I’m not worried.
So why is everyone saying “no worries” to me for everything from thanking them for holding the door at the coffee shop to excusing myself as I slide in to grab some milk at the supermarket?
I don’t mind the expression, but at least five people have said or texted it to me today. This included my friend Barbara, who texted it when I told her I couldn’t walk in a deluge. Barbara was the only one using it correctly. The others just seemed to be waiting for the chance to say it.
I’m not sure “no worries” is the correct response to “thanks for holding the door.” Maybe it is. I missed a lot of popular culture while I was a stay-at-home mother for nearly 20 years. When I finally emerged from my fog, people were saying “Word” for no apparent reason, wearing jeans that look like they’ve been shredded by pit bulls, and sporting magnetic fake eyelashes.
For the record, I did check out the false eyelashes during a recent sprint through Target, but wasn’t going to pay $25 for something that I probably wouldn’t leave the house in. As my pal Lisa down in Florida would say, “Um, that ship has passed.”
It’s hard to keep pace with modern culture when you’re in mommy mode because it’s so easy to opt out. One of my neighbors with fantastic fashion sense spent a few years walking around in light blue sweatpants from Walmart when her kids were little and no one blinked. I stopped looking at fashion magazines and putting on makeup every day because it wasn’t a priority. No one really cared what I looked like schlepping the kids to camp or the orthodontist.
When you finally emerge from the cloud of motherhood, you realize you’re a little out out of it. The only thing I can compare this to is movies when your children are infants. There are whole years of missed movies (1997-99, 2001-2003) because you’re just too overwhelmed or distracted to watch and enjoy films.
But as everyone is telling me lately, no worries.
I started noticing “kids” 30 and under using “no worries” a few years ago, suspecting it probably began in the California surfer boy community or the Seattle grunge scene. It means “no problem at all” or “sure thing,” but somehow sounds a lot more chill.
It’s an Australian expression, as in “no worries mate.” In fact, it’s the national motto for the land down under, reflecting Australia’s laid-back attitude. “It illustrates important parts of Australian culture, including: “amiability, friendliness, an expectation of shared attitudes (a proneness to easy ‘mateship‘), jocular toughness, good humor, and, above all, casual optimism,” according to Wikipedia.
Americans began saying it about 15 years ago, shortly after the world’s spotlight focused on Sydney, Australia, for the 2000 Summer Olympics. Aussie TV shows like Steve Irwin’s “Crocodile Hunter” are also thought to have contributed to its use in our language.
But, and this is a HUGE but, Australians think it is a little disingenuous for us to use their expression without adopting their underlying laid back attitude. In an article for The Advertiser, Samela Harris comments: “Americans have no idea of the etymology of ‘no worries’. So, while they may cheerily adopt our ‘no worries’ mantra, ‘no worries’ will never catch on as an attitude.”
It’s true, at least in the uptight Northeast. People say ‘no worries,’ but their actions say, “I’m very worried. I’m stressed out. Get out of my way. You’re not moving fast enough. Move over, because I’m a busy person with places to go and people to see. Oh, and by the way, ‘No worries.'”
I got a brief respite from our fast-paced scene during a recent trip to South Carolina. We waited in a Wendy’s drive-thru line for 20 minutes and no one beeped. The Curmudgeon was cursing, wondering if the drive-thru employee had suffered a medical problem and we should investigate. But this is apparently how they roll. I kept waiting for someone to lean on the horn, but instead we all leaned in and waited patiently. Imagine that.
I don’t think I’ve said or texted “no worries” to anyone. I have to feel utterly confident about something before I say it, or else I feel like an imposter. I’m like this with some new pieces of clothing. Sometimes, I let them sit in my closet for months before I feel completely comfortable integrating them into my wardrobe. Sometimes, I never feel comfortable, wondering why I bought them in the first place.
I’ve noticed that “no worries” is being used a lot more by middle-aged folks, sort of the way we’re still using Facebook while most kids and young adults have abandoned it. It takes awhile to learn what’s new, particularly with every year that goes by, and sometimes by the time you learn something new, it’s old.
So I probably won’t be saying “no worries.” I’ve tried to work it into conversations, and it just seems strange coming out of my mouth. But if you do like it and say it, well . . .