We can joke, but apologizing is synonymous with being Canadian. In fact, if we're very quiet, we can hear a muted choir of "sorrys" echoing across the country right now.
But we don't apologize as frequently as we're stereotyped — OR DO WE?
In an attempt to answer this empirical question, and to better understand the "sorry" culture, we challenged ourselves to abstain from saying the "s-word" for one week. Here were the rules:
After 7 days, we imploded and killed each other. JK, but the task was really, really tough. Here's what we learned:
1. Almost everyone failed. And then apologized for it.
"I didn't do too hot. I let it slip almost daily. I wrote down 9 specific times but I know it was more than that. I also would say 'sorry' after slipping, making it a double crime and therefore committing the ultimate Canadian apology." — Sarah
"I slipped up a few more times for sure. The first time I did was at Starbucks. I asked for a receipt and although it was clear that it wasn't too late for me to get a receipt, I instinctively said 'sorry' right after I asked the cashier, in the odd chance that it was too late for her to print a receipt (it wasn't)." — Emma
"I think it took me an hour or two after we started not saying sorry that I had my first sorry fail." — Craig
"I may as well have not even tried to not say sorry because I slipped up constantly. 'Sorry' comes out like word vomit, as involuntary as breathing." — Lauren
2. And when we did fail, almost every instance did not warrant an apology.
"On one occasion someone interrupted my nap and I apologized profusely for... I'm not really sure. Not being conscious at the exact moment they wanted me to be? I said it because it felt like the nice, polite thing to do." — Lauren
"I was leaving the bathroom at the exact moment someone else was about to enter. We scared each other and both said 'sorry' at the exact same time. I'm pretty sure we harmonized and it was pathetic." — Sarah
"During the week I was the sorry-truther 'cause I conducted the experiment. I'd try to keep us in line but one time I recall when Sarah let it slip while ordering lunch (she prefaced her order to the cashier with "sorry, I'd like..."????), I playfully hit her on the arm for her flub, but without thinking said 'sorry' for hitting her. PLAYFULLY."— Tanya
"I took a ferry with my wife and kids and at one point I bumped into someone. Without looking I instantly said 'sorry.' Turns out it was an unoccupied stroller. I apologized to an empty stroller. That was some sorry shit." — Craig
3. In the moments we didn't apologize, we were overcome with an awkwardness that eventually became anxiety.
"The only instance when I caught myself in time and did not apologize was when I flipped on a light switch and startled a cat. And I still felt bad because I'd already apologized to it on several other occasions." — Lauren
"It made me feel like I was successfully implementing some sort of basic cognitive behavioral therapy. I could feel myself working against pre-existing programming in my brain." — Emma
"I was riding the subway and bumped into a guy accidentally. I was about to say it and then remembered the challenge. Instead of saying it, I just smiled at him and shrugged a lot. I'm pretty sure he thought I was out of my mind." — Sarah
"I walked out of the washroom, turned the corner, and nearly knocked into someone. He chirped "sorry!" and I....froze. Suppressing a visceral need to match his 'sorry' left me with, like, no cognitive functions — my entire system shut down. I coughed at him?" — Tanya
4. The challenge basically made us very introspective and self-reflecting Canadians.
"We say 'sorry' like insurance. Like, 'you're probably not really mad but just so you know, I'm so sorry. Oh god I'm so sorry.'" — Lauren
"A lot of the sorrys we tell each other aren't real apologies and more acknowledgements of living in a city with other people. I'm in favour of people just staying quiet and moving on with their day instead of showering each other with reflexive sorrys." — Ishmael
"I think saying 'sorry' is a reflex of our fears of potentially inconveniencing or offending someone. The potential is so real. Most of the time we haven't even done the actual damage before apologizing. Or maybe it's all to avoid coming off unsorry, possibly the worst offense of all. Oh jeez idk but I'm really sorry." — Tanya
"I will instantly apologize to my kids for anything, anytime if it means avoiding a tears or a meltdown. On the other hand, I'm sure I don't apologize nearly enough to my wife..." — Craig
5. In the end, we're not all that sorry for saying sorry too much. It's probably the better problem to have, eh?
"I think that maybe as Canadians we're less comfortable with being assertive, or people misinterpreting our assertiveness as rudeness. The silly thing is that it's possible to be assertive all while being totally polite. And fuck the haters. Also, it's not totally terrible that we're overly polite and apologetic." — Emma
"Despite noticing that many of 'sorrys' were so unnecessary, I still think people mean it when they say sorry most of the time. I mean, maybe they're not devastated, but in a 'hey I'm recognizing your inherent dignity, fellow human.' And that's nice, right?" — Lauren
"Not saying sorry when I failed to hold the door open for someone or when I got in their way briefly while walking down the street or when I was a bit slow picking up my coffee from the barista at the counter — it all felt... liberating?
What I learned: Most of our sorries are completely unnecessary and not very genuine to begin with. Still, there are worse characteristics out there, so I'll take apologetic politeness." — Ishmael
"Our sorrys can be a sign of softness or ammo for secret world domination one day MUAHAHA" — Tanya
"My key learning from the week is I should apologize less to inanimate objects, and more to my wife." — Craig