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Why do Lebanese feel the need to compulsively say “I’m sorry” (with rolled r’s) – even when they are not in the slightest bit “sorrrrry”?!

  1. I hear it to summon a waiter… “sorrrrry!”

  2. I hear it to state an opinion… “sorrrrry…”

  3. I hear it to punctuate a phrase… like, yknow, “sorrrrry”

And I can’t deny that it bugs me. I even find myself saying it because it is what we are expected to say in certain situations. Even though I’m not apologizing. Sorry-not-sorry.

What do we say when we actually want to apologize, ask forgiveness, like, er, when we’re actually “sorry”?! We’re misusing this important word. And at the same time, we actually fail to apologize when we genuinely SHOULD BE sorry!

  1. Did I just cut you off in traffic!? NotSorry.

  2. Did I bump into you and nearly mow you down on the street!? NotSorry.

  3. Did I interrupt you while you were speaking? NotSorry.

  4. Did I make an offensive remark that is sexist, racist, or in any way discriminatory and you are visibly upset?! NotSorry.

  5. Did I pretend to not even see you in line at the pharmacy and dive in front of you as if you’re invisible because my need for Panadol is more important than yours!? NotSorry.

  6. Did I shove you out of the way so I could be the first off the plane in the unlikely event that it takes off again while I’m still actually on it?! NotSorry.

For a seemingly-polite population, we’re anything but!

So – what are we actually sorry for?

Those who apologize chronically – as if it’s an automated reflex – are viewed as having low self-worth. Is that us?! Nope. We’re pretty arrogant. Yes, I know, arrogance is a very visible manifestation of low self-worth. Ok, that theory might still hold.

Do we sprinkle “sorries” recklessly because we feel it is the only way to keep interactions polite and civil? This population has some of the most colorful curses I’ve ever heard. And – far from polite – we’ve found ways to refer to female genitalia of our family members even in common parlance. For instance: “Your-sister’s-(bleep), that’s the best falafel place in all of Beirut!”

Not sure how anyone’s sister’s private parts adds to the validity of this sentiment, but anyway, that’s for another time.

Officially, saying sorry is to assume responsibility for something that has gone wrong. Is that what we’re doing? Are we accepting that we are at fault, that we are to blame, and – even less likely – that we are actually willing to fix the situation we’ve caused?! Nope.

Saying sorry often puts us in an inferior position. There’s a power dynamic at play here. Think about that for a sec. And – surprise! – a gender dynamic. Fact: women apologize more than men. Why? Do we transgress more than men? Nope.

Sloane Crosley’s great article explains that for women, “sorry” is an entry point to basic affirmative sentences. But there’s more to it. She calls them “tiny acts of revolt, expressions of frustration or anger at having to ask for what should be automatic”. I see this with women in Lebanon – we apologize far too often for taking up the space to which we are entitled.

But this is a population filled with echoes of “sorry”. Do we use the word to prompt others to apologize, as a reminder that they are in fact impolite? “Sorry, but could you please stop referring to my sister’s genitals?”

Here it is not about being polite, or feigned politesse, or a nudge towards better manners. It sounds to me that we use the word, oddly, to establish superiority, and very often to address those we deem to be inferior.

Even when I’ve been wronged, I end up burdened with an avalanche of excuses, but never an apology. Imagine how simple and sincere a small “I’m sorry” would be – minus the stories and dramas and excuses. I’m sorry. Period. It’s pretty powerful – because it’s as honest and vulnerable as we can ever be.

There’s lots to unpack here. In the meantime…

  1. Social experiment: let’s say “excuse me” when we want to say “sorrrrry”.

  2. Even-harder social experiment: let’s say “I’m sorry” when we really ARE sorry.


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