My Favorite Expression in the Whole Wide World

Categories Cultural Quirks, Long-Term Travel

After almost 18 months on the road, with trips home bridging luxuriously long stretches of travel, my brain has turned into a swirling, percolating mess of foreign words. Like most travellers I know, I try at a minimum to learn the basics in any new country’s language: how to say “hello” or “thank you”, how to ask “why” or “where” and in Asia how to say the word for “dumpling”. But the first real expression I try to learn is always the same, no matter where I am on earth: how to say “no problem.”

Truly feeling the “no problem” vibe can be difficult when you are intensely entangled in the chaos of a new country. For example, keeping your cool when you’ve just gotten off an overnight bus, have no idea where you are staying and you also happen to be ravishingly hungry can be an interesting exercise in personal tolerance. But I’ve found that arming myself with my expression of choice goes a long way toward breaking the ice and finding a new friend in a strange place.


No problem didn’t make Flip Flop Man like me, but it did get me a big discount on those shoes, and a begrudging OK to take a self-portrait with him.

The Lion King popularized hakuna matata, the Swahili version of “there are no worries”, which has become deeply entrenched in the lexicon of any child who watched the movie. In Thailand, my use of the expression mai-pen-rai (pronounced almost slurredly, as though the “r” is actually an “l”) netted me some giggles from the women and a beaming smile from the men. In Malaysia, a place where the language is blissfully fun to learn, the phrase tak apa* coupled with a grin was perfect to diffuse any situation, and usually earn myself a discount on my room. And in the Philippines, where longtime readers know I had a series of transportation adventures (usually by boat) the expression bahala na with a big shrug of the shoulders definitely lightened the mood and usually resulted in an invite to dinner.

There is one downside: I am sorry to report that the Kryptonite of ice-breakers is not effective with everyone. This is the goat that chased me up the street in the Gili Islands. If only it worked on animals too.

-Jodi

*Tak apa literally means “no what”, and I’ve taken to substituting “Oh, it’s no what” in English. instead of no problem. This, combined with my enthusiastic adoption of “can!” whenever I agree with something/think something is possible (from Bahasa’s boleh) means that I’m starting to sound like a muppet when I speak.

* * *

Update! Thanks to everyone who emailed me or commented with another language’s version of “no worries.” Some additions:

Chinese: Mei wenti.
Irish: Gan imní.
Spanish: Esta bien or no problema.
French: pas de soucis, and Quebec French: pas de trouble.
Latin: Nil desparandum.
Korean: gwen-chan-ah.
Inuktitut: isumaalunngittuq (I have awesome readers!).
Egyptian: wala yehemmak.
Turkish: sorun değil.
Estonian: ei ole midagi.
Bahasa Indonesia: nggak apa-apa or gak apa-ap.
Lao: Bo panang.
Japanese: Nandemonai
Jamaican: Irie Mon

Update 2! More languages:

Urdu: Koi baat naheen.
Hebrew: Ein Ba’aya.
Slovenian: Ni problema.
Serbian & Croatian: Nema problema.
Dutch: Geen zorgen.
Russian: Нет проблем (Nyet prablem).
German: Keine Sorge.
Arabic: ما في مشكله (Mafee Mushkila)

Update 3:

Cantonese: Mou man tai
Greek: Kanena provlima
Lithuanian: Nesirupink
Italian: Non ti preoccupare
Swedish: Det är lugnt
Tamil: Onnum illai

Armenian: Venas Tchouni

Hungarian (mix and match!) nem (no)/semmi (nothing) + probléma/baj/gond (problem/worries)

and some additional submissions:

Klingon: Qay’be’
Pig Latin: Oh-nay orries-way
Bee Bop: Nop-o Wop-o-rop-rop-i-e-sop.
Bureaucratese: “Up to this point, no particular concerns have been formally identified with the proposal as such.”

34 comments to My Favorite Expression in the Whole Wide World

  1. I love it! I too found the fun and use in this expression. In Laos, Bo panang (sounds like Ko Panang in Thailand!)means no worries and I too got happy giggles from the locals when I used it :-) It is indeed the best expression in the world!

  2. In Estonian, it's "ei ole midagi." The direct translation is "it's nothing" but it's what's used for "no problem." I find myself using "esta bien" for no problem all the time in our current travels in South America. Works most of the time :)

  3. 'bahala na' is more like leaving things to fate. 'ok lang' (it's ok) or 'sige lang' (never mind) or 'walang problema' (no problem) would be more appropriate, i think :)

    in indonesia, you'd say 'nggak apa-apa' (it's ok/no problem). pronounce 'ng' as in the end of 'bang' added to 'ga' to say 'nggak'.

