Friday, January 6, 2012

10 Ways to apologize without saying I’m sorry

While I haven't given a great deal of thought to the Indian ideal of not saying "please," "thank you," or "I'm sorry" to close friends and family the idea does somewhat intrigue me. I have definitely had to say my fair share of all three of these over the last year of living here but there are times I also felt uncomfortable saying them. Not the same kind of uncomfortable that you feel when you really screw up and you know you have to say you're sorry but you don't want to. I'm talking about a new kind of uncomfortable like it's not necessary to even say it because the other party doesn't expect it. That's very new to me as an American. In the US if you make the mistake, you are expected to say you're sorry and mean it.

The whole point in saying you're sorry is to dissolve the anger or hurt that you have caused and words aren't always needed to do that anyway. So in finding a happy medium I've come up with a few ways to say you're sorry without using the actual words. That way, no matter what the situation, you can make amends without offending anyone's culture or ideals. You probably already do most of these so it shouldn't be difficult at all to work them in at a time you need a little extra help making someone happy.

  1. Flowers - these are almost a standard American past time among men. Many movies and TV shows depict men sending or bringing flowers as a way of saying I'm sorry and I think it's a great way to do something positive to make the person you upset feel better - whether you're a woman or a man. It's hard not to smile when you see flowers, they are just beautiful. You can send them as plants or fresh cut but either way they are a nice gesture just to let someone know you still care even if you do sometimes make mistakes. 
  2. Gifts - these can be small but whatever it is should be very personal. Think about the person you need to say sorry to and purchase something small that will bring a smile to their face. You may not need to purchase anything at all. Maybe that old sweatshirt of yours that they love so much would be just the thing to make them feel better. Give it to them and watch them smile and know you you're sorry without you ever uttering a word. 
  3. Bring home dinner - this is by far the best way to apologize for many small things. Maybe it's not your fault but your wife is having a rotten day. You bring home dinner as a way of saying you're sorry she's feeling so bad and she'll be able to relax and let the feelings go. Maybe you're late coming home already. Bringing dinner is a nice gesture to show her you are sorry and that you appreciate how hard she works to prepare dinner on a normal night and since you weren't there you didn't want her to go through all that trouble so you took the task into your own hands. She will appreciate it and this makes a huge impact on her entire day. 
  4. Do something silly - Okay so maybe you're no Jeff Dunham or Russell Peters but you can do something to make yourself look stupid or to get a laugh out of the person you offended. Maybe put your shirt on backwards or wear a costume and dance. Put on a ridiculous hat. Laughter is the best medicine and if you do something stupid enough they won't be able to resist or stay upset for long. 
  5. Create a surprise - This could be many things and you have to know the person well enough to do it. One example would be to run a bubble bath for your wife with candles lit around the tub and her favorite songs on an iPod playlist. Then show her what you set up and tell her you will guard the door so no one bothers her for an hour and she can relax. Maybe for another relative it would be to plan a little surprise party for them and invite their friends and other family. A walk in the park where a long lost friend is waiting could also be a good surprise to help ease the tension between you.
  6. Be selfless - Brush her hair for her or turn up the heat in the house. Fix her a bowl of ice cream or get a soda from the fridge. Do some little thing you know she would enjoy without her asking you to do it. This will even work if it's not something directly related to her. Maybe you know you didn't have time to mow the grass the other day and it's starting to look bad and that bothers her. So go mow the grass. She will appreciate you did it, even if it was your normal weekly chore.
  7. Leave a note - How could anyone argue with a post it note on the bathroom mirror that says "I love you" or "You're the greatest ____ in the world" when they find it? Little gestures like these go a long way and since you're not in the room they can express their true emotions over the note without feeling like they have given in to you. They may want to stay mad but seeing a little note like that will make it hard for them. 
  8. Fix it - If whatever you did caused something or a relationship to be broken then fix it. If the item is replaceable and not easily fixed then try to replace it. Maybe you ruined his favorite shirt in the wash or turned his underwear pink. Go out and purchase a new one. If you made his friend angry with him then call the friend and try to mend the relationship. Then just wait. He will find out you fixed it and know you were sorry. 
  9. Full body massage - I don't know anyone who would refuse that and let's face it, it's pretty difficult to be upset or angry when you are so relaxed after a good massage. Even if you only give a neck massage or head massage the person is very likely to forgive you for whatever you have done without you saying 'I'm sorry.' If you don't have the skills for a massage then take them to the massage parlor or the massage chairs at your local mall. Massages are probably one of the most commonly available services world wide.
  10. Get creative - Using technology there is really no limit to the ways you can apologize these days. You could take a picture of yourself looking sad and remorseful and make it their desktop background on their computer. Fall down on your knees in front of them and clasp your hands together like you're begging and give them your best "puppy dog" face. If you have to, say something like "don't hurt me" in a joking tone of voice. You can have fun being creative and making their mood change at the same time.


  1. close friends and family are a different thing but explicitly saying please/thanks is somewhat alien to indian languages because  the verb endings incorporate the request/respectful way of saying it.

