Apology Not Accepted

I’ve previously ranted about the changing landscape of good manners and how common polite phrases are little more than a curtain of words that people haphazardly drape over their actions.

To me, there is no bigger offender in the world of etiquette than ‘sorry’. When used properly, it is an expression of contrition, an acknowledgement of wrongdoing or error with an unspoken promise of making amends in the future. Or at the least, a promise to consciously avoid the same error again.

More commonly though, it’s used as a form of self-absolution. As if the mere act of apologizing carries forgiveness within itself. At its very worst, it’s nothing more than a word casually tossed around like a football in a backyard, carrying no weight or meaning.

It’s seen in many forms and masked in various ways to give the appearance of apology while being anything but. A favorite of mine is ‘sorry if you were hurt/offended’. Wait, what? You’re sorry about the fact that I felt hurt, essentially slipping the blame into my pocket while nobody’s looking. You may as well be sorry that I display human emotion.

Another one commonly used by celebrities: ‘I’m sorry I let my fans down’. How about being sorry for the actual thing you did to let them down? You’re not being asked to apologize for getting a B+ instead of an A-. That would be letting your fans down. Really, you’re apologizing for getting caught.

There’s also the meaningless ‘Sorry for the Inconvenience’ whenever there’s a broken elevator or a closed road. Who’s sorry? And how are they sorry? You’re still being inconvenienced. Does a sign saying ‘sorry’ really help? If someone was blocking your way, told you to take a different route and followed it up with ‘sorry for the inconvenience’, would you take their apology to heart?

And of course, who hasn’t been involved in a debate that involved the phrase ‘I’m sorry, but…’? If you follow up an apology with an offense, it’s not really an apology, is it? May as well just say what you want to say instead of cloaking it in false politeness.

I’m really at the point where it gets under my skin whenever I hear someone say sorry, unless it really comes across as genuine. An apology isn’t forgiveness. It’s not reparation. At its core, it’s nothing. Your own attitude and actions are what give it meaning. If you’re truly sorry about something, you might not need to say anything at all.

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Just Browsing

I like going to electronics stores, because I enjoy looking for new gadgets and possible accessories and add-ons for my existing gadgets. It’s also a one-stop shop for movies, games and the like.

The problem with most electronics stores here is the high density of salespeople in the store. I cannot walk around without a minimum of 5 sales assistants popping up to say hello. Some of them, thankfully, chirp a cheerful greeting and then leave me to do my thing. Others go on to ask if I need help with anything, and the rare few take note of what product I’m looking at and start spouting their spiel about that product, or others like it. Usually, it’s just something my eyes happened to be focused on at that particular time, and not something I was even considering for purchase. So I’m left with two options. I can either listen to them drone on, thank them for their assistance, and then try to get out of their line of sight as quickly as possible. Or I can attempt to shut them down altogether, which is sometimes tricky to do without getting rude about it.

Once, I was looking at some sort of digital pen at the end of an aisle without realizing the sales rep for that device was lurking just around the corner. He launched into an extensive sales demo, talking about the various features of the pen and the special notebook that came with it. I got sucked into that vortex and couldn’t get out. So I had to put on an elaborate show of considering different aspects of the pen before thanking the sales rep and telling him that I’d consider it for next time.

For the most part, though, I only have to deal with the ‘helpers’, who can be shooed off with the simple phrase ‘just browsing’. Of course, there was the one guy who asked if I needed help finding anything and, on being told that I was just browsing, responded, “Well, surely you’re looking for something specific?” No, dude. I’m really not. But thanks for the help. Maybe dial it down a notch next time. I’d just like to look at stuff in peace. And if I need help, well, obviously there’s no shortage of people to flag down.

Why do I need to be greeted by two separate people in the DVD section? Good thing they don’t have a sales assistant per genre. If I’m looking to buy something, I usually do my research online, then go to the store to pick up exactly what I need/want, and leave. If I’m hanging around and examining stuff, that usually means I’m not going to buy anything. I’m just browsing. So stop pestering me.

Just Say No

Why won’t people take no for an answer? I don’t get it.

