Sunday, May 4, 2008

No more apologies

In my home culture if I say, “I’m sorry” for things that hassle another or for some trouble you are involved with it sounds like I am taking responsibility for the mishap and I’m actually dysfunctional for apologizing.

In this culture it’s very different. One says the equivalent of “I’m sorry” which is “Pole” all the time. It’s just polite. When someone trips or stumbles as they are walking along in from of you, it’s nice to say, pole to them. If a friend explains they lost something; pole. If you come across someone with a lot of work to do you say, pole na kazi. It’s only polite.

I quickly acclimate to this and find that I am saying sorry all the time for things, even in English. I begin to think of it as being polite in any culture. And actually it is a little like saying, “I feel for you.” It’s not really an apology per se.

In Kenyan Swahili it’s fairly normal to use pole for both meanings, I feel for you and more of an excuse me or pardon me or I’m sorry (for bumping into you, etc.) Here in Tanzania, I have learned there is a better word for when you make the mistake as opposed to someone else making it. Samahani. I am fairly certain Kenyans know this word, it’s just easier to say pole for everything.

I was recently admonished by a friend not to apologize anymore when I ask for help with something or cause more work. But I think it’s more like a way to sympathize with the amount of work than say I am sorry for giving it to you. If I was really sorry I don't think I would ask. So I’m not really regretful when I say I am sorry. And don’t feel obligated to forgive me if I haven’t actually apologized.

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