The other day I was at a mom and baby group that I volunteer with and some people started smoking outside one of the windows. Technically this is illegal here, as they were also right beside the entrance and no smoking is permitted within 10 feet of any door or air intake. It was rainy and wet, though, so I can understand why they stood there, huddled under the awning. All the same, smoke was getting into the room filled with pregnant ladies and newborns and that wasn’t so great. In spite of my resolute staring at the floor I was elected to go and ask the smokers to move.I do not enjoy confrontation, so I was somewhat nervous. I opened with my standard line when I don’t want someone to be angry at me, “I’m sorry to be a bother, but …” Once I explained that the smoke was traveling inside the smokers apologized right back at me. And then I apologized again. And they apologized again and moved. Thank heavens they moved, or we might have been stuck in some endless vortex of reciprocal apologizing, never to be seen again. Because we are Canadians, and this is what we do – we apologize.
It’s hard for me to objectively evaluate if Canadians really do apologize more than other folks, since I am accustomed to the apologies everywhere. For example, if someone bumps into me on the street we both say ‘sorry’. It’s just the done thing. Is that weird? I don’t know. Would I see the same behaviour in, say, Scotland? Again, I have no idea.
You don’t really notice the quirkier aspects of your own regional dialect until you travel. In the US, for instance, when I buy an ice cream cone and thank the clerk they respond with, “Uh huh,” or sometimes, “You’re welcome.” Both of those sound odd to me, because here the clerk would must usually say, “Thanks!” right back. It seems to be the norm to thank each other here, but I couldn’t have told you that until I experienced a place where it wasn’t the norm. That’s the same way I learned that some (clearly misguided) people use ‘soda’ when I would say ‘pop’. Tomato, tomahto and all that jazz.What if Canadians really do apologize with unusual frequency? Does it mean that we’re more polite, or just that we’ve been trained to say ‘sorry’ all the time? I kind of waffle back and forth on this one. On the one hand people are entirely too complex to be categorized simply by country of origin, and there are certainly some rude Canadians. On the other hand, I recognize that culture does play a role and words carry weight. That’s the idea behind affirmations, or prayers, or the national anthem. By repeating the same words over and over you send yourself a message, although how well it takes root is anyone’s guess.
I will continue to pre-emptively apologize to random strangers, as a way to smooth over any possible confrontation. It works for me, for the most part. But still, I wonder. Is this a particularly Canadian trait? What do you think? I’m sorry to put you on the spot, but I’d love to hear your opinion. 😉