Whenever someone offers me something or makes some sort of suggestion that I’m not interested in, it’s never enough for me to say no. I either fall into a Q & A session about the reasons behind my refusal or people become more insistent that I should follow the suggestions anyway.

How about I said no to something because I just wasn’t interested in it? It’s not something that I wanted to do, and I couldn’t be bothered to expend the time or energy needed to do it. That’s all. If I refuse an idea you present to me, that doesn’t affect my opinion of you as a person, nor does it necessarily reflect on the integrity of the idea itself. It’s just not something I’m interested in.

Like when being offered food, for example. I find that some people just can’t let it go when you turn down an offer for food. Saying ‘I’m not hungry’, or even just a simple ‘no, thank you’ just doesn’t cut it. Either you have to eat the food, because it’s food, or there must be some good reason you’re not eating it. Do you not like it? Are you allergic? Are you on a diet? You’re probably on a diet. From now on, you’ll be known as the ‘health freak’. Because, come on, nobody turns down food just because they don’t want to eat it at that particular time. That’s crazy talk.

It’s exhausting, because there are times when I really don’t want to do anything except just sit down with a good book or spend a little time with my thoughts. If someone asks me if I want to go grab dinner or go watch a movie, I might say no. Just because. That doesn’t mean we can never have dinner together or watch a movie. It simply means I’m not interested on that day or at that time. But I have to justify it somehow, because simply declining won’t do me any good. There has to be a compelling reason for my refusal, otherwise I’ll just have to go out in order to not seem like an ass. And who knows, maybe, just maybe, I’ll end up enjoying it. Or maybe I won’t. That’s besides the point.

The point is, I shouldn’t have to go somewhere or do something (or, dammit, eat some random snack) if I don’t want to.

Just say no. Isn’t that enough?

Want My Advice?

You’ve got a problem of some sort? Oh, I know what to do. Just fix it! See? Problem solved!

There are advisors lurking everywhere, just waiting for you to present them an issue they can deliver their opinion on. Are you trying to lose weight? They have the perfect diet plan or fitness regimen to suggest. Looking to buy a house? Their thoughts on real estate are boundless. Unlucky in love? They’ll not only give you relationship advice, but also happily remind you that you’re getting on in years and should settle down soon!

Usually, they skulk around among the distant relatives, the aunts and uncles you only see on special occasions. But they can also take the guise of co-workers or friends of friends. Everyone of them has the keys to a happy life and they’ll gladly hand them to you if you’ll just listen. Like one of my colleagues, or even some colleagues from my previous job. They’ve got very strong opinions on marriage and when people should get married. I’m apparently getting over the hill and should settle down fast. The countdown’s begun, people! One of my former colleagues looked at me like I had antlers sprouting from my nostrils when I suggested that I might not get married till I’m 40. The idea was incomprehensible to him.

I should point out that both of those colleagues are Indian, and marriage is a pretty big deal in Indian culture. It’s basically the ultimate achievement of any young person’s life. If you’re not working hard and raising a family, then what the hell are you doing? Well, I’m writing, reading, drawing and playing video games. Oops.

Also, women should get married before 30. Yep. So says my advisor. It doesn’t apply to men, though. Only women.

I have also been advised, by many people, to take a cab whenever I need to get around, even a short distance. Why would I want to walk anywhere? That’d just be crazy. Never mind that I like walking, and generally prefer it to vehicular travel. But in the Dubai heat? No, no. Take a cab. Even though I’ve grown up here and learned to work around the heat. Apparently everyone else knows better.

Financial planning, career management, even breathing (probably). Any random person around you will have most informed perspective on the matter. Should you even mention the subject in passing, they’ll be all too eager to shower you with advice.

So there you go. If you’re looking to fix your life, just ask the guy next to you. He knows best. And will also probably tell you something dismissive about women because man, some people are just awful.

Ins and Outs

Doors. They open and close, swinging on rusting hinges. If you’re a gentleman, you’ll hold the door open for a lady, or for anyone that might be following you into the doorway. Slamming it shut is a sign of rudeness or anger or both. They’re really quite a pain in the ass.

Why can’t we have the sliding doors from Star Trek? We’ve got them on trains and in department stores, so why not switch to that as the default for all homes and offices too? It would make life so much easier. No more worries abut door slamming, no need to worry about leaving the door unlocked or anything. And especially no worries about accidentally opening the door into someone’s face.

