Sunday, October 7, 2012

Sympathy

I'm bemused by a scene in Bill Bryson's In A Sunburned Country.

Bryson is in Adelaide and is told there's going to be cricket match there.  He asks if there are any tickets left.

The person he asked replies, Nah, mate, sold out.  Sorry.

Bryson comments on this answer in the book. I nodded and watched them go. That was another very British thing about Australians I'd noticed-they apologized for things that weren't their fault. 

I don't see that as an apology. I see it as expressing regret and sympathy.

And it's a British thing?

Maybe it is. What do I know? But I certainly didn't think of it as a non-American thing.

I do it often.

See, to me, without the sorry, the sold out statement would have sounded rude and cold. The sorry softens the whole thing.  It makes the man sound much nicer.

The other day I said sorry to Tim's cousin.  If I remember correctly, it was because he ended up not liking the food he ordered. 

I expressed sympathy by saying sorry.

Jacob said something like, It's not your fault.  

I'm guessing he was joking?

I don't know.

But of course I don't blame myself for his dislike of his lunch. I didn't cook it for him. I didn't suggest that he order it. I have no guilt in the matter. But I felt sympathetic towards his plight.

Now I'm wondering if other people mistake my sympathetic sorry for an apology.

But no.  Really.

If I say sorry you're grandmother died, I'm not trying to confess to killing her.  

So what about you?   Do you think sorry should be used only as an apology?  Do you ever use it as a form of sympathy? If you don't, what would you say instead?