I moved to the UK in September of this year and with me came my many daydreams of what British people are like.
Some of my notions were based in fact. I’ve been to England before, to be fair, and tried my hand at bagging an English boyfriend whilst I lived in Madrid a few years ago. From the latter experience, I would say that English people tend to have a hard time recognizing a prize peach when they see one, even if it’s dangled right in front of their faces.
Okay, so maybe that first assumption isn’t based on a big enough sample size — thank you, Harry, I hope you are well. But I do think it’s fair to bring up one of the stereotypes about the Brits that many Americans cling to, and that’s the fact that everyone here is presumed to be very proper and polite.
I’m not sure where this idea stems from, but, because this is my column and I have the power, I’m just going to speculate. It likely has to do with America’s strange obsession with the Royal Family. I’m very confused with this, by the way: didn’t we fight really fucking hard to separate ourselves from those people in the 1700s? Why are we so transfixed by them, then? Is this a case of Stockholm Syndrome diagnosed 200 years too late?
Anyway, the Royal Family always appears to be perfect as they parade in front of the public — the women even wear nude stockings, for crying out loud. Obviously, there are outliers, like my favorite crazy royal, Prince Harry (unfortunately not the same Harry as the one mentioned above), but it’s safe to say their manners are more or less impeccable.
Now that I’m in England, I can say that the politeness stereotype is pretty solidly true (except in bars), and it’s something that goes beyond the residents of Buckingham Palace. However, I am not acknowledging this truth because it’s something I always appreciate. In fact, I’m pretty tired of this country’s overuse of one five-letter word in particular: “sorry.”
In general, I am a big fan of the word “sorry,” especially when I am hearing it from someone who I believe owes me an apology. A guy I dated a month or two ago recently slid back into my inbox after months of absolute radio silence. He brushed off my confusion at his reappearance and provided an excuse, but it was his digital utterance of the word “sorry” that had me agreeing to go out with him again. I can’t wait to tell our children this story one day!
Now that we’ve acknowledged the power and importance of the word “sorry,” it’s time to acknowledge its near abuse on this side of the pond. Mates, you literally use the word “sorry” for EVERYTHING. It is driving me mad, just as I’m sure it’s driving you mad to hear an American use your lingo… sorry.
There’s one situation where I really, truly do not get the use of the word: if you need to get by a person who is blocking your way, what do you say? If you answered “sorry,” you have failed the quiz. In this scenario, you have nothing to say “sorry” for: you are going to get off the train, or sidle up to the coffee bar to add milk to your Americano, or squeeze past a chair in the KU cafeteria so you can sit down and eat your soup that needs more seasoning but is generally alright. You need to get by and someone’s in your way — you shouldn’t have to apologize for that.
That’s why I propose you drop your veil of politeness in this particular scenario and pick up the ever-effective “excuse me” in order to get where you want to go without having to cast yourself as the person in the wrong. “Excuse me” says, “I would like to move, but you are blocking me from doing so. Scoot.” That’s what you’re really trying to say, anyway, right? You’re not feeling that polite about the whole situation, I am sure.
I don’t know how long I will live in the U.K. It could be a year, it could be forever if Prince Harry will have me as his equally-as-inappropriate bride. Either way, I will make it my mission to reduce the nation’s usage of the word “sorry,” increase its dependence on “excuse me,” and hopefully make movement across campuses, through tube stations and down the tourist-laden streets of London a bit less apology-prone.
— Andrea Marchiano