That one Canadian stereotype might be the truest of them all — most of us are damned good at saying “sorry.” Does it necessarily mean we’re apologizing? Not always. For some, it’s a reflex. But for the most part we are genuinely polite, even when it isn’t necessary.
1. When someone bumps into YOU on the street
You’re standing there minding your own business, and then somebody slams into you with the force of a charging bison. “Oh I’m so sorry I was innocently standing here in your direct trajectory, and that you didn’t have the foresight to stop yourself from making full body contact.” I literally do this ALL the time. The worst part is that I’m entirely sincere about it. “I’m so sorry I was in your way!”
2. When you don’t hold the door for someone who’s not immediately behind you
I see this all the time: at my gym, at the mall, at the grocery store. Someone will be MILES ahead of me, but they’ll see me coming and will wait there for 10 years, if that’s what it takes to let me through. It always inevitably leads to me speeding up my pace. The same goes for when I accidentally let go of the door too soon. “Sorry!” I’ll sing out to the victim, as the door slowly swings shut. It’s not like the door ever actually slams into his or her face, and it’s not like he or she don’t have the strength to nudge the door open.
3. When you’re talking on your cell and someone is trying to get your attention
The scenario: you’re very obviously engrossed in a serious conversation about the benefits of the acai berry or kale shakes, and a stranger comes up to you and starts asking a question. I mean, they’ll quite rudely interrupt, but you’ll apologize to the person you’re chatting with on the cell phone. “Sorry, just a second,” you’ll say to your friend, and then you’ll address the interrupter with complete and perfect charm. Likely with another “sorry,” too. “Sorry I was talking to my friend and not providing my attention to you! What can I do to make your life easier?”
4. When you’re asking a stranger a question
Maybe I want to ask somebody the time. Instead of saying, “Excuse me?” I’ll try very hard not to invade their space, and then I’ll apologize for doing so. “Sorry — do you have the time?” I mean really, it’s no inconvenience. I doubt I’ve ever had somebody get angry with me for asking a question that takes three seconds to respond to.
Asking for directions is another necessary evil. When I’m travelling, it’s always an indicator of how Canadian I am. I remember being in Kotor’s Old Town in Montenegro, and needing directions to my hostel. I asked a bored waiter standing outside a café about how to get there. “Sorry, can you tell me how to get to the Backpackers Hostel?” His face broke into a grin. “Are you Canadian?” he asked. He led me directly through the maze of streets and to my hostel.
5. When you’re literally helping someone else out
Maybe you’re walking down the street, behind a person just minding his or her own business. And then a piece of paper, or a wallet, or something insignificant drops out of their pocket. You retrieve it quickly from the ground, rush up to the person, and say: “Sorry mister, you dropped your wallet!” As if you need to apologize for not robbing them blind or simply ignoring the dropped object, lest it be a trap.
I’m always amused when this happens. One day many years ago, I was standing at a crosswalk on my way to work. A woman crept up behind me and whispered in my ear: “Sorry, but did you know there is a hole in your skirt?” My eyes grew wide. “Can you see anything?” I asked. “Everything,” she said before darting across the street. I was mortified, but mostly amused she apologized for not letting me walk around for the remainder of the day with my ass hanging out.
6. When the inconvenience is such a minor one, it hardly warrants a reaction at all
You’re at a crowded bus stop. Someone stands up from the bench, and you move in.
- “Sorry, is this seat available?”
- “No, I’m just stretching my legs.”
- “Oh, sorry.”
How terribly inconvenient of you, to pose a harmless question! To be fair, most people seem to appreciate it. Politeness is hard to come by sometimes, after all.
7. When you’re just stepping around someone in a crowded place
How many times have I sidestepped someone at the grocery store, while mumbling an apology? Too many to count. On the other hand, it’s easy to forget you’re pushing along a monster cart that takes up most of the aisle. We do it all the time at concerts and festivals, too. As if the crowds are unexpected, or as if nobody else in the entire venue is doing the exact same thing. You can’t know how exhausting it is to say “sorry” over and over again when you’re squeezing through hordes of people partying and being generally oblivious to your plight. And then you might face the dreaded double apology, when you’re squeezing through and mumbling “sorry” and then someone else is trying to squeeze past YOU and you have to say “sorry” again. It’s exhausting.