The Politeness Curse

Recently, Pantene produced a commercial about the compulsion of many women to constantly apologize – for everything. It’s a great ad, so much so that when it depicts a woman starting a conversation with her employer by saying, ‘Good morning,’ rather than, ‘I’m sorry’, my mind was blown because I had literally never even thought of that.

Basically, women are pretty much conditioned to constantly apologize for taking up space. I know this, you know this.

But today, while getting my eyebrows waxed, I had an idea – a musing, if you will – about how I manage to take this compulsion one step further with a little problem I like to call:

The Politeness Curse.

Why do I feel that no matter what anyone does to me, I must not only show gratitude, but make sure they feel wonderful about it?

Some examples:

When I was in college, I got my eyebrows waxed once in a little hole in the wall nail salon. I generally have pretty thick eyebrows, especially then, and I like them that way. However, the salon employee immediately explained to me that my eyebrows were too thick and would look better much thinner. I said, “Oh, I like them thick, I just want them cleaned up a bit,” and she said, “Okay, we make them thin.”

My skin went cold.

Nonetheless, do you think I argued with her? Do you think I said, “Excuse me, but I’m paying for a service and I would like it carried out a certain way, please”?



Who drew those on my face?

Whenever I get my hair cut or colored and it doesn’t go the way I wanted, I will literally sit in disguised horror as the stylist adds pink highlights when I ask for brown (true story) and say nary a word about it. Even when the chick stands back and is all, what do you think? Without fail, I will respond with: “Perfect! I love it. Thank you so much.”

(If you ever give me a gift and I say those words, in that order, I hate everything about it. Sorry.)

If you’re a waiter and you bring me a veggie burger (gross) rather than the steak fajitas I ordered, I will approach the situation like this, “Um, I’m so sorry to do this, but I don’t think this is what I ordered…….”

I will then wait uncomfortably until you come to my aid, hoping you’ll say, “Oh my gosh, you’re right! Let me grab your fajitas.”

If, instead, you say something like, “Nope, you ordered the veggie burger. I’m certain because I never write down orders and just keep track of everything in my mind like a Jedi,” there’s a good chance I’ll say,

“Oh. Of course. So sorry.”

To make matters worse, I should probably mention my tipping compulsion.

To be clear, I spent years in the service industry and think that tipping well for good service is an absolute obligation, not a choice.

My problem is that, if you shave my head bald when I ask for a trim, I will thank you profusely before tipping you 20 percent.

Why?? Why do I do this?

The worse example of my need to please everyone in spite of myself is this:

Before I got married, a good friend came with me to shop for a wedding dress. We went to the trunk show of a designer well out of my price range, at a boutique well out of my price range, just to see different styles.

Within five minutes of being there, my very dear and very pregnant friend dropped the drink she was holding in an opaque travel mug (which the employees, like myself, had probably assumed was water). To our abject horror, the cup was full of a hot pink smoothie, and when the mug hit the ground its contents spewed heavenward like a cartoon geyser with Wile E. Coyote trapped on top.

Smoothie went EVERYWHERE. This is not an exaggeration – thick pink liquid literally seeped into the intricate vintage lace of at least five dresses.

My heart stopped. I considered shoving innocent bystanders out of my way and simply running for my life.

Alas, my 8-months-pregnant friend was in no shape for running, and so we resigned ourselves to whatever consequences the store employees would see fit.

Happily, one of the employees was lovely. She explained that these were sample dresses which couldn’t be sold anyway, that they would simply be sent for cleaning, and that everything was all good.

The other employee?

She wanted us dead. Not just dead, actually – I imagine she wanted to hold our heads down in a bathtub filled with strawberry smoothie until we stopped struggling.

She, of course, was the woman assigned to help me try on dresses.

(You’re probably thinking, why oh why would you stay to try on dresses?? Answer: I felt bad and couldn’t think of a polite way to simply leave. I was kind of just hoping my girlfriend would go into early labor.)

Anyway, I ended up trying on a couple dresses, all the while subjected to the saleswoman’s hateful remarks about my girlfriend (“That’s the worst thing anyone has ever done. She should be embarrassed”) and myself (when I offered to pay for the dresses to be cleaned: “Don’t you think you’ve done enough? You can’t fix this”).

Do you think I said, “Hey lady! Relax! We said we were sorry!”


Do you think I allowed the woman to put me in a $3,000 dress, a $700 sash, and accessories which came to a grand total of well over $5,000?

And then, when she said, “So are you going to buy something after all this or not?” do you think I said, “No thank you, Rude Saleslady.”

If you imagine that’s what I said, you haven’t fully grasped my politeness compulsion.

I took out my credit card (which was not intended to pay for my dress) and agreed to spend over $5,000 on a wedding dress I didn’t really want because I felt bad.


This is not normal.

If you’re balking at how ridiculous I am and what a terrible decision that was, have no fear: my dear smoothie-loving friend saw the terror in my eyes, pulled me aside, and said, “Do you even want this dress?” To which I responded:

“I don’t know.”

(Seems like a reasonable way to feel about a $5,000 purchase, right?)

My friend immediately informed the saleswomen that we would not be making the purchase while I stood cowering in my own fear, barely holding myself back from screaming, “Like me! Like me Rude Saleslady!!”

So my question is this:

Is this another generally female habit? Do you do this? Am I a lunatic? Why must I not only apologize for other people’s issues, but then fall all over myself to make sure that the other people feel good about them?

That’s it for today. If you don’t like this post…I’m really sorry.

4 thoughts on “The Politeness Curse

  1. Wow, those eyebrows are sexy!!
    I love the smoothie story. I just laughed really really hard again. You should copyright it so that someone doesn’t steal it and put it in a sitcom. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. You just described the daily life of every resident of Canada. There are three mumbled “Sorry’s” hidden in the course of our Nation anthem. Also: My barber has a low boil Jihad against my magnificent eyebrows…I suspect the king hairs that rise from the corners of each one like a predatory moth unsettles him.


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