Elton John once sang the lyrics “sorry seems to be the hardest word“. This may be true (at least when it comes to saying an earnest, heart-felt “sorry”) but not so much for the casual “sorry” that comes so easily flying out of my mouth automatically in everyday life.
You see, I say “sorry” all the effing time! If I bump into somebody while stepping out of a cafe, I say sorry and make an “oopsy-daisy” face. If I’m standing and talking to a friend while somebody needs to get past me on the sidewalk, I say sorry and move out of the way. If I am taking too long putting my change back in my cool American change purse at the bakery, I say sorry to both the cashier and the people standing in line behind me.
This “sorry” is not a real honest-to-goodness declaration of the fact that I truly repent and ask forgiveness for these trivial happenings. It’s just sort of an automatic thing that I can’t help but utter. When I was back in the USA recently for Christmas, I noticed that I’m not alone in this “sorry” business (whew! So I’m NOT crazy … or at least not for this particular reason!). I heard Americans saying “sorry” all over the place, using it in the same politely courteous way that I’m used to doing here in Italy (except here in Italy I obviously come out with a trendy “scusi” instead of “sorry”).
I tend to say “sorry”, even if the situation was not caused by any fault of my own (and I’m not alone in this either, am I American readers?). For example, if somebody steps gingerly on my foot, I still say “sorry”, without even thinking about it. If somebody else sits on the strap of my knapsack*, I offer them a “sorry” when I need to pull it out from under their bottom.
This sorry-saying can be a problem for a guy living life in Italy like me. Italians don’t have this same habit Americans do of saying “sorry” every 15 seconds. In Italy, you only say “sorry” if you are really full of remorse for what you have just done and if you’re not in the wrong, than you definitely don’t say sorry.
I think saying sorry is almost looked upon as being a sign of weakness here in Italy. Italians are usually very decided in their actions. If they bump into you on the street, their mind frame is that of “yes, I bumped into you. I was walking here, and so were you”. If an Italian is taking a long time putting their change away at the bakery, they won’t be worrying about what the cashier or other customers are thinking. They’re probably pondering upon how to best put their freshly baked and freshly purchased bread to use.
Saying “sorry” in those situations implies that you did something decidedly wrong, so when my “sorry” comes blurting out, they look at me like “what did this kid do to mess up so bad?”. What’s even worse is that I say that automatic courtesy “sorry” even when it’s not my fault. For instance, somebody (accidentally, I hope) streaks their wet umbrella against my clean jeans in the bookstore. I inevitably say sorry and move out of the way (even though it was in no way my own fault, and really, it should be them saying sorry to me). Then, the umbrella-toting Italian gives me a dirty look as if to say “next time watch where you place your clean jeans”. It’s not that the umbrella-bearer was an asshole (though maybe he was), but it’s just that Italians aren’t used to saying sorry for something that’s not their fault so the guy thinks “this foreign kid is saying sorry to me, so he must have done something wrong which led him to place his dry jeans on my dripping wet umbrella, like the prick that he is”.
Well, I think that’s about it for this blgo posrt… Oops, sorry! No, wait … no, I’m not! … ok, ok… yes I am. *sigh*
* I think I deserve an extra point for using the word “knapsack” instead of “backpack”, don’t you?