It’s awkward. It’s painful. It’s often necessary: Apologizing is something we all have to do once in a while. It can be hard enough to do at home but what to do when, (and this really happened to a friend of mine in Argentina) instead of telling your seatmate on the 7-hour bus ride that it is really hot on the bus, you tell her you are seriously turned on? At times like these it helps to know how to ‘fess up quick and change the subject before people move seats to avoid the disturbingly randy foreigner. Here are some ‘fessing up tips for a few key quandries:
You’ve accidentally promised a family member in marriage to an African tribesman: A friend of mine had a jokester of a dad who thought it would be funny to offer her hand in marriage while they were visiting a village in East Africa. All was good until the local family began to make arrangements for the actual union. My friend was horrified. Her dad was never completely forgiven.
Solution: Quickly acknowledge your mistake. Blame it on a terrible misunderstanding (to be fair, it really is) and get out of there. This kind of situational agony is not something you want to prolong at all. Apologize and take off.
You’ve been too blunt and given a British co-worker a little too much of your mind: A secretary had just been rude and dismissive to visiting members of the international press at the organization I worked at just outside London. As the Public Relations officer, I lectured the offender and told her that she could never do that again. She was mad at me for weeks and accused me of being “too American”
Solution: Use foreigner status to your advantage: I completely milked my status as a recent arrival from the US and assured the offended biddy that it would never happen again. She was far less annoyed when she realized that even if I was as rude as any other Yank, I could out-apologize a Brit.
You’ve blown a fuse and slammed a door in an Asian business setting: A Western construction manager friend of mine got so frustrated at a meeting with a subcontractor that he stomped out of the room and slammed the glass door behind him so hard it shattered.
Solution: Get out quick. You’ve already gone too far and everyone has gone into face-saving (preservation of honor/dignity) mode. Inform your boss as you have no doubt lost face for your entire organization. Let the incident pass and sincerely apologize later both in writing and in person.
You have just told a Latin American that their national soccer team sucks: This really happened: In 1969, a four-day war broke out between El Salvador and Honduras. The spark that started it? Rioting that took place during a qualifying round for the 1970 FIFA World Cup. Do not underestimate the power of soccer to piss people off.
Solution: Don’t even bother saying anything. Run like the wind. Do not stop, do not pass “Go”, just get out. Life is more precious than honor. Soccer hooligans are crazy. Deaths from clashes among fans from opposing teams are too common to be taken lightly so if you sense danger, trust your instincts and take off.
A parting thought: Don’t over-apologize. Sincerity is all that is required. People typically have a certain degree of patience with a newbie, so acknowledge your mistake and then move on.