Friday, August 03, 2007

Apology? (paca)

I am currently working on a paper with my co-author about "politeness" theory in social relations with a particular focus on apologies. Almost all of our data is based on her work in Korean; however, we will make several comparisons with other languages, mostly English. So, with that in mind, would you personally apologize in the following situations?

Scene 1: You and your brother work in a large company. Your drunk brother insults your CEO by calling her a "royal bitch" at the company Christmas Party while you are working late in your office. When you learn this the next day,

1) do you apologize to your co-workers for this event?
2) do you apologize to the CEO if you ever see her?
3) do you not apologize but scream at your brother to apologize?
4) your brother quits his job; do you do so as well? If so, why or why not?
5) If you are inclined to apologize, would you bring it up spontaneously, or would you only apologize if the topic came up?
6) If you apologize, why are you apologizing?
7) What if it's a tiny business with only 5 workers instead of a large company?

Scene 2: You hear on the news that an American (OK, so if you are not American, sub in whatever country you are from so that you are citizens of the same country) with mental instability has snuck a weapon into Japan and committed a horrible crime, killing many people in a spree. It's one of the greatest crimes ever to occur in the nation and is traumatic to many. The next week, you run into a Japanese co-worker...

1) Would you think of apologizing for the American and the horrible harm he was responsible for?
2) How about if you were talking to a Japanese friend that you knew very well? A friend of a friend that you are being introduced to?
3) What if the murderer was from your state? From your city? If you were once his boss? If he was your cousin? Brother? Son?
4) Would it make any difference if the murderer was American by ethnicity but was born and lived his entire life in Japan?

Scene 3: You and your fiance(e) of 9 months break up. A couple weeks later, your mother runs into the fiance(e)'s mother at the grocery store. Would you
1) Expect your ex-fiance(e)'s mother to apologize to your mother for the break-up?
2) If there was an apology, is it a severe offense or just a mild one?
3) How about if you are terribly distraught from the break-up? What if you are happy with it yourself, even though you didn't initiate?
4) What if the fiance(e) did it in a cruel fashion - in front of your friends? with abusive language? What if he did it as nicely as such things can be done?
5) If there is an apology, what is it for? What's the offense precisely?

These are all situations that my co-author and I have discussed where I think that the American response would be different than the Korean one. I'd like to know if my guesses on behavior match others.

UPDATE 1: To answer some questions from the comments, I should have defined what an apology is. Makes sense. For these purposes, you don't have to actually say "I apologize". Almost any use of "sorry, apologize, or excuse me" would count. Sometimes people make apologies without those words, too. For instance, "oh! I didn't mean to do that! Are you OK?" could be an apology in the right situation. Generally, something is considered an apology if it 1) occurs with some sort of offense, 2) the person who offers the apology feels some sense of responsibility for the offense, and 3) typically expresses some form of regret. These don't have to be severe. If you yell "sorry!" as you push through a crowd of people to get on a train, that's an apology even if not a terribly heartfelt one. Of course, the perfect definition of "apology" is one of the great debates in people who study apologies.


Sammy Jankis said...

I would not apologize in any of those situations, though I may express personal remorse that the situation should have occurred as it did.

Mamaebeth said...

when you say apologize do you mean actually apologizing or saying "i'm sorry" as a way of expressing condolances?

I wouldn't apologize for any of those situaions, cause, well I have nothing to apologize for. i may say "i'm sorry" as the common way of saying "wow that sucks and this is now kind of awkward as i don't know what else to say" but it would be used in the common, incorrect usage of the phrase.

Mommy to Ander and Wife to Box said...

I'm not big on apologizing, mostly because I try really hard to not do things I'll later be sorry for in the first place. But I'd definitely not apologize in those situations, although I would have voted with teh supervisor and expressed what an idiot my BIL was. :)

writtenwyrdd said...

We Americans don't usually apologize for somebody else's actions, and I wouldn't either. Although sometimes when I travel abroad I have the sense of needing to apologize for our country's ridiculous foreign policies under W.

Ello said...

Hey Pacatrue,

Having one month of break before school starts up again and finishing my manuscript, I have been trolling the blogs and came up to yours. This is a great question that really explores the differences between cultures and I hope you don't mind me adding my opinion as it is an issue that gets to me. The whole issue with the Virginia Tech shooter was tragic, but why did the government of Korea feel compelled to apologize to US citizens? Why did the Korean ambassador publicly apologize and ask that Koreans not lose their status as model citizens? There were alot of articles in the Korean American community debating this issue. Two generations were at odds. The immigrant generation versus the gyopos (younger American generation) stood on two entirely different sides. The elders apologizing and ashamed to have such a mark on their collective nationality. The younger generation feeling bad about the situation, angry that the shooter had to be Korean, and angry at the elders and everyone Korean for going on national tv apologizing for the shame of his being Korean. WTF? They seem to act as a collective unit, the actions of one will completely shame all. This is such an Asian sentiment, not an American one. So they apologize, even when they shouldn't. Sympathy is appropriate, apology here was not.