CBSN

Sorry

Welcome to Britain, the land of the sorry, the nation of apologists. Recent research has revealed that we Brits say sorry, on average, eight times a day -- and normally in response to SOMEONE ELSE'S mistake. Millions of us say sorry even more than 20 times a day. I'm sorry to say I am one of them.


An anthropologist -- perhaps I should call her an anthro-apologist -- decided to test the theory. She went around crowded spots like shops and railway stations and deliberately bumped into people. Eighty percent of those she assaulted immediately, instinctively, said sorry to her.

When I was in New York recently, one of your famous yellow cab drivers threw me out on the street outside the wrong hotel. 'Sorry', I said, 'but this isn't my hotel.' 'One hundred bucks plus a tip', he grunted. 'Sorry', I replied, 'I am not sure I should give you a tip for taking me to the wrong hotel'. But why should I be sorry? Am I really sorry? Of course I am not. I am angry, but all that comes out is: 'sorry'. Sorry but this food is cold, sorry but you have short changed me, sorry but you are standing on my foot.

Our noble researcher then flew around the world to try bumping into foreign people, and none of them responded like we Brits. The only people who came close were in Japan -- and the trouble there was that the rather nimble Japanese tended to dodge out the way as she tried to crash into them, thus ruining the experiment.

So the lesson you must learn before any trip to our shores is this: when an English man or woman says sorry, it is no more than an automatic reflex. It was drummed into our heads at home and at school. It is there for decoration. It is part of a habit we call being polite, but we don't really mean it -- I am sorry to say. This is Peter Allen for CBS News in London.