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?

6 comments:

FruitCake said...

Yeah. Sorry is sometimes polite. And sometimes I do say to people "No need to be sorry". But when people say "sorry" out of habit I wonder who has been kicking them in the head.

That can become tedious.

Dina said...

When you say "no need to be sorry" do you mean...it's not your fault. I don't blame you."

Or do you mean..."I don't need your sympathy."

Do you think it's tedious to continually offer sympathy. Or do you think it's tedious to offer sympathy by using the same word repeatedly?

Andrew said...

As you say, it is just a softening word at times and I don't see anything wrong with using the word in many different contexts. I am curious if you, not you personally, use sorry when you haven't heard someone properly? I guess it is abbreviated from 'Sorry, I did not hear you properly'.

Dina said...

Andrew,

I don't think I say it in that context. But I'm not 100% sure.

I think I'd say "Excuse me" or if I'm with someone I know well. "What???"

Do you say sorry in that context? What about when you knock into someone; or if you need to get by someone that's in your way?

FruitCake said...

Yes, if I say there is no need for you to be sorry I mean "I don't blame you".

If someone is genuinely trying to offer sympathy - especially when the situation is serious - it would be rude and unkind to reject that. In such a case I would say something along the lines of "Thank You".

It's tedious when people have been so mentally scarred that they automatically say sorry out of habit. It's not an expression of sympathy in this case so much as fear, or the feeling they are responsible for everything that goes wrong in the world. It's sad, but it can be wearing trying to re-assure someone all the time.

Dina said...

Fruitcake,

I think I get what you're saying about people saying it out of habit; or feeling they're too blame for everything that goes on in the world.

In that case, it seems actually selfish. It's like they're trying to bring attention back to themselves.

Or maybe not that.

But there's that idea that the world revolves around them.