How To Be Sorry In French

Last Christmas, when our trip to Paris was still in the planning stages, my brother, Edward, and his girlfriend, Susan, gave Joe and me a French language map, a laminated collection of all the phrases a traveler would need to know when meeting people, changing money, eating out, shopping, or dealing with emergencies. We already knew how to say “good morning” and “thank you,” but the French phrase for “I’m sorry” was unfamiliar to us. Je suis désolé sounded like something we might write on a sympathy card, not something we’d toss off after accidentally stepping on a stranger’s foot.

Last Friday was the big day in all the Apple Stores, including those in Paris, and we were there early. I wanted to see the Apple Watch in person, compare the various models, and try on a couple of the bands. It was great fun! But as I was taking a last look at one of the watch tables, an Apple employee took a step backward and accidentally stepped on my foot. Je suis désole, he said, and he really, truly did look désolé. In fact, he looked so désolé that I forgot all about my foot, which really didn’t hurt at all, and tried to console him in his desolation. 

Now I think I understand a few things about how Parisians interact with one another. Je suis désolée that we will be leaving this city of surprising courtesies just as we are beginning to feel at home.