    English has no difference in verb endings while addressing to someone of different gender/age/status/relationship so it must incorporate an explicit mention of please or thanks

    same goes for addressing a person ... everybody is "you" in english. In almost all Indian languages there are three ways to address somebody

    In hindi it is as follows -

    Aap - the most polite/courteous way
    Tum - the courteous way to address someone younger
    Tu - the informal "you". to be used only for close friends or (strangely) God. many people (including me) address their Mom with "tu" but rarely their Dad. if used for strangers, can lead to raised tempers.

    similar sounding words are in all north India languages. South Indian languages have the same concept but words sound different.

  2. Interesting. I had learned a little of the gender and formality differences in Punjabi I just never had someone tell me the way you just did. It makes a little more sense now. This isn't just a cultural difference but some of the undertones are already worked into the language. I learn something new every day.

  3. you ten points (now that's a round number !) are not totally culture specific, but incorporate your preferences/predilections/desires. You are not just saying that those who wrong someone should try to do one of those, but those who wrong "you" should really try to understand that one (or more) of the things you listed makes you happy as a way of showing contrition.

    see in this light, it looks more like gender specific than culture specific. most women I know would have more or less the above preferences, Indian or American. some of them may be modulated by the Indian condition/upbringing/affordability.

    almost anybody would be able to tell you what these modulation could be. let me try my hand for whatever it is worth -

    1. flowers are either very expensive or free in India. in either case, they do not serve the same exact purpose of contrition, but can be useful. plus, flowers have an additional religious significance in India, not a totally romantic association as in US. so not the best contrition display tool. chocolates/sweets are more likely than flowers to come from an Indian hand/mind.

    2. Gifts -- yes of course

    3. the equivalent of bringing home dinner is to prepare a good tea/snacks/drinks/etc. men generally are likely to make very lousy Indian dinner so no point trying. they are more likely to help their wives out while making dinner after she is satisfied with his tea/snacks.

    4. 5. 6 7 8 are unchanged

    9. i have to say this explicitly that this is the first thing someone would do. hugs/kisses are included too.

    10. is the rounding off extra point.

    Now the men's perspective -

    here there is only one point. 

    1. to 10. --- no man can stand tears in his woman's eye ... so that is what all women do and the man ends up saying sorry instead of the woman, no matter who offended whom in the first place.

  4. Lol...busted! Yes, this was gender biased...I tried not to be but couldn't help it. Though I must say my Indian man was the first and only man to ever bring me flowers. The list actually isn't all about me and my preferences either. Rohit and I cook together quite frequently but I do take great pleasure in him bringing home dinner when I'm not feeling well. It brings me peace knowing that is one less thing for me to worry about. He doesn't have to fix me a meal - which he does from time to time - to make me happy. As for number 9 I'm a lil jealous. I don't get enough massages. Hmph! Since you say it's the first thing maybe I should start inquiring as to why lol. Just kidding.

    Lol on our man points as well. I do my best to not be that kind of woman. I don't encourage Rohit to blindly say sorry because I think if it's my fault I should own up to it. Healthier marriages are built when you can both be honest about what you did wrong and then move on. Otherwise we might make the same mistakes again. Of course, that's almost essential for an intercultural relationship because something may offend me that doesn't offend him and I know I've offended him with things I thought were common and no big deal. I do reserve the tears for really big deals where I can't hide them. Of course, Rohit is wise lol. He caught onto all of my tricks and we usually have a good laugh when I try to fake something for effect. Then he goes and gets me the candy or acts silly with me and it all works out.

  5. this is all very sweet! It gave me some 7 but I don't think I would only use it when I'm sorry.. 

  6. men massage for one more purpose - to get sex. try to hold back tonight or fake some mild tiredness / turn you back in a way which signals half willingness for sex ... and you will get what you want, but he must get the clue. if not, indicate mildly ... after that you dont necessarily have to go all the way. massaging itself is much fun and he will be happy to do it even without sex. 

    OK, here  i revealed one thing about men (not that you didn't know) ... men think about sex all the time ... ALL the damn time. in case i didn't get my message across -- totally ALL the time. ... and that is the biggest upper hand women have over men.

    on a different note, it is great fun to make up when the woman have become upset for some reason (the reason better not be serious). so even if there is only 1 point in my list and 10 on the other side, i wouldn't have it any other way ... seriously.

  7. Lol...I had no idea. (imagine me shyly batting my eyelashes and blushing hahaha).

  8. i totally agree that saying sorry is a way to dissolve anger sort of to admit mistake made and it does make me let go of whatever i was holding on and move on thus when this no "thank you" no "I'm sorry" needed came along i totally lost it because we were taught that these were "manners". Maybe i should try some of the above since my new year resolution include no saying "thank you" and no "sorry" :)

  9. That's a good resolution. I think you can make it. There are so many ways to say you're sorry without using words. As already mentioned in the comments, hugs are great. Making funny faces, or I'm a big fan of putting your hands in your pockets and drooping your head so you look at the floor like a little kid who did something wrong. That cracks me up every time.