Ohp, Sorry: Why We Say Sorry So Much

Ohp, sorry – were you reading this? Sorry, I was busy writing it. People around the globe have numerous negative perceptions of Americans. Too fat, too rich, too imperialistic, too obsessed with padded, helmet-clad footballers. One thing the world – and especially rude Europeans – will admit is that Americans are polite. We’ve retained some element of please and thank you ma’am, opening the door for ladies, tipping your waitress server, and apologizing in advance via email for any little thing that may or may not occur which may possibly offend you or one of your loved ones in any conceivable way*.

*This paragraph is the opinion of its writer, and not necessarily that of said writer’s employer, city of employment, state of residence, degree-granting university, Facebook friends, fantasy football league commissioner, favorite watering hole bar tender, or any other living member of societies past, present, or future.

The strangest way this politeness manifests is in the overuse of the word “sorry”. Tune yourself into this phenomenon, and you’ll be amazed how frequently and for what such inoffensive and unobtrusive interactions people will audibly apologize.

Take the simple act of people walking, from point A to point B. Point A could be “hallway outside bathroom” and point B could be “in bathroom”. If someone opens the door from point A and another person happens to be coming through the very same door from point B, one or both of those people will say “sorry” and step far to the side, signaling their great shame for having interrupted the other’s run for the border.

Or let’s say point A is the lobby outside an elevator, and more than one person is trying to get to point B: inside the elevator. When those doors slide open, whichever person takes a step forward first will undoubtedly say “sorry” to the other, hesitate, and then create that awkward decision moment where nobody moves and everyone already in the elevator immediately hates both people for being unnecessarily polite. (The elevator is filled with Europeans, clearly.)

Sometimes “sorry” comes out in even less appropriate times, like when someone is about to deliver any measure of clarification, criticism, or request. This often happens in business settings, where it is absolutely necessary and not burdensome whatsoever to clarify, criticize, or request things. The beauty of this “sorry” is that it happens before the person actually says or does anything at all. Apologizing in advance, like in emails! They step forward or use a hand motion to alert you of their sudden mortification: “Sorry, I was just thinking…” or “Sorry, ummm, could you just send that to me in an email so I don’t forget…” Yes, we will do that for you, but only because you displayed such public regret.

“Sorry” doesn’t always emerge alone, though. In fact, many times it’s preceded by a strange grunt – something between an “oops” and an “um” – when someone is surprised and apologetic. It comes out sort of like an “ohp”. Imagine Ted, hurrying down the parking garage stairs less than fully alert, thanks to a recent text from his wife (“hurry home, da buns are n da oven LOL!!!”). He makes the turn and BAM, Janelle is right there heading back up the stairs because she left her laptop on and in the dock with Hugh Jackman’s GQ photo slideshow up.
Ted: “Ohp! Sorry.”
Janelle: “No, sorry. Left my travel mug, heh-heh.”
Ted: “Sorry.”

So, sorry for bringing this to your attention. It may slightly bother – no, sorry – annoy the crap out of you from now on. We don’t say it because we’re actually regretful or remorseful. We’re just so intensely afraid of having any potentially awkward moment of minor confrontation with people going about their everyday business.

I say: let’s embrace it! Next time you’re using the break room microwave and there’s 4:23 left and someone comes in with a Stouffer’s dinner-for-one and that ravenous look in their eyes, don’t say sorry. Don’t even say something like “Ohp, just a few more minutes.” Just stand and stare directly at them with a half-smile until they flinch, then say “Oh, did you need to use the microwave?” And when they say, “Uh, yeah, but I can wait,” just say back to them, “Yeah. You will wait because there’s now 3:08 left, and that’s the way microwaves work.”

That way, the next time they come storming into the break room with a dish of leftover chili and a half-sleeve of saltines, they’ll see you, stop, say “Ohp, sorry,” and they’ll just walk away. No confrontation, apology accepted.


3 Steps to Pretty Good Success: My 33rd Year

As I kick off another year of existence (yaaaay), it’s time to reflect upon the milestones scattered along the meandering trail of life. Year 33 alone was a microcosm of what could be 78 or even 104 weeks of life-change, from which I will share the elusive secrets to moderate happiness and success. It’s every middle child’s dream!

1. Get yourself a baby.

This one was harder than it sounds, for many reasons. The serious reasons aren’t appropriate for this column, but the silly ones are invaluable. First, learn to measure everything in weeks, like people do with baby ages. “Fourteen weeks” is not only more specific, but much more impressive sounding than “just over three months”. Apply this methodology to other big decisions, like home buying: “Hey honey, instead of a one-thousand five-hundred sixty week loan, we qualified for the same rate to which we’ll be beholden for only one-thousand forty weeks. Isn’t that horrifying?”

