Take My Apology, Please

November 18, 2010 | By | Comments (0)

I will come clean. I was terrified, when I became Real Simple’s etiquette columnist, because I feared being judged by a new standard when it came to manners. Specifically, people would expect me to have good ones.  Oops sorry

Not to whine (whining is never polite!), but in the etiquette business, you see the world as a minefield of potential rudeness. Step gingerly. But even if you try, really really try, to be polite all the time, there will be slips. One day you will forget to answer a Facebook message. Or not remember to make a thank-you phone call to a host the day after a party. Or fail to realize, when your little dogs who you consider sooooo adorable are capering in the park, that some strangers don’t appreciate ankle sniffing.

I’m trying to head off problems, though. These days, I say sorry so quickly and frequently that often the person to whom I’m speaking hasn’t yet had time to notice I was rude. I make drive-by apologies: I reflexively mumble "sorry” like an incantation whenever I fumble for coins and hold up the checkout line, or brush another pedestrian’s elbow at a street corner, or rush onto an elevator as the doors close.

Apologizing so often is not normal (most people apologize, on average, four times a week, according to a recent study from the University of Waterloo). But there’s a certain comfort to it. People look at you with kind(er) eyes. And even if what you are apologizing for isn’t truly a transgression—if say, your need to exit the subway will force another rider to momentarily shift position to allow you to pass—a willingness to express regret that your behavior may have a fleetingly negative impact on someone’s quality of life is generally appreciated.

On one condition: You have to mean it.  “An apology has to come from the heart,” says Karina Schumann, a researcher at the University of Waterloo, where she has helped compile a searchable database of public apologies. Reading the best ones can provide inspiration for one’s own apologies (consider how remorseful JetBlue sounded after providing customers with poor service: “You deserved better—a lot better—from us last week”). An apology San Diego school officials made to folk singer Pete Seeger last year, nearly 50 years after demanding that he swear a loyalty oath to use an auditorium, is a reminder it’s never too late to try to make amends.

Do you find yourself apologizing all the time? Or not enough? Do you think it's rude that I'm asking? If so, sorry!

(image courtesy of Real Simple)