Oh, sorry: Do British people really apologise too much?

William JordanUS Elections Editor
July 01, 2015, 11:29 AM GMT+0

Compared to Americans, British people are more likely to apologise for things that aren’t their fault

Britain’s reputation for over-apologising is well-documented. Now a YouGov survey comparing two of the world’s largest English-speaking countries confirms there really is something British about saying sorry – at least in certain situations.

In many cases, British people's penchant for pardons only goes a little further than their American counterparts. The vast majority of British and American adults would apologise for being late or getting in someone's way. And though British culture is also well known for dry humour, taking offense at a joke is slightly more likely to earn you an apology on the British Isles than in the New World.

But the difference becomes more marked when it comes to lesser offences, where the person apologising is more the “victim”. A third of British people would apologise for a sneeze, compared to just 22% of Americans. Similarly 36% in Britain would say sorry if someone bumped into them, versus 24% in America. And while all but 19% of Americans would feel comfortable correcting someone who is in the wrong, 27% of British people would feel the need to ask for forgiveness.

People in Britain also appear to show regrets about how often they apologise. A third (31%) of British people feel they say “sorry” too much, versus 23% of Americans.

However, there is another divide that’s in some cases even more pronounced – a woman is significantly more likely than a man to apologise for something (on both sides of the Atlantic).

There is a similar gap between American men and women.

Only men appear satisfied with the status quo. Among British women, 49% say men apologise too little, and 44% think women apologise too much.

Among men, the most popular option is that both men and women get it “about right”.

See full poll results for GB and US