Babies add another neat element to life: food testing. Get a baby, and you’ll feel totally comfortable touching, smelling, and testing for heat any food-like substance someone might put in front of you. Dirty green mash? Let me check that out, Mmmm-Mmmm! And that’s the other half of the fun: pretending it’s delicious! So next time your mother-in-law is super stoked for you to try the organic hybrid plum-pricots from her very own garden, you’ll know just how to fake it. Remember, cut it up into tiny pieces first and say to yourself, “it’s nummies for your tummy, yaaaay”.

Finally, enjoy the new free time you’ll have when you get that baby. I bet you didn’t know how much more productive you could be if you used all 24 hours of the day. It helps if you write down a schedule: 11:30pm – check your email after almost drifting off; 12:42am – brush your teeth again, this time with an electric toothbrush to drown out the noise; 2:18am – wonder if you could change a diaper in complete darkness, just so your eyes don’t have to adjust; 4:55am – update Facebook status to “Please God, why?!”; 5:08am – read the 23 comments from your other parent friends. Strangely, not one of your non-parent friends “Liked” this update. Probably because they were sleeping.

2. Get yourself a (new) job.

Nothing brings to light your life path like switching jobs. New strangers, new coffee machines, new parking space hierarchy, new 400-page tree-killing benefit packets that you never open because it’s all online… Job transitions are soothing to the soul. Day 1: “Hey – you have Microsoft Outlook. I know something about that!” Lucky you, because you have already learned how you’ll spend 83% of your time. The rest will be comprised of 14% meetings and 3% updating Facebook status to “OMG this week is draaaggging!!!”.

My favorite part of new jobs is meeting all the new people with all their roles and expertise and advice. “That bi-weekly mandatory meeting on results? Avoid it.” Since I’m in marketing, I get the added value of technical jargon – KPI’s, ROI, CPC, CPM, SEO, creative “briefs” – and countless speculation about “our social media strategy”, which may or may not exist. (That new branding initiative? Tweet it out, yo.) It only took me 47 weeks to remember which manager was under which director in which division, and which cost center to bill for “services rendered”. Fortunately, Jane or Diane or Patsy in accounting will help you out with that, if you can find her.

Let’s face it, the longer you’ve been at a job, the more bored you are with your colleagues. Unless, of course, you work for a high-turnover company, in which case you might want to find out why you’re the only one sticking around. Trust me; it’s your lunchtime salmon and hard-boiled eggs habit. And those are just the gateway foods to leftover “____ curry”. Get some help. And get yourself a new job.

3. Get yourself in shape.

America has an obsession with two things: food, and commercials about getting rock hard abs. If only the commercials were a real personal trainer with mind control powers! Instead, we are forced to fend for ourselves in the quest for fitness. This past year, I turned to the time-tested, painfully mundane sport of running for…sport. Just me and the road and my iPod and blisters on that middle toe that’s actually longer than my big toe.

I tricked myself into this endeavor by signing up for 5K races throughout the spring and summer. Signing up means paying money, and nothing provides genuine motivation more than a little skin in the game. Try this yourself. If your fitness goal is to lose 10 pounds, sign up for the new “Minus 10lbsK” events, sponsored by Benefiber and Jan’s Full-Body Haircuts. Each event comes with race bib, and commemorative extra pair of shorts made of the latest moisture absorbing material. If you don’t lose 10 lbs, you’ll be ill enough (and ashamed enough) to never leave your bedroom/bathroom until you’ve achieved your goal. It’s motivation like this that turns couch potatoes into limping, energy-sapped workout zombies. Very nice!

If my 33rd year taught me anything, it’s that…uh, actually, it’s just those three things. I need to get myself some better life lessons.


What's The StepDude blog all about?

Greetings, friends! I'm four (<--) words in and already my knuckles are creaking. While writing is a passion of mine, blogging has been an "I'll get to it later" task for about a year. Not coincidentally, it's been as full a year as I've had. We welcomed Oliver into the world last October 14, one month after I started a new job in the healthcare staffing industry. I went from marketing cookies to healthcare professionals. In a neat moment of irony, the anesthesiologist in the operating room gave me a cookie to help my blood sugar return to normal after I nearly passed out during the C-section. Recall - if you know anything about childbirth (or are over the age of 4) - that the father neither carries nor delivers the child. And yet I almost fainted, all while my wife - who was the actual surgery patient at the time - was telling me to hang in there and everything would be fine. Such is my constitution for all things hospitally and snippy and suctiony and birthy. My son's first sights and thoughts out of the womb: 
Bright lights!
Somebody's hands - must be the doctor.
Where are they taking me?
Oh great, my Dad's a shivering wuss. Won't make it through a diaper change, I bet.

And he was right! The first diaper change was a disaster. (How does the poopy get on his heels?)

