I just ran into the strangest lady in Greenlife.
Ari and I were buying some groceries for the week, and I was at one of those freestanding produce shelves picking out heirloom tomatoes. I was completely absorbed in my own thoughts ("Should I get another green one or a red one? Or maybe a yellow one...") when a woman pushing a shopping cart asked, "Could you move over so I can get by?"
On paper, it sounds like an innocent enough question. But the way she approached me was very abrupt, and I almost felt like I was back in retail, arranging a display that a shopper wanted to look at.
This lady embodied a side of Asheville that bothers me--not the scrappy artist hippies, but the rich yuppie hippies who drop $20 on a bottle of essential oil. She was heavyset and had a blue cloth wrapped around her head, which accentuated her large, black-framed glasses.
I'm a non-confrontational person. Even though I would personally have navigated around the other side of the produce stand were I in this woman's position, and even though I was thinking, Why can't you just wait ten seconds while I pick out a freaking heirloom tomato? I said, "Oh, sorry," and got out of her way.
Then, as I was passing her, she said, "It's nothing to apologize about. There's no need to say 'Sorry.'"
Yet again, this was delivered in the most abrasive tone possible. I spent the rest of my shopping trip imagining what kind of self-help book this lady had probably been reading. I'm sure it was full of affirmations like Don't be afraid to ask for what you want! and Stop saying 'Sorry'! Pity she didn't invest in a social skills class instead.
I don't always use "Sorry" in the common context. For me, it's a catch-all word. In this particular case, I really just meant, "I didn't know I was in your way." But it was late, and that required way too many words. My frequent use of "Sorry," oddly enough, really bothered some customers when I worked in the gift shops. They might say something rude, like, "Could you wrap that a little faster? I'm in a hurry," and I'd say, "Sorry." Then they'd say, "There's nothing to be sorry about."
There wouldn't be, if you hadn't given me something to be sorry about (namely, the fact that I was stuck gift-wrapping souvenirs for mean people). Rather than indicating submission, I always thought saying "Sorry" leveled the playing field. It acknowledged that the other party was issuing criticism, which is probably why it bothered some customers. Submission would have been cheerfully saying "Sure!" or silently proceeding to bag their items faster, which is probably what they wanted.
It's true, you shouldn't apologize for things that aren't your fault. Maybe that's what Abrasive Woman was trying to say in Greenlife this evening--it wasn't my fault that I happened to be standing in the spot she wanted to be, so I shouldn't apologize. But we should be careful not to write "Sorry" entirely out of our language. It's a powerful word, and it can be your greatest weapon in unexpected ways.
So in conclusion, if I say "Sorry" too much, I'm sorry.