Like the other day, when I clobbered an elderly gentleman. In our office bathroom, the door opens inward and is adjacent to the sinks, which means if you’re washing your hands in the sink closest to the door, you’re in danger. One fine day, I walked into the bathroom, pushing the door open and promptly slamming it into the poor man who was just trying to clean his hands without running the risk of death. If it were a sliding door, the whole scenario would have played out without any bodily harm. Why, door? Why must you be built like that?

It’s bizarre that the only way we can enter or exit a room is by swinging a heavy rectangular slab that can potentially move right into someone walking toward it. Or worse, someone standing by it, minding their own business. Just what is the statistic on door-related deaths, anyway?

Now I know it’s impossible to ask that every door in every building across the world be turned into a sliding door. That’s a ridiculous expectation. But as we create the buildings of tomorrow, let’s look to the future of the past in Star Trek, and consider a means of entering a room that doesn’t involve a hinged battering ram.

Don’t Call Me And I Won’t Call You

I really hate talking on the phone. It might just be my least favorite form of communication.

The whole idea of talking without engaging my other senses in the conversation drives me crazy. You’re fully there with a person when talking face to face (unless you just text while the other person’s talking to you and respond with the occasional ‘uh-huh’, in which case, please walk into a tree while gawping at the screen), and even instant messaging or texting requires some sort of active engagement.

But a phone call? It’s just your voice. You could be washing the dishes or cooking dinner while on the phone, and personally I’d rather just do that than have the distraction of someone yapping in my ear at the same time. The other option is to forget about other distractions and have a phone call. That’s a nightmare. To just sit down and talk and talk and do nothing else. Again, that’s not really a problem when the person’s sitting right in front of you. But I have no interest in spending hours, or minutes even, with a disembodied voice on the phone.

It’s why I always try to keep my calls as short as possible. Hello, how’s it going, the point of the call, goodbye. I don’t want to hear about how your day’s been or how that guy you saw in the grocery store kind of looked like Asian George Clooney. Save that for when we see each other, or just text me about it.

My favorite kind of phone call? Ordering takeout. It’s so simple. You call the restaurant, they take your order and you’re done. No additional conversation, no meandering monologues. Conduct your business, then put the phone down and move on.

I wish it were always so simple.

Uncommunication

I still find myself baffled by the ins and outs of communicating with people sometimes. I’m not sure if it’s just me, or if nobody in the world really understands how conversations should work.

For me, a conversation is simple: it starts off with a greeting, then there is discussion on a specific topic or whatever random ideas come up, and then an ending. Either a formal goodbye or some acknowledgement that the conversation is over. Not so for everyone else, it seems. At least not here.

I have encountered, far more often than I’d like, people who ask me a question, then immediately turn their attention to something else as I’m answering them. It’s all the more frustrating when they decide they’d rather text or check their email than listen to the response that they prompted in the first place. If it’s important, a short ‘Excuse me’ wouldn’t hurt. It’s also why I’m not a fan of personal questions unless the other person seems genuinely interested. I’m not going to tell you about me or my past if you can’t be bothered to pay attention. And don’t even get me started on electronic communication (mainly because I’m going to get started on it myself).

First, we have email. I always start off my emails with ‘Dear …” and end with whatever the appropriate sign off is; my default is ‘Best Regards’. In recent years, I’ve dropped those formalities when emailing close friends and well-known acquaintances, sticking only to the conversation itself. For professional emails though, I still maintain full decorum. But not everyone else does. I often receive emails that just launch right into a discussion, without a greeting to start off. It never feels right.

Even more baffling is the world of texting and instant messaging, where I often find myself involved in a conversation that’s not a priority for the person on the other end. Sometimes messages go unanswered, or a reply comes in two hours later, attempting to ‘seamlessly’ pick up the conversation where it left off. That’s not how I talk to people in real life. Why does that change just because we’re not face to face?

Maybe the world communicates on a different level than I do, or I demand too much engagement from people. Though really, is it too much to ask for a decent conversation where both parties are listening and talking to each other?