The British 'Sorry'
Yesterday I had the opportunity to talk to a lovely lady called Sook. We were part of the same group run and, having not met prior, struck up a conversation while sat in the clubhouse enjoying a soft drink afterwards. She’s Korean, and when I told her that after the pandemic was over I wanted to go to Seoul to see Starcraft live, she thought it was just about the funniest thing she’d ever heard (but it was illuminating that despite having no interest whatsoever, she obviously knew a fair bit about it). She’d arrived in London only slightly less recently than me, after having spent 20 years in Canada, and I asked her what, if anything, surprised her most about British culture.
She started by telling me that in Korean culture, people are very direct, they say what they mean, but British people are very indirect. I asked her if she could give me an example, and she said that she’d had a conversation with her boss upon her arrival to try to stop her falling foul of any miscommunication as a result of people not saying what they mean, and the first example she gave I thought was absolutely hilarious;
when British people say “sorry, it’s my fault” they actually mean “it’s your fault, and you should apologise”
Obviously context is ever important, but there are plenty of situations in which she is absolutely correct. If I were to actually utter the words “it’s your fault, and you should apologise”, that would be devastatingly rude, and I’d never even consider it. But there have been innumerable times when I’ve apologised, feeling like I’ve been wronged, hoping that the response will be “no, I’m sorry, it’s my fault”. The latter doesn’t have an especially high chance of success though, and I can’t help but feel like I might prefer the Korean direct approach.