Thursday, September 13, 2007


Here are some words that I am, apparently, constitutionally incapable of saying:

  • Thank you.
  • I’m sorry.

I’ve just sent off the third of three emails to a creative, lovely, tasteful blogger who graciously made and mailed this to the Pie:

(Inadequate photo, I know. I’ll try to get a shot that isn’t underlit and blurry some other time.)

Here are some things I said in those emails: I’m so excited! I can’t wait to show it to the Pie when she gets up! You are so awesome! I wish you could have seen Pie’s face when she put it on!

I am not, apparently, averse to the blatant overuse of the exclamation point; I am, however, totally unable to utter a simple thank-you.

Not that I didn’t try. I actually typed the words a few times, then deleted them. I tried couching them in some kind of ironic “Look how bad I am at saying thank you” disclaimer, and then deleted that too.

Is anyone else like this? Is it because I think I’m too good to utter just the ordinary words of gratitude used by the rest of the population? Do I believe that I have to be dazzlingly original in all my utterances?

“I’m sorry” is even more impossible to say than “thank you.” Its purpose is twofold: (1) to apologize, and (2) to express sympathy. I’m equally stuck in both cases. With apologies, I’m constrained by a fear that apologizing will precipitate an uncomfortable discussion of what I did, why it was wrong, how the other person felt … I’d far rather stick with the policy of pretending everything is okay until it actually is.

Sympathy is another matter. I love to sympathize, to offer comfort – but only if I don’t have to actually use the words, “I’m so sorry.” Ideally, I’d like to have a gem of insight, some nugget of experience or wisdom that will bring comfort. Failing that, I’d at least like to be able to rush in with my own parallel experience, relieving the poor unfortunate person of the burden of being in the spotlight. Everybody will be more comfortable, surely, if we just talk some more about me.

Kgirl, Sandra – I’m so sorry. And I’m sorry it’s taken this long for me to say so.


Mouse said...

I think with "I'm sorry" that there's some sense that the speaker feels blame for the reason for the apology--for expressions of sympathy, it both doesn't quite fit and doesn't feel like enough.

NotSoSage said...

Well, I'm laughing just a little at your expense because, really, in my case? It was obvious.

But I completely understand on the sympathy angle. Still, I like to think that people get the message anyway.

I find that throwing in a dash of my own experience is a conversational tool I am far too reliant on and uncomfortable with, as well. I think somewhere down the line someone told me to share something about me, too, and it sometimes feels like it's the only trick I have up my sleeve. And I walk away thinking, "All I did was talk about myself."

NotSoSage said...

Oh, and it IS big, but she'll be rocking it next summer, for sure.

Lawyer Mama said...

I have the hardest time with apologizing. I suck at it. I'd rather cut my arm off and hand it to you than actually say "I'm sorry." Sympathy I can totally do, but sometimes I feel my little "I'm sorry" is so inadequate. Like Sage, I tend to overly rely on MY anecdotal experiences. Because your post is, of course, all about me.

That hat is too darn cute!

kittenpie said...

I always feel like I end up making it about me by sharing experiences, too, but I know it stems from a desire to show that we do understand. I do it all the time.

I'm good with thanks, but not so good with sorries. Misterpie and I have had some discussions in which he has pointed out that if I would only say it, he'd feel so much better, but I don't see where there is culpability on my part, so I feel like it's a lie. Plus, now that he's asked, it's even more awkward, because I am totally just saying it because he asked, and not because I believe it, and it's not right to say something I don't mean. It feels like at that point, it would be mocking. He doesn't get that. sigh.

I can say it in sympathy, though.

nomotherearth said...

So cute! I wish that you had posted it before I did my MBT post.

I always overuse the exclamation mark. It's a leftover from watching that Seinfeld episode where Elaine's boyfriend left a phone message that a friend "had a baby." She broke up with him because he didn't think it worthy of an exclamation mark. Now I'm all worried that people will think I'm not grateful/excited/happy if I only use a period.

Like Sage, I always offer a piece of personal experience when sympathizing. It probably makes me sound very self-involved, when all I'm trying to say is "I understand".

It's a dilemma.

Beck said...

That hat is SO cute! What a talented designer. Oh,and a very cute kid, too.
I think that I always feel inadequate saying thank you because it's hard to express gratitude adequately in words, really - what can we say that can measure up to someone else voluntarily inconviencing themselves for us?

Lisa b said...

I have the same problem(s). Apparently we all do!!!!!!
Now to add in my personal anecdote: the nurse at my doctors office made me cry on Tuesday bc she would not shut up about her son and his rare cancer and bone marrow transplant. She was trying to tell me how she understood and I was trying to tell her she already told me that story and I was not in the mood to contemplate anyone else's hell.
The secret with the anectdote as offered measure of comfort may be brevity and restraint.

Gwen said...

Love the hat!

