(Not) saying ‘sorry’ in German

British people are well known for over-apologising. We’re “sorry” for asking a favour, “sorry” for being late (even if we had no intention of turning up on time), “sorry” when we want to ask someone a question, and even “sorry” if someone else bumps into us. For people of British culture, “sorry” is not just an apology, it’s an acknowledgement of inconvenience, whether it was caused by us or not.

I also often hear “sorry” used by English native speakers from South Africa, Australia and the US. It seems we just can’t help ourselves!

So what has this got to do with German? I mean, I’m not writing this post because “sorry” is never used in the German language…

As well as “Es tut mir Leid” (sorry) or “Entschuldigung” (excuse me!/ sorry!), Germans also use the English “sorry.” Perhaps because it’s shorter and this gets the apology over and done with as quickly as possible?

…but rather because it’s used in a completely different way, and by that, I mean a lot less frequently.

Is this because Germans are more true to their word? Or maybe they just don’t care? Whatever the reason, after several years of living in Germany, I still find myself feeling surprised by the lack of “sorrys” I hear.

To be fair, there’s no doubt that I over-use “sorry” (I am from London after all), but I am definitely not a culprit apologiser. In fact, I am often the one telling my friends not to say “sorry” when they clearly don’t owe anyone an apology. A few people have even said that I am quite German in ways, but based on this blog post, not when it comes to apologising.

I’ve sometimes felt the need to repeat my sentence when speaking to someone German. I guess I felt they’d eventually add the apology they forgot to say the first time round! But who was I kidding? The apology wasn’t forgotten, it was never coming in the first place. But as someone who comes from a place where one in eight people apologise up to 20 times a day, this is a cultural hurdle I’m still tripping over.

But hey, I doubt that German people will start adding the extra “es tut mir Leid” just for my sake, and to be honest, why should they? Nonetheless, a happy medium would be great. I guess there are some cultural aspects we just have to accept when we move abroad. And for that my international friends, I really am sorry!

4 thoughts on “(Not) saying ‘sorry’ in German

Add yours

  1. Just found your blog and it’s such a comfort to read this. My husband and I just moved here from the United States and we are really struggling with this. We come from a southern state where people are almost overly warm and welcoming so, comparatively, Germans come across as cold. I constantly struggle with determining if someone is mad or upset or just being normal. I’ve been told not to smile at people in public and not to try to make small talk. Anyway, so happy to have found your blog and glad I’m not the only one finding this difficult! Cheers 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Samantha, thanks for reading 🙂
      It can be difficult, can’t it! I think it’s fine to smile at people in public, a bit of friendliness never hurt anyone- I sometimes smile at people, and people are generally quite friendly. Germans don’t normally do small talk, but I think that’s a cultural thing that you eventually learn to adapt to! And once you make friends with people, it’s quite genuine rather than constantly trying to work out what people really mean.
      All the best!
      Alisa 🙂


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