British people apologize swiftly and profusely, when they bump into someone, when someone bumps into them, or even when they have nothing to be sorry for. This phenomenon was immortalized in National Lampoon’s European Vacation, when the Griswolds run over a British motorist who insists the incident was his fault (it wasn’t).
After nearly eight years in the UK, I have become one of these sorry sayers. Last year, I was in the Children’s Museum of Manhattan. Another mother wasn’t looking where she was going, and almost stepped on my daughter as she crawled across the floor.
Seeing that the woman’s high heeled boot was about to be embedded into my daughter’s head, I said the first word that sprang into my mind: “Sorry! ” The woman looked at me, surprised. Disaster averted, I continued: “You’re about to step on my daughter.”
The woman replied, “Don’t be sorry. It was my fault.”
Of course it was. But the Brit in me kept me from saying, “Hey you! Get your spiky heels away from my kid’s head! Why the hell would you wear those to a kids’ plush play area, anyway?”
I now say “sorry” when I want to get the attention of the guy behind the counter at Starbucks; when I bump into someone in a store; even when I walk into a wall.