Tuesday, June 12, 2007

duly noted.

today, on the metro during my commute home, i was sitting in a seat near the doors. the train pulled into my stop, and i got up to leave. there were two people perched on either side of the vertical metal pole between me and the door; they were facing the other direction and hadn't noticed me get up. the doors opened.

"excuse me," i said.

they were both slow to turn around and acknowledge me - slower than i would expect someone to be when the phrase "excuse me" is uttered two feet from them, anyway. but, in light of their delayed reaction to my need to get past them and off of the train, do you know what the next word out of my mouth was?

"sorry."

this is going to take some work.

6 comments:

Jeanne said...

It is so hard to stop using "sorry" on public transit! (I can see using it for bumping into someone or inadvertently stepping on feet, but I have caught myself apologizing for asking people to move out of my way, too.)

I lived in Italy for a bit when I was in college and your post brought to mind a seemingly-mundane detail that I hadn't really thought about until just now.

In Milan, the buses and metros were insanely full during peak commute times... sometimes the bus drivers would have to leave the doors open because of the people that were practically hanging off of the steps. Despite that, folks usually had no trouble getting people to move out of the way so they could exit. The first word to use was "scendere," which is the verb for "to come down." All you had to do was murmur it to the people near you and the crowd would part. If the bus was really packed, simply hollering "permesso!" (literally: "permission," loosely: "out of my freakin' way, people!") would do the trick.

I don't remember anyone ever apologizing in Italy for needing to get off the bus, maybe because the universally-accepted words for signaling that need have nothing to do with being sorry. Even "scusare," the verb for excusing oneself, wasn't used in that context that I can recall (unless, of course, you stepped on someone's foot on your way out.)

Roni said...

When I'm out recruiting students for the topic I work on, I often get "I'm sorry." And I have been telling them - 2 summers in a row now - "Don't be sorry!" They smile at it.

It's a tough habit to break. I find myself catching myself every single day.

susanne said...

I would like to think that I don't do the "I'm sorry" thing automatically sometimes, but I'm sure I do. I've clearly been living in NYC too long, though, because I certainly don't use it on the subway, unless like Jeanne mentioned, I accidentally stomp on someone's foot or whack them with my bag. If someone is in my way and "'scuse me" doesn't get a prompt response, that is usually followed by a loud "MOVE IT!" and space being made with my elbows.

Cara said...

Oh yeah. Definitely a hard habit to break.

kate.d. said...

jeanne, that's interesting about the italian semantics of public transit :) i wish we had a more pro-active term than "excuse me"!

and susanne (it's weird not to call you dot!), i can only imagine how many times i say "sorry" without noticing it - this example actually took about 5 seconds to register. i was like, oh man, i just told like 2,000 people on the internet to stop apologizing and there i go doing it! :)

hetherjw said...

I think of the "I'm sorry" as a place holder. Something to acknowledge that you are pushing past someone and that you know they are there. Not that you are "sorry" for anything.

I've actually heard Americans described as overly polite (shocking I know) in relation to commuters from other places where "excuse me" and "I'm sorry" are not used for simply trying to get off a bus. Maybe we all need a new word... Kate, care to suggest something?