I know that when people acknowledge my misery (what little of it I ever have) by sharing--and sharing and sharing--anecdotes about themselves, they are having a difficult time with how to express sympathy. At least that's what I tell myself, because the alternative--complete narcissism--really bugs me. But I might be sensitive to that because I am tangentially related to someone who believes that the way to make you feel better is to explain how she has it so much worse. Shockingly, it doesn't work.

Not that I don't spend plenty of time talking about myself all the rest of the time. But I am learning to express sorrow with someone simply and let it be. I'd like words of wisdom to go with that, though. I envy the people who have them.

flutter said...

Ok, that hat is SO cute.

I'm sorry comes easily to me because I screw up so much, and Thank you always feels inadequate for kindness. Like, I want to bake people a cake or something when they let me merge in traffic...

Rae said...

Maybe you can have a little of my "I'm sorry's" I say it TOO MUCH. Drives my husband crazy. And everyone else I know.

Swistle said...

I have trouble gracefully using the words "thank you," too. But I think your note got across the idea anyway!

For "I'm sorry," I'm always worried someone will say, "Why are you apologizing? It wasn't YOUR fault!" And I won't want to start an argument about uses of the English language at their loved one's funeral, so I'll stand there speechless, and later I'll seethe, and then I'll feel bad for seething.

Ally said...

I love the hat.

Maybe with thank you and I'm sorry, practicing would help?

Lori said...

I completely overuse exclamation marks!! Can't you tell?!?!

That hat! That picture! Adorable!

niobe said...

In the last year or so, I've spent a lot of my time either dealing with other people who were trying be sympathetic to me or trying my best to be sympathetic to other people. I've decided that, at lesast for what I think of as big griefs, while "I'm sorry" is weak and inadequate, it's probably the best you can do, because anything else -- particularly suggesting that you understand how the other person feels -- is likely to cause more pain.

For more run-of-the-mill sorrows, the anecdote, the suggestion, the insight, the diversionary tactic of talking about yourself seem just fine.

Also, maybe you can think of the apologetic "I'm sorry" as a new weapon for your arsenal. When I'm tired of fighting or worry that I might be losing, I say, with all the sincerity I can muster, "I'm sorry. I guess you're right." Then I laugh to myself as the other person is left with nothing more to say, because, after all, I already said I was sorry.

Florinda said...

I'm like Flutter and Rae - I say "I'm sorry" a LOT. Sometimes it's truly intended as an apology, but sometimes it's like Swistle said, and I do get that "Why? It wasn't your fault" response. We actually have a decent sympathetic response in lieu of "I'm sorry" in the South - "Bless your heart, I sure hate to hear that" - but I never picked up the habit of using it. Sorry about that.

And I'm glad I'm not the only one who finds that I'm talking about my own experiences when trying to console someone else. I think it comes from wanting to let the other person know that someone else has "been there," and I think - I hope! - that's how it's received.

I'm an over-apologizer and sometimes an over-thanker, too. I think it's a people-pleaser thing.

nowheymama said...

Swistle beat me to it once again. I say "I'm sorry" way too easily, and I HATE it when someone replies, "It's not your fault." I KNOW it's not my fault! Sympathy! Empathy! *Not* blame!

Whew. Thanks, I needed that.

b*babbler said...

In place of sharing an anecdote, or something witty, I'll simply I understand completely, and me too.

Magpie said...

Fine hat.

It's sometimes a fine line between a simple sorry or thank you and going into why you're sorry, or why you empathize, or why why why.

Jenifer said...

Wow. Sage is talented. I am pretty good with "Thank You's" and sympathy I have covered, I rely heavily on the anecdote.

The "I'm sorry" is a tough one; especially if I know I was wrong. I hate saying it mostly because (I think) it doesn't really make me feel better, it just acknowledges what I did wrong. I don't really feel better until I make it up to the person. Sorry's make me bristle usually.

So you are not alone it appears!

Mad Hatter said...

Thanks and sympathy I may or may not be good at but I guarantee you I have groveling down to a fine art. Miss M, too, will be the proud owner of one of dem dere hats. Why? Because I am shameless.

PeanutButtersMum said...

Yes! I'm known for my overuse of the exclamation mark!!!!!!! I too find it difficult to utter a simple "thank you," and instead, usually offer up 35 different phrases and !! excited expressions in a pathetic attempt to get across just how grateful I am.


Omaha Mama said...

That is one cute hat.

I usually add so much to my thank you. And say it more than once. I'm not sure it ever gets the point across, but I probably overuse it.

I'm sorry - my hubs would probably tell you I never say it. I do say it, rarely. With a big gulp.

Angela said...

I use to use these phrases too often. I try to now only say them when I actually mean them. It is hard though

A Whole Lot of Nothing said...

I did that exact thing today when I was offered an INCREDIBLE opportunity, and I failed to thank the person offering it to me. She even, jokingly, said I didn't thank her, and I felt so bad. I really had to make up for it, and still do.

Jill said...