So The StepDude is named such because initially I was considering a blog about raising step-children; which were the only children I had a few years ago. But I still like the name and it's memorable and I had the URL, so there. I moved all my old posts here too, for simplicity. I find that the older I get, the less things I want to keep track of. Life, unfortunately, has a way of making that an uphill battle; from children to job responsibilities to usernames and passwords to friends' children (Oh, hey Frank. How is, uh, Chr...Jay...your littlest one doing?) to vitamins and supplements to assorted remedies which help one poop. More and more while I have the focus for less and less. I can't complain though - my life seems comically easy at times. Justin Bieber has faced more adversity (i.e., getting blended.)

More to come in the near future. It'll sound more like a column and less like "this dude's blog about his boring life"; I'll feel better about you sharing it with strangers via Shoutface and Bookperch that way. Or do what I do and just email a "hyperlink" to Mom and Dad. They'll read it. (By "they" I mean my own Mom and Dad. Their email address is...)


This is now my blog site!

I've migrated the old "Stizl Gone West" blog (stizlwest.blogspot.com) to this site because it has a sweet URL and it was time for a change. 

Thanks for reading!


Sunny with a slight chance of bears

It’s amazing the excuses one can find before venturing out on a camping trip.
“Says here slight chance of rain. What if we’re cooped up in the tent?”

“Where will we find a spot? It’s the 4th of July weekend and it’s going to be packed.”
“Lows are going to be around 40 – you sure the kids are going to handle this?”

Sometimes you just have to pack up and go, welcoming any discomfort in return for fresh air, open flames, an excuse to get dirty, and the invigorating threat of a bear attack. And so we did last Saturday, pitching camp at Shingle Creek campground along the scenic byway that is, uh, Mirror Lake Scenic Byway. Shortly after arriving, the kids busied themselves picking out the lumpiest possible spot for our tent while I jogged off to pay the site master. When I got back, they had already laid out the tent and were alternately confused and amused by the folding bungee-pole system. Considering our last (and their only) tenting experience was last summer in our backyard, I patiently explained every step in tentsmanship, including the physics behind arch tensile strength and how to put the plastic bone thingy through the loop to hold the door flap thingy open.

Meanwhile, Annie was readying our first outdoor meal of the day, sandwiches and chips, a meal which the children refused to accept on account of it not being prepared in a fire.
Kids: “Why can’t we start the fire yet?”

Me: “It’s 82 and sunny...”
Kids: “Can we start the fire now, pleeeease?”

Me: “We didn’t bring enough wood for a 10 hour fire watch, so no.”
Kids: “Can we just make a little fire out of these sandwiches?”
Me: “Well… er, no.”

Camping puts me in a wild kind of spirit. For example, I had my shirt off before I even helped with the tent, to prove how manly and protective I could be against the bears. This photo of me slouched in an uncomfortable folding chair just does not do my physique justice. Immediately the kids felt more at ease, while Annie was like “nice try dude” and tiny boy inside her was like “thanks for nothin’, wimp.” But I ask all witnesses: did any bears show up?

We milled around the site, grabbing kindling and extra wood for later and reading books or answering “no” to fire questions until Annie’s sister Heather and hubby Jake and son Emmett arrived. They brought additional, more comfortable chairs as well as a unique sleeping device called an “air mattress.” I would envy them later that night, at 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6 o’clock in the AM, or every time I rolled over the giant tree stump under the tent. Or heard the faint crackling of a stick in the woods, a sure sign of lurking bears.

The afternoon got more exciting as we secured camp and headed 20 miles up the road (in vehicles) to the Lower Provo River Falls. It’s one of those rock-bottom river beds cascading down the mountain, like something you’d see in a movie. But it’s not your run-of-the-mill scenic overlook because while there is a small platform with a guardrail, there is also plenty of open space on which to run around and access to the river. So we spent almost 2 hours there. The kids saw a couple teenagers (they now classify anything they witness a “teenager” doing as either cool or dangerous) crossing the river at one flat spot and climbing up the wall on the other side. Of course, Preston wanted to try it and after I cycled through more excuses not to do it, we did it. He managed the slippery rock bottom and strong current on his own while Zoey held my hand across. We ended up making it okay with no ouchies!

The rest of the trip involved lots of fire tending, some hiking around the campground, stick wielding, log-bridge crossing, marshmallow rationing, and as I mentioned before, little to no sleep. But we made it. No bears attacked, we woke up and made campers’ eggs and oatmeal, and headed home to recover.

Later that night – as it was the 4th of July – we let the kids do some cracker-jack fireworks in the common area by our pool. Once we bought them they simply could not wait to strike matches and argue about whose spark fountain was better, so all incendiaries were burned out before dusk came. It wasn’t even dim. White and blue and pink showers of sparks, 3 feet off the ground in broad daylight. The true celebration of Independence Day, I guess.