Views / Urban Etiquette


Metro News globe

Urban Etiquette

Ellen Vanstone answers your questions about the annoying behaviours, poor manners and impatient encounters that dot the days of a city dweller.

Urban Etiquette: How do I say 'sorry' if I'm actually not?

Ellen Vanstone schools a reader on the tricky business of apologies.

See more Ani at

Ani Castillo / For Metro

See more Ani at

Dear Ellen,

I had a falling-out with a close friend a while back. Now, according to a mutual friend, she misses me and wants to make up as soon as we “apologize to each other.” Except I did nothing wrong! She’s the one who dropped me because I refused to take her advice about my relationship. Anyway, I don’t mind being her friend again even if she gives bad advice lol. But do I have to make a big fake apology?

Sorry Not Sorry

Dear SNS,

Your friend sounds like a bossy, judgmental person who thinks everyone should do what she says. In other words, I totally relate to her. But I’ve also been in your position, so let’s see what we can do for you today.

Apologies are a tricky business, and a bad apology can make things worse, as various sexual predators are discovering. Harvey Weinstein uncontritely hearkened back to a time when rapey behaviour like his was just part of “the culture then”; Louis C.K. forgot to use the actual words “sorry” or “apologize”; and Matt Lauer put his tendencies to commit premeditated assaults in a locked office down to “troubling flaws” in his character — a self-serving pile of PR fudge that only added insult to injury.

A correct apology is a full-on mea culpa — an unequivocal acknowledgement of guilt — combined with a sincere commitment not to repeat the offence.

As for the “fake” apology that you’re considering, there are occasions when proper etiquette allows, in fact requires, fabricating guilt and contrition in order to save someone else embarrassment or unnecessary pain (“I’m so sorry — I must have sent your invitation to the wrong email address”), or to maintain the peace with someone — like your friend — who can’t always handle the truth.

The important thing if you do apologize is to make it believable. That means you cannot be perfunctory (“Yeah, sorry, whatever, can we move on?”), or passive-aggressive (“I apologize if you felt all the advice you’re constantly forcing on people seemed to fall on deaf ears”) or aggressive (“Okay! I apologize already! Are you satisfied?”).

Even more important is to let go of any resentment that may fester deep inside you, only to later rear its ugly head with disastrous results. I really don’t want to get a letter next year from some lovely, albeit bossy and judgmental woman who’s distraught at finding out her dear friend made a completely insincere apology just to shut her up. 

Need advice? Email Ellen:

More on