Sorry. I mean, excuse me.

Salon has compiled a list of Canadian characteristics for the benefit of visitors to the Vancouver Olympics.

One of them: Canadians are a polite lot.

“You won’t visit many countries where the word ‘sorry’ is interchangeable with ‘excuse me’. It can mean ‘Would you kindly step aside to allow me to get to my destination?’ or ‘Thank you for allowing me to get to my destination.’ And also: ‘Oh my, I’ve just walked past you on my way to my destination.’”

This means that Canadians don’t know the difference between the past and the future. When a non-Canadian asks for permission to commit a transgression in the near future, Salon says, “excuse me” is the proper thing to say. But Canadians say “sorry,” a term they also use to apologize for an offence committed in the recent past.

In short, Salon says Canadians are so polite that they use “sorry” to cover past and future transgressions.

Salon has not noticed that Canadians, the polite ones and the impolite ones, don’t bother to make these subtle distinctions. For them “no problem” covers all situations.

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3 responses to “Sorry. I mean, excuse me.

  1. There is something to this. Personally, I hate “no problem,” especially when uttered by a waiter! I want everyone to solve problems but please don’t tell me about it.

  2. “No problem” does not replace either “sorry” or “excuse me” but “you’re welcome”. I agree that waiters are common users of that expression.

    I do wish that someone in waiters’ school would teach the students not to address diners in restaurants as “you guys”, though, at least in any place where one pays more than $10 for dinner.

    I can just hear some waiter responding “well, excuuuuuse me!” – more likely than “sorry”, anyway.