Dickinson College Humanities Program in Norwich

Saw-ree I’m not Saw-ree

September 14, 2010 · 6 Comments

In Fox’s “Watching the English” she examines the English use of the word ‘sorry.’ The final conclusion is that English people will say ‘sorry’ even if you bump directly into them. While she is careful to say that this does not necessarily make the English more polite than other cultures, she fails to examine it from a perspective that I consider very important (because I’m soft and easily offended and also quite sensitive.) I, for one, do not particularly appreciate the ‘sorry’ that one receives when one bumps into a passerby. I feel bad, I usually say something like, “oh, no, it’s fine, my bad.” This sentiment, though, is rather ridiculous, because when I turn to tell them it is not a big deal they are long gone and completely oblivious. This is not what offends me though. It is that when someone runs straight into me, I get the same half-hearted sorry! They didn’t mean sorry in the first example, which is fine, but in the second one they clearly don’t mean it either! So here I am, walking to the tube, I’ve got a backpack, my “London A-Z” out, and some bozo comes flying around the end, nearly sending me sprawling, knocking my aviator shades (which, by the way, were designed in Italy) off my head. And what do I get, as this hurried Londoner rushes by? The same little ‘saw-ree’ that Lawrence Taylor would receive , if he, in a cocaine induced rage, blindsided an elderly woman. In the end, all the Brits should truly be sorry for, is that they’re not sorry.

Categories: 2010 Michael

6 responses so far ↓

  •   battilaj // Sep 14th 2010 at 20:40

    This makes me think of the fake egalitarianism Fox talks about. Politeness is mostly about making a show of fairness in an obviously unfair society.

    P.S. Are you the elderly woman in this example or the cokehead?

  •   maryc // Sep 15th 2010 at 03:49

    I agree that English inherent “sorry” habit is really quite strange. I appreciate the word being so often said, but as Jesse mentioned, it’s in part because of the fake egalitarianism (I see it as basically just habit). I try not to remember that saying the word is simply habit when I hear it, as I, like you, wish it was more meaningfully said.

    Remember the episode in 39 Steps yesterday of the men on the train saying “sorry” countless times? I think they were making fun of the English custom.

  •   lawronski8 // Sep 15th 2010 at 05:16

    Yes, I agree the overuse of sorry is peculiar, but I think perhaps it may be a product of Fox’s social dis-ease as opposed to polite egalitarianism. A working class person saying sorry to an upper class person after bumping into them, or vice versa, in my mind, does not at all suspend the wide class differences. Instead, I think that when a bump of some sort occurs on the street, at the tube stop etc., social interaction between strangers is suddenly mandated which can always be uncomfortable. It is my opinion that the English rely on saying sorry a ridiculous amount of times in order to reduce some of the anxiety and awkwardness in talking to strangers by relying on preexisting patterns of conversation (such as the clearly socially accepted “sorry”) as opposed to original dialogue that would further require conversation (“Oh no, it’s fine, my bad. Sorry about your Italian aviators. Do they make them for men too?”) I think this analogous to why argument is so popular here, especially when you’ve first met someone. It has a pattern, it’s routinised and it is somewhat pre-established what each person is supposed to say.

  •   mikey // Sep 15th 2010 at 05:44

    Very funny Wronski. Very funny.

  •   bowmanc // Sep 15th 2010 at 17:40

    I agree Luke, I think it is because of social dis-ease. I also think it’s interesting that they use the term “sorry” rather than.. say “pardon” or “excuse me.” Saying “sorry” essentially places the blame all on the user, rather than the other – its an extremely self-deprecating term (in this context) and is the ultimate in avoiding conflict.

  •   Karl // Sep 20th 2010 at 12:06

    How different do you think it is to asking, when starting a conversation, “how are you?” when we don’t really care and that isn’t the point of the conversation we hope to have? The equivalent here is “ya alright?” It is rhetorical and habitual. Perhaps sorry is too?

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