Magazine topic: 
Life around the world
Total votes: 146

Why do the British say 'sorry' so much?

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SophiaBlogger

British people are famous for apologising in almost every situation. Whether we are apologising for asking a question, for our bad weather or because we sneezed, we are probably the number-one nation for apologies. 

We Brits pride ourselves on our polite manners towards one another in public. As a result, we often use the word ‘sorry’ quite a lot – even when we don’t really mean it! Usually, if you want to ask a stranger for the time, you would start by saying ‘Sorry to bother you. Do you know what time it is?’ If you’re five minutes late for an appointment, you would generally greet the person by saying ‘Sorry I’m late!’ and if you’re 15 minutes late, you might want to be even more apologetic and say, ‘I’m so sorry I’m late!’

We use the word ‘sorry’ in so many different situations that the meaning of the word has slightly changed over time. The two main dictionary definitions of ‘sorry’ are: 1) feeling sad for someone else because of their problems or misfortunes 2) feeling regret because you’ve done something wrong. Now, think about this. Normally, when you want to ask a stranger a question, you start with ‘sorry to disturb you’. In this situation, we aren’t saying sorry because we feel sad for that person or because we feel regret.  

So what does 'sorry' really mean? And why do Brits use it so much? Well, in the British culture, saying ‘sorry’, or apologising in general, is a way to be polite, especially to people who you don’t know very well. It’s also a very clever way to get what you want. In a recent experiment, an actor approached different strangers on a rainy day to ask if he could use their mobile phone in order to make a call. When he approached one group of strangers and asked them without apologising first, he was only 9 per cent successful in borrowing their phone. However, when he apologised to another group of strangers about the bad weather before asking if he could use their mobile phones, he was 47 per cent successful. So maybe saying 'sorry' is not just being polite, but it is also a good method to get what you want too!

Discussion

Is there a special way to apologise in your culture? When do you say 'sorry'? What should you do to be polite in your culture?

Comments

GSM2314's picture
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GSM2314 2 January, 2019 - 13:58

I think that in ANDORRA, my country, there’s not a special or different way to say sorry. So we also apologise in every situation. For example if someone don’t let you continue walking you say sorry, and they let you continue. In my opinion say sorry is a very polite and respectful way to talk ,specially, if the other person is a stranger.

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KemoF's picture
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KemoF 21 August, 2018 - 12:36

Do the British people say "I'm sorry" as well?
I wonder if "sorry" means "excuse me" in general. Can anyone teach me that?

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SLMT's picture
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SLMT 2 May, 2018 - 03:59

In my country,Sorry is widely used as British.Being a colonized country,British culture is adopted easily.My family also use Sorry so much.Even after sneezing,we say “Sorry” .It comes out naturally.It’s just a must say word for us.If not,it looks so rude.Sometimes,saying Sorry doesn’t come from our heart.It’s just a word for me. It’s just a shame.

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catastrophe's picture
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catastrophe 16 June, 2017 - 11:47

I do ask sorry many times. Like, unknowingly. I mean, I don't just think about saying sorry. I just do. It's natural for me. But sometimes I think before saying sorry. When I fight with my sister, we taje as long as two days to apologize. But people who apologize for each and everything are the most dangerous ones. Geez, if you are one of them, I'm so sorry, it isn't me, but what my mum thinks.... Why? Dunno, I'll have ask her. Hey mum, wait up!
:))))

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hadia's picture
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hadia 17 June, 2017 - 16:12

I think the people who apologize for each and everything are a but timid and mostly hideous. Or in some cases they may be sensitive. I've even met some who cry on every mistake(which may not be necessarily a mistake) they make. I feel sorry for them.

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queennad's picture
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queennad 18 December, 2016 - 05:54

Well, there is no special way to apologise in my culture, it's just the same as the Brits do but we don't often use it. People here like friendly approach more than just an apologise as a good method to get what they want.

We usually say sorry for wrong things we have done and for disturbing someone. In our culture, to be polite means saying things gently, smiling, and not rushing around.

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hadia's picture
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hadia 28 November, 2016 - 11:57

Sorry is considered a symbol of politeness. I too, myself say sorry much. Even if there's nothing harmful I've done. Besides, I feel really guilty if somebody's hurt just because of me.
My sister is so polite and sweet. She says sorry even if she hadn't done any harm. Like after messaging someone. "Sorry to disturb you." Or to me even "Sorry hadia, are you free?" hahaha. Sometimes, I really say her to stop saying sorry on little things but she thinks that it's necessary and others might feel bad.
Well, thank you and sorry are two words that we should really use. My friends say that I say Thank you much. He he. That's true because I have learnt it from my parents to say it. But I don't know why it gets on my tongue more often. I can't rid of it. So I keep saying. He he ;)
BTW, thabks for the article. ;D

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SophiaBlogger's picture
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SophiaBlogger 29 November, 2016 - 12:55

I agree with you, Hadia - it's nice to be polite. In some other cultures, however, it is not usual to use 'sorry' in the same way British people use it. I am currently living in Sicily and here 'please' and 'thank you' are used differently. Thanks for sharing your opinions about the article! :) 

