27 September, 2013

So sorry

Yesterday I bought milk and a couple of other things at our local 100 yen shop. While packing my bags the assistant knocked two of the 1L cartons onto the floor. I lost count of how many times she apologised for this. She also wiped them off very deliberately after she picked them up (no damage done to the cartons). After she gave me my change she apologised again. Then, as I picked up my bags and walked off, I knocked a small thing off the shelf with my bag. I apologised, but she was quicker in apologising to me and picking them up. I get all the rest, but that last apology left me bewildered. However, in a foreign land you spend a lot of the time bewildered, so it didn't bother me too much!

Today as I sat in the doctor's waiting room (for a minor consultation), the lady next to me had a small purse fall out of her bag and it landed lightly against my hip on the seat. She apologised. Then I went to the gym and at one point one of the trainers brushed against my bottom. She apologised. Phew! You can get all worn out in receiving people's apologies.

I understand that it is a way to maintain harmony, but sometimes it seems too much.

What I also don't get is that these same people who are apologising for brushing against you would, if you were standing in their way to get into a crowded train, shove you without any apology. Yes, they will shoulder their way past you! Like most cultures, there are vast contradictions.

Here is an interesting article on this topic, including an explanation about maintaining harmony and how apologies can help a foreigner even with little Japanese.

And another article that talks about some of the different ways you can say sorry.

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