I think I'm OK with both "thank you" and "I'm sorry," but in 6th grade I absolutely could not say "aluminum." Unfortunately, I was in charge of our school recycling drive and I had to go around to all the classrooms making a little speech about collecting aluminum cans. At first it came out like "alumimnim," but eventually I got the hang of it.

It seems like maybe this post is your version of my great aluminum cure. Practice, practice, practice.

. . . sorry for the silly comment. I'm feeling a little loopy tonight.

jen said...

commiseration and comfort is such a gift to ourselves and to others.

painted maypole said...

i'm good at saying thank you, usually, and I say I'm sorry quite a bit, but really truly honestly APOLOGIZING I am not as good at. I'll admit the little mistakes quite easily, but the biggies? I try to couch it in a "I'm sorry for this, but you did that" way. Or "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to..." I try to wave it away, not wanting to acknowledge the true hurt it caused. REally going to someone and saying "What I did was wrong, and I'm sorry I did it, please forgive me" I'm working on it.

Christina said...

That hat is awesome! And huge! Which makes it more awesome!

I'm pretty good with thank you, but "I'm sorry" isn't as easy. "Thank you" was practically beat into me as a child, so it's very easy for me to remember to say thanks.

I'm sorry is harder for me because I hate admitting I'm wrong. I'd rather try to get around it by making something right than say I'm sorry. And it does always sound weird when used in a sympathy context.

DaniGirl said...

Gasp! The scandal! All these Canadian mommies distancing themselves from our nationalist pastime of apologizing? Someone convene a conference call between Pierre Berton and Margaret Atwood, we need to re-examine the national identity!!

This was an interesting post (and comments!) to read because I don't seem to have issues with either "I'm sorry" or "Thank you" - although I do suffer a surfeit of exclamation points at the best of times. I'll mix 'em up a bit with a bilingual flair if I really want to make the point - doesn't "Merci mille fois" sound so much more grateful than just plain old "Thanks"? And "Je suis désolé" does sound like regret has knocked your socks off when in fact it's as common as maple syrup in Quebec.

DaniGirl said...

P.S. I spent the entire summer looking for a decent "bucket" hat for the boys with a wide floppy brim. That hat? EXACTLY what I couldn't find. Adorable!

Julie said...

I am the complete opposite. I thank my husband for making dinner. Every single night. I thank him for turning off the light at night. I thank everyone for every little thing they do. It's annoying, frankly.

I also so "I'm sorry" all the time, usually in the "to sympathize" way. My mom will say, "I didn't get any mail today" and I'll say "I'm sorry." She does it to and I always scold her for it but of course I am also cursed.

Some middle ground -- where you use both terms appropriately but not overmuch -- would probably be good.

Patois said...

I overdo gratitude in a big way, at least since I had kids to model for. Hey, I had to model at least one good trait since I'm modeling a whole lot of crappy ones.

For the "I'm sorry," not a problem when I did something wrong. When I'm expressing sympathy, I have a hard time because I can't just leave it at that. I feel the need to run on and on and on.

BTW, even in such horrid photo session shoot conditions as you point out, she is still adorable, as is the hat.

Sandra said...

Love to you. Really.

I am the quintessential Canadian - I am all about Sorry's and Thank You's. It might get a bit much sometimes.

I am sorry I haven't been around in so long ... I've ducked out of the blogosphere to lick my wounds for the last few weeks.

And I thank you for your kindness here.

And although, it's not all over, my mom got some GREAT, GREAT, GREAT news yesterday and the tides have finally turned.

You are a good egg Ms B&P ... that's what my mom would say :)

Catherine said...

Yes. I am just like that, in both regards.

That IS a cute picture...

winslow1204 said...

boy, those are some words that are hard for all of us!

bubandpie said...

Christina - "I'd rather try to get around it by making something right than say I'm sorry." Yes, that's it. Exactly.

Dani - I am so stealing that idea. "Merci mille fois" and "Je suis désolé" - SO much better than the English versions.

Sandra - Oh, I'm glad. (Why is that so much easier for me to say than the others?)

Emily said...

Niobe totally hit the nail on the head. I used to have such a hard time with "I'm sorry," then one day I just started saying it. SImply, directly, acknowledging my mistake. It puts a damper on the whole argument thing.

THank you used to be hard, too. But, one day I just started saying that really directly, too. Since people have such a hard time saying such a thing, it is so well received.

As to anecdotes about oneself. I always feel like I talk about myself too much. Like I'm some self-absorbed schmuck, when all I was trying to do was sympathize. HOWEVER, I LOVE to hear stories about other people, so I just keep hoping others aren't pisses when they hear so many of mine. (You kinda asked for our experiences on this one, so I don't feel like a jerk for sharing!) But, lately, I'm really trying not to tell about me when folks don't ask.

One thing I've noticed lately with me and exclamation points: I use them when a period is called for and a period when an exclamation point is called for. THis under- and over-statement can be very effective.

I love visiting your site. Always makes me think.