Sunday September 03, 2017

Why do Canadians apologize so much?

A crowd engaging in some typical Canadian 'live and let live' behaviour.

A crowd engaging in some typical Canadian 'live and let live' behaviour. (Hsing Wei)

Listen 5:43

Canadians are notorious apologizers. It spills from our lips in a nearly endless variety of scenarios.

Emily Keeler

Emily Keeler is sorry for the Canadian apology. (Daniel Alexander)

But why? And what does it mean?

Writer Emily Keeler investigates those questions in an audio essay for Out in the Open. Here's an excerpt:

"There are few going theories as to why Canadians apologize so quickly and so often.

One is that we inherited a certain innate awkwardness as a byproduct of British settlement. But, I think there's a bit more at play. British identity for better, worse and Brexit is fixed. What it means to be Canadian on the other hand, is not. Shortly after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was elected he told The New York Times as much, 'There is no core identity, no mainstream in Canada,' he said. And it's this precise lack of central clarity that makes ours a pretty great culture where it's mostly possible to basically have a general attitude of 'live and let live' and 'hey, if you bump into me... well, I'm sorry I didn't mean to be in the way of you going about your life.' 

Canadian identity has this looseness to it. I mean, one thing that does seem evidently clear to most of us though is that being Canadian means we are not Americans. For instance, our neighbours to the south just elected a leader for whom the word 'sorry' may well not even exist. In the U.S., issuing an apology is often framed as an admission of inadequacy, weakness or guilt. On the other hand, here we say 'sorry' so often that the province of Ontario had to make a law to literally limit the liabilities of chronic apologizers. The Apology Act was introduced in 2009 as a measure to give lawyers a fair chance defending clients who were never guilty but apologized to the aggrieved all the same."

This story originally aired on January 15, 2017