09 February 2011

So What’s Your Excuse?

I love a good excuse.  Ever wondered what we would do without excuses?  A creative, thoughtful excuse provides the framework for which one can justify just about anything.

As with everything, there are cultural components to excuses and living the expat life has increased my appreciation for them. The word origins are none other that French/Latin.  S’excuser – to free oneself from blame: ex- ‘out’ of causa ‘accusation or blame.’  I have met some wonderful ‘excusers’ and indeed, many are from the surrounding region.  In my opinion, this local expertise comes from the educational system where mistakes are mocked to a far greater extent than encouraged.  When you do something wrong at a tender age and get taunted – it’s pretty normal to look for the best way to ‘ex causa’ yourself out of all future situations.

By contrast, Americans are encouraged to make and own up to their mistakes – i.e., if at first you don’t succeed, the try, try again school of thought.  As a result American excuses can be pretty lame.  Statistically, most revolve around pets – my dog ate my homework, my cat’s stuck up a tree, my fish is sick – I kid you not, I looked them up and the latter is apparently a popular excuse for not showing up to work.  I mean, really, why bother?  If that’s the best you can do just own up and say you’re not coming in because you hate your job or you just don’t want to work.  Because if you can’t do better than a sick fish you’re far better off sticking with the truth.  Trust me, it won’t make the slightest difference to your career.

As I said, people here are more inventive.  They have excuses for literally everything.  Blatantly shortchange you in a shop?  Your fault, you distracted the poor shopkeeper with your accent when you said ‘merci.’  They have a creativity that comes with their good excuse capacity that we mistake-owner-uppers sadly lack.

When at all possible, I do like to blame someone or something else for my shortcomings.  (I didn’t say it was admirable, just my preferred modus operandi.)  It’s easier.  I refer again to the boring student classic ‘the dog ate my homework.’ You’re off the hook and it’s not as if the teacher’s going to leave the class to go kick your dog.  The dog could care less.  Everybody’s happy. 

Children work well too, for all fellow parents out there.  I promise, you are going to be forgiven anything and everything if you blame it on your poor little one having ‘gastro’ (stomach flu).  Actually, children having gastro is so truly awful that even if it occurred three years prior, you deserve to keep it in your bag just for the sheer horror of what you went through when it actually did.

Parents are another wonderful source of excuse material – although perhaps better for character-based excuses than action ones.  Yes, I know, I am a tad compulsive – I get it from my mother.  Can’t argue with that. The entire psychiatric profession would disappear overnight if people were to stop using parent origin excuses.

Of course, not everyone feels the need to offer an excuse – ever!  Some lucky souls accept themselves as they are – and just own right up to whatever failings they have.  A friend told me a great story when she was reprimanding her small daughter for something amiss. Her daughter didn’t argue back or offer any mitigating defense.  She simply asked her mother,  ‘Is anyone perfect?’  The mother was forced to admit no one was.  And her very logical little girl then came back with – ‘well, then, why should I try to be something I can’t?

Excuse me, but how in the world can you respond to that?

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