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hadia's picture
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hadia 29 November, 2016 - 13:28

Hi Sophia!
You're welcome. Yeah, it can happen. As different cultures are present around the globe.
Have a good day. :)

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Ran's picture
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Ran 27 November, 2016 - 14:32

I realise that some people have difficulties saying 'sorry' for what they had done. I do, too. Sometimes, it's very difficult for me to apology after I have a mistake but it's easy to say 'sorry' after I make a joke. It's so strange :))

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Ran's picture
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Ran 29 November, 2016 - 14:39

Hi Sofia and Hadia!
Over all, the main reason why they can't say sorry easily is that they had high self-esteem and selfishness, I think. They hate admitting their wrongs . They want to protect their stubbornness and show themselves. It is the same to the little children,isn't? Sometimes, I think that I have old enough to decide what is right and I deny many advices even I had been wrong. After that, I realised that I had been still childish. haha :) Have you ever been like that?
Best wishes :)

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SophiaBlogger's picture
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SophiaBlogger 7 December, 2016 - 14:49

I agree with you! Even adults can be like that sometimes. I'm also like that sometimes, especially when I think I am right at the beginning and realise I am wrong. Learning to overcome stubborness is definitely important :) 

Hope you're having a wonderful day! 

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hadia's picture
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hadia 30 November, 2016 - 12:47

Hi Ran!
I've come across many people in my surroundings who keep being rude and selfish. And it makes me really sad when they don't say sorry.
Either they think they are right or they keep on hurting us. In such situations, I always remain quiet. It's better to keep silent. My father always says me "Don't add fuel to fire" i.e. when the other person is quarrelling, or making some bad remarks about you....you should avoid conversation or else say sorry to make the situation a bit cooler. And I have always learn from my teachers that the one who says sorry is better than the other.
Also, you said that sometimes we act childish. Yeah, I think the same. We do act. But later on, we learn. Many times, it had happened that my elders told me something and I did against that , thinking I might be right and they wrong, but at the end of the day, I"ve always realized that they were right. At that moment, I do feel ashamed and say sorry to them. Because, you might have also observed that, the thing which carries consent of your parents always do good. Disobeying them, is always bad.
After my rage peak cools down, I realize that it's my mistake and ask for apology by saying sorry. It's difficult to say when you really feel it. As, you are quite ashamed of your act. But it makes us contented when we had said it.
Do you agree, Ran?

Stay blessed☆☆☆

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Ran's picture
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Ran 5 December, 2016 - 16:35

hi hadia!( I'm so sorry for my late reply. I have been busy lately)
What a pity you have surroudings who are rude and selfish. But I see that your father is a very kind, wise and patient person and you're an obedient one. I love the way your family thinking. Speech is silver and silence is golden, that's right?:) I hope people surrounding you will realise their wrongs and your good behaviours one day
As you said, it's difficult to say sorry when you really feel it. As, you are quite ashamed of your act. But it makes us contented when we had said it. Yeah, I totally agree with you. The words we said might be nothing with the strange but with our family or our important persons, it's so meaningful. We can easily hurt the persons who love us most without noticing that or even every words we said wasn't what we meant. That's the worst thing. After all, feeling regretful and sad, it's difficult to say sorry. On other hand, if we are brave enough to say, we will be maturer and maturer. Besides, we know and understand more about that person. We will love them more. Whatever, every thing is up to our acts. And I found that we're the same in some ways hahaha :D
best wishes :)

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hadia's picture
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hadia 6 December, 2016 - 15:18

Hi Ran!
No worries. It's alright.
Thanks for your reply :)
Thank you for agreeing to my point. And of course for your kind towards my family. You too, have great thoughts. And I like the way you describe them.
"Speech is silver and silence is golden."
Yep! I guess we are on the same wavelength.
Protecting the lovely relations is quite a task. But I hope we can win even the stony heart with the fragrance of love. Love and politeness captures everything and always dominates.
Thanks for sharing your ideas.
Stay Blessed ~!

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SophiaBlogger's picture
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SophiaBlogger 29 November, 2016 - 12:57

That's a great point, Ran! It is easier to say sorry when you are joking but difficult to say sorry when you really mean it. I think this is because we are naturally proud and don't like to show ourselves being vulnerable. 

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hadia's picture
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hadia 28 November, 2016 - 12:03

There are also some people who don't even feel sorry for what they've done. They don't feel the guilt and act normally and remain stubborn. They feel they have done nothing wrong. They aren't ashamed. And that makes me sad, as to why they are like this??

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Manka1's picture
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Manka1 25 November, 2016 - 15:36

In my country "sorry"is common word to say when you are teen,for about the same reasons.But old people do not use this word so often

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SophiaBlogger's picture
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SophiaBlogger 29 November, 2016 - 12:58

That's interesting, Manka! Which country is that? Why do old people not say 'sorry' very often? Is it because young people are meant to respect older people?

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