An article in today's paper includes a picture of two U.S. Naval officers bowing to their Japanese counterparts in apology for some crimes committed by American servicemen in Japan. The article says, "it is hard to overstate" the importance of the apology in Japanese culture. My friend Setsuko and I may not agree about polar bears and penguins, but we do agree about the importance of apologies. A few years ago, the U.S. bombed a Chinese embassy in Yugoslavia, then said it was a mistake. The reports I'm reading now all say the U.S. issued a full apology. But the way I remember it, there was some delay while NATO/U.S. considered their options, and there seemed to be some doubt as to whether an apology would be forthcoming. I remember this because I wrote my own apology and sent it to the Chinese embassy the day after the bombing.
This afternoon, I crossed a street in a crosswalk in front of a truck that was at a red light waiting to turn right. As I started in front of him, he started to go, and for a second it looked like he would hit me. Luckily, he stopped in time, and as I continued on, I said, "Sorry!" Anytime somebody bumps into me, I always apologize. In English, I'm sorry can mean, I regret my actions, or I regret the situation. In French, I would say, "Je suis désolée"--I am very sad. In Spanish, it's "lo siento"--I feel it, it hurts me. Anyway, it's not an absolute statement that the person apologizing is guilty of something. It's just courtesy, and I think it's the right thing to do, apologize right away, and you can always argue later about whose fault the situation was.