Icons of England
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957 of 1157 nominations



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It is sometimes said that England is the only country in the world where the people apologise if you bump into them. The code of good manners, whose demise is regularly lamented in anything but mannerly tones, includes not just “please” and “thank you”, but plenty of “sorry” as well. Saying “sorry” is not necessarily the same thing as apologising, however. The English “sorry” is an expression of light regret that things should be so and not otherwise. “You have collided with me,” it seems to say, “a situation neither of us could have wished.” By contrast, actual expressions of remorse, the kind John Lennon meant when he claimed that “Love means having to say you’re sorry every five minutes”, come rather less naturally. We say sorry before complaining (“Sorry, this car I bought from you yesterday has fallen to bits”), and also when asking somebody for information (“Sorry, do you happen to know why the ticket office is closed?”). To those who say we have all forgotten our manners, we are tempted to ask: sorry but, are you sure?


Your comments

Bump into someone in England and they apologise!

Gary Barlow

Foreigners often remark on the sometimes over-politeness of English people and especially our habit of saying "Sorry" for trivial reasons. One sign of this is the destination indicator on some buses which just says "SORRY (not in service)". I can't think of any other culture where buses apologise for just running in the street.
Aidan Turner-Bishop

Yes, Dan's comment notwithstanding, people in England (and Scotland) really do say sorry even when it's not their fault - a fact I have had ample proof of during recent return visits to "the Old Country". I also make my Polish students laugh by telling them how many times a "conversation" as something is bought in a British shop involves the words "thank you". Doubt the sincerity beneath as we may, there is something delightful about the British "sorry" and "thank you". Indeed, this delicacy at shops extends to the remarkably illogical, yet serenely polite question: "Do you have a customer/discount card at all?" which I hear repeatedly in supermarkets. Well, obviously, I either do or I don't, yet a direct question might somehow put me in an uncomfortable position, hence the more gentle question - only the British would do this, believe me!
James Richards

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I nominate the English weather.