Frenchitude Lesson #59: Don’t Say You’re Sorry When You’re Not

I was brought up to be a polite person in what must be one of the most polite societies in earth.

Growing up, when someone was rude to me, my instinct was to apologize before even taking the time to consider if, in fact, I had actually done anything worth apologizing for in the first place. Like many of my fellow Canucks, saying “I’m sorry” was a matter of form rather than content.

My five years in France forced me to reevaluate the virtues of what I now term “reflexive apologizing”.

Most of this reevaluating took place in the parking lot of my girls’ school in Beaune.

Although known as “Saint Coeur” there was nothing Christian-spirited about the goings on in that parking lot. Fender benders were routine, fists were shaken, heated words were exchanged, and on one occasion, I witnessed a tire iron being menacingly removed from a trunk (and not to change a tire, needless to say).

I quickly discovered that if I got in an altercation – which happened pretty much every day – and actually APOLOGIZED I was would not find an easy way out of the conflict. Rather, I was instantly viewed as an injured prey and castigated with twice the vitriol.

So over that first year in Beaune I did what us humans are programmed to do; I adapted.

I observed in the Saint Coeur parking lot that the French would hurl accusations at each other until they realized that they had met their match. Then they would get bored and get back in their car and drive away.

As Franck always says, “In France, the best defense is offense.” Never apologize, because that means you are fair game.

Back here in Canada I took Camille to her first concert on Monday night. It was ABBAMANIA, an ABBA cover band who was playing at Victoria’s MacPherson Theatre. Camille and I got all decked up in ABBA costumes and, along with Camille’s friend Caitlin and her mom Nora, set out ready to sing and dance and have an ABBAlicious good time.

I had forgotten, however, that this was Victoria.

Nora and I almost keeled over when we arrived at the theatre and saw that; a) we were the only ones dressed up in THE ENTIRE AUDIENCE and b) the average age of the audience was about 90.

But as I said to Nora, the four of us would just have to be our own party. So at the end of the first set when the performers urged the (stodgy) audience to stand up and dance, hell, WE STOOD UP AND DANCED.

When we came back into the theatre after the intermission a constipated elderly man beckoned us over to complain that he couldn’t see when we had stood up and danced, so could we please stay seated for the rest of the concert?

My first (Canadian) reflex would have been to apologize and to do the polite thing, albeit resentfully, and to stay seated. My Frenchitude, however, kicked in and I went back over and said to him, “I paid for a ticket too, and when the performers ask the audience to get up and dance, we will be getting up and dancing.” No apologies.

“But we can’t see over you!” he whinged.

“That’s not my problem,” I said. “Feel free to go and ask the ushers what the theatre’s policy is, but you know what I would do if I were you?”

“What?”

“Get up and dance.”

And I felt 100% better than if I had reflexively apologized for something I wasn’t, in fact, sorry for at all. And the four of us were indeed Dancing Queens.

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