by Lucy Korn
Do you say sorry because you are female or because you’re polite?
The media, it seems is constantly telling me I apologise too much. I apologise to the coffee man when I don’t have the correct change; I apologise to the person who knocked into me on my commute to work, I apologise to the individual who was meant to send me that email a week ago so I don’t seem like a nag when I ask them again. I apologise in meetings when I don’t agree with you and to my neighbour when I ask her to please stop her dog from shitting on my lawn because I don’t want to seem rude. Except I don’t, I don’t do any of that. Or if I do, it’s not because I am a woman and centuries of oppression have made me believe I must apologise just for existing, it’s because I’m polite. And before you say anything, no, I am not polite because I am a woman, I am polite because I was brought up to be that way.
Last week Sloane Crosley penned a piece for the New York Times titled, Why Women Apologize and Should Stop. Crosley begins her article with an anecdote about an experience she had at a restaurant where she felt she apologised far too much:
“Last week, I ordered a salad at a restaurant and found myself crunching on a shoddily washed leaf. I took a few more sandy bites before explaining the situation to my waiter, apologising and asking to see the menu once again. When my second-choice dish arrived, 20 minutes later, it was blanketed in bacon. I don’t eat meat, a dietary restriction for which I was “very sorry.” By the time a plate of edible food appeared, my fork had been a casualty of the confusion. Unable to catch the waiter’s eye, I walked to the kitchen, where I apologised to a busboy.”
This, I felt, was not the best example to use when making a case about women apologising too much. Frankly, you should say sorry to your waiter when telling them to take back your meal because it has dirt in it. Not because it’s your fault but because it’s not the waiters fault either. If I were sitting having a meal at a restaurant with a friend who’s food had dirt in it, and she said to our waiter, ‘I can’t eat this, bring me the menu again.” I’d be mortified.
I think the amount a person apologises is more a reflection of his or her personality and upbringing than it is a reflection of their gender. If you are prone to insecurity and a bit of a wallflower then you are more likely to apologise for things that are beyond your control. If no one taught you how to be polite, then you are less likely to apologise to your waiter for making them take back your food (and less likely to have friends). I refuse to believe it is about anything more than knowing, as a human being, when and when not to apologise. Say it when it is deserved, don’t if it’s not.
Sidenote: Somewhat paradoxically, saying sorry when it’s undeserved but in the right situation can be a very handy tool. For example, if you are faced with a noisy neighbour, approaching them with a “sorry, but can you turn the music down?” is going to get you much further than yelling “FOR FUCKS SAKE turn the music down!” In these kinds of circumstances, you use sorry not to save face or even to elicit an apology, you use it to get what you want. But maybe that’s just my manipulative woman-brain talking?