long ago.

Countess MPM: Ooh dear, no offense to the fine denizens of Tennessee (it's one of my favorite states, truth be told). I mulled over whether or not hillbilly was sterotypical and slanderous - I guess I made a bad judgement call there; so sorry, MPM.

What a good mom you are for teaching p's and q's! And it's true at least for me, saying these small niceties does seem to be the minimum of respect we can offer. You keep throwing in your two cents - and I'll keep them, and with the exchange rate, I'll have bought a car in no time!!

Anonymous said...
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Baroness von Bloggenschtern said...

Countess AG: "uh huh" as a BVA seem fine to me, just soothing sounds you make to appear that you're listening to every word.

Interesting observation about Canadian service - you must tell me where you go, because I can count on one hand the places I go where service is awesome and the salespeople are polite! I find quite the opposite, and love spending days and days at Nordy's, soaking in all of the loveliness.

Bellis Fair is, well, a mall. It's attractive to us in that is has the stores that we don't have here - Hollister, A & F, Macy's, Target, Kohl's - Oh! And Ivor's at the Food Court. Don't know how much appeal it would have for a Washingtonian.

Call if you ever venture up this way - I'll show you a mall!!

Blog Antagonist said...

Well, I dunno. Sometimes I think that would be better than the overly effusive and incredibly fake responses one gets to everything here in the South.

"Well it was my pleasure Hon!"

In response to my thanks for expressing the anal glands on my cat is just a tad disingenuous, yannow?

Baroness von Bloggenschtern said...

Countess BA: I guess for us, it's a little charming, but for y'all a little probably goes a long way. I guess my response to the fanatical anal gland expressionist would be a laser sharp look, and an emphatic "Really?"

As a quick aside to Southern Charm and quirkiness, my husband proposes that my beloved Paula Deen pours it on a little too thick. (I'm surprised he's still able to walk after that hit to the jewels).

Writeprocrastinator said...

"Barbara Walters Stroke-o-Rama specials"

Now that's the funniest thing that I've read all day!

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