  4. In Bahasa Indonesia you can say "tak apa" as a formal way.
    For more informal talk, you can say "gak apa-apa"
    It will surely sound funny when said by a foreigner. you will enjoy the locals' giggles and see how you have mesmerized them with your attempt in speaking Bahasa :)

  5. That should be included in the list of essential phrases along with please, thank you and where is the bathroom? Nice post!

    Wonder if the goat would have chased you had a knife and fork in your hands?

  6. Thanks all!

    Brian: the goat was pregnant and pissed. She would have chased me anywhere, no matter what! :)

  7. No Problem:
    German: Kein Problem

    No Worries:
    German: Keine Sorge

  8. Fun post J!

    Thanks for adding us to your resources list :)


    Toby
    http://blog.gowaza.com
    http://www.gowaza.com

  9. In Lithuanian: Nesirupink.

    Cheers,
    Ingrida

  10. In italian: non ti preoccupare
    In Neapolitan: nun' te' preoccupa'

    Cheers,
    Ingrida

  11. What a great mindset to be traveling with! It sounds like a great way to get to know the locals and break the ice. I'll definitely be keeping this in mind for my next trip thanks for the tip!

  12. We love this expression too and have very much adopted it into our lexicon. For Tamil, the phrase is "ona illa." Translated, it means, "it is/was nothing" but it, like in Estonia, it is used to mean "no problem." Fun post!

  13. Kyrgyz:

    Эчтеке эмес = It's nothing
    Ойдогудай = No complaints

  14. Fun and informative post! In Hindi, you can say "Koi Baat Nahin" meaning not a big deal/no problem!

  15. In Swahili it’s “hakuna shida”, rather than “hakuna matata”, where shida literally means problems/challenges. :)
    I love your blog!!!

  16. haha Brilliant! :) ‘It’s okay’ is very helpful, and useful for sure!!
    You have Korean too! hehe But ‘gwen-chan-ah-yo’ would be more appropriate if you want to use more ‘polite’ expression. :)

    • Thanks for the addition Juno! I’ve found people very receptive to hearing this expression. As you know, things move at a different, slower speed in parts of the world and it helps to remind yourself of that by using this phrase too! Safe travels :)

  17. I’d suggest to change the dutch (or add): ‘Geen probleem’ – zorgen sounds a bit formal to my ears, can’t really remember the last time I used that one…

    Czech:

    ‘Bez problému’ (literally “without trouble”. Refers more to something you can do or did without trouble / problems. For example crossing the Andes or a bus ride in Myanmar. All that went ‘Bez problému’)

    ‘To neni problém’ ( “That is no problem.” More specific, usable when you are, say, being offered an upgrade in a hotel. Standard reply in that situation should be ‘To neni problém’ )

  18. Cute post! Now I know how to win over locals in just about every language possible :)

  19. Totally agree on the notion of “no worries”, which I picked up in Australia and New Zealand and still use often.

    I will say that the attitude that you project when you say “no problem” is just as important as the words, you need to mean them. For me, the words + attitude have proven to be a wonderful way to diffuse various travel situations, and overall make things go smoother in the long run.

    -v

  20. Love the translation to Estonian! First country I ever visited and I still remember a few words from there. if I ever go back, now I know what it is! This will be a good page to reference for future travels! :)

  21. In Italian it would be better to say, “non c’è problema” or “non ci sono problemi” or “tutt’ok” – non ti preoccupare is more like saying, “Don’t you worry” which is a little more personal (and informal, you should use non si preoccupi with a stranger) than what you want to say :)

  22. A specific note about the Spanish phrases for English speakers: “Esta bien” seems much more common, while using “no problema” if you don’t know much other Spanish can come across as potentially patronizing.

  23. For German other (and in my opinion, better) translations would be: “Kein Problem” or “Macht nichts” (which would be difficult to pronounce for native English speakers, I guess).

  24. I’d like to add the Hungarian version(s) to the list. You can simply mix-and-match using these words:

    nem (no)/semmi (nothing) + probléma/baj/gond (problem/worries)

  25. If you feel like it you can also add in Armenian:

    “Venas Tchouni”.

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