Thursday, January 06, 2011

The Apologetic Americans

Hello, I'm an American and I'm sorry. I'm sorry I haven't posted for awhile. I'm sorry if you don't like this post. I'm sorry it's taking me so long to get to the point. Here it is: Every time I visit the U.S., I notice something different. This time it was how apologetic Americans are. Everywhere I went, people were sorry.

If someone came within two feet of me in the bookstore they were sorry. If the cashier took 30 seconds to wait on me she was sorry. If a shopper went around me (without even touching me!) in a clothing store, she was sorry. Is this politeness? Or is this insanity?

Here’s a news flash for all you Americans—you don’t need to be so passive and apologetic. In Switzerland, people are rarely sorry about anything. If they bump into you at the grocery store they just keep going. If they elbow you at the cheese counter, they wanted to. If they get on the train before you can get off, they’re not sorry. Granted, the word "sorry" in German is quite the mouthful so maybe that's why people don't bother saying it. But still. Americans are so sorry, they say “sorry” when they have nothing to be sorry about.

I’m sorry this post is so short.


Susan said...

Welcome back, OBY. This post cracked me up, but it also tells me that you have been here a LONG time. I actually like it when people are sorry and tell me so when I visit Chicago. It makes up for all the "sorrys" I don't get here.

For me, it's the friendly "Welcome to Walgreens!" that is shouted out as I walk in, that really freaks me out!

Bill Harby said...

Oh Chantal, I feel so, well, sorry for you. (Sorry.) You really need to come hang in Suisse-Romande. People here don't mind saying desolée when there's need to, but they're not apoplectically apologetic like some of yer them there 'Mericans.

Chantal said...

Yeah, maybe I've been in Switzerland too long now. Because this is the first time I really noticed this in the U.S.

Friendliness is also something that freaks me out in the U.S. No one can actually be that happy to clean my teeth.

M'dame Jo said...

When you say things like that, it reminds me why I'm sometimes afraid that I may have to move to Zurich to get a job and get stepped on as I try to get off the train. Luckily, it'd probably be in a quite international/multicultural environment.

Chantal said...

Bring some hiking poles. They make it easier to fight your way off the train.

Kelly said...

Having lived outside the US myself I can totally relate to these kind of things. I find it so interesting to make cultural comparisons. Thanks for sharing. Sorry if I never visit again btw. A friend linked to you from FB... so sorry!

Tiffany said...

Fabulous post! I've noticed this as well. I think it has to do with the commercial/consumerism/customer is king attitude that America seems to be based on. Without an apology, you might get sued. That person may boycot your store or restaurant. You may get in trouble with your boss of your mom for not apologising. I agree that it's almost to the point of absurdity. The Dutch rarely ever say sorry either. And they use the same word - sorry!

Chantal said...

I thought about the suing aspect too. It's like if you apologize ahead of time, maybe they won't sue if something actually does happen.

Allison L said...

I was standing outside the Globus waiting for someone. There was about a foot and a half between me and the food stand but somehow everyone thought there was plenty of space to slip through and elbow me. Yet to the right of me there was 8 feet of open space.

Jenni said...

I too think that it has a lot to do with the service culture in America. Most major business have a focus or metrics on customer/guest satisfaction and monitor it in many ways (recording phone calls, secret shoppers, comment cards, etc) Although we train our people to say "I apologize...." which has the same number of syllables as "es tut mir leid."

Stephersplatz said...

I agree that it has to do with the focus on customer service in America.
I haven't been back in America in a while and I really miss the frendliness..

Last week I went skiing near St. Moritz. I was standing in line to get a lift pass and had my skis resting up against a table. A guy was fixing his boot and knocked over my skiis. He looked at me but didn't say a thing. Nope, he wasn't sorry for knocking over my skis.

M'dame Jo said...

*takes out notebook and writes"

- bring hiking poles.

*closes notebook*

Stephersplatz > when it comes to ski resorts, I get much more impolite behavior from the british/russian/dutch/french tourists than from the locals... but again, I (still) live in Romandie.

Chantal said...

That's a great point about customer service. It's definitely a friendliness factor.

Kristi said...

Having just returned from Munich and Vienna, which are both over-run by tourists, Zurich felt like the nicest place on earth. I think both cities have had it with all the tourists which Zurich doesn't necessarily suffer from. With that being said, I still love how us Americans seem to really care about other people's space and feelings. Maybe we are over-compensating for how we are perceived in the media ;)

MommyHeadache said...

I am living in America (but not American) and I suppose I like it how polite people are here! Like when I lived in London people might ram their umbrella up your bum on the tube and not apologize!

Miss Footloose said...

Great post! I love these types of observations people make about life in various countries.

I grew up in Holland, spent many years in diffferent countries, including the US, where I live now. I haven't noticed all the sorries, sorry! But I expect I will now.

Strangely, I haven't noticed the lack of them in my Dutch hometown, but maybe I will now. I do often notice how nice everybody is there in general, the shops, etc.

I'm not sure if all the sorries I'm going to hear from now on are going to drive me nuts, or notice how much I've taken on that custom and do all the sorrying myself.

Anonymous said...

I come from England and I'd say that we are even more sorry that the Americans!

KiKi said...

What's wrong with a sorry or two, especially when a person exhibits rude or distasteful behavior.

I have been in Swiss for a year and frankly, I am over the pushing and staring and space invading. It's to the point now where I will pipe up and say nice and loud to my husband, "Wow, that lady just shoved me and didnt apologize!" Or, "Is it too hard to say 'Entschuldigung' when you ram your body into another person."

Yes, I know I am in their land so I have to adapt to their rules, but this is overkill...Im a daily train commuter to Zurich so I know what Im talking about.

Chantal said...

Naturally, as an American, I was afraid to shove back at first. But it does make you feel better.

Tanya D said...

Love this post! I've lived here long enough that I've started shoving back.

Chantal said...

I had another Migros moment yesterday. A shelf stocker rammed into me with his cart and started restocking right where I was trying to get something off the shelf. I know this complete and utter disregard for customers is normal here, but it still pisses me off. So I decided I wasn't going to fight him to get what I wanted off the shelf--I would just buy it from another store. And then I "accidentally" ran into him as I walked away.

Anonymous said...

"Friendliness is also something that freaks me out in the U.S. No one can actually be that happy to clean my teeth."

Yes, you may have been away from the US for just a bit too long, lol -- we're a pretty gregarious lot.

I've heard other Europeans say the same sort of thing. On the other hand, the Germans I ran into on the river the other day didn't seem to mind me striking up a conversation!

Sorry I haven't been to your blog in a while....

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