Independence Day Storytime: You Could Learn a Lot From Julia Child

This article on women not apologizing -- but just telling people what they want, which by the way would be incredibly helpful -- ends with a citation.
We are not sorry to ask for an email that should have been sent to us weeks ago, or to expect to receive the item we paid for, or to be bumped into on the subway. Yes, we should take the shampoo commercial’s advice and weed out the word when it’s superfluous. But it’s just as important to articulate exactly what we mean in its place.

Julia Child, a consummate charmer, said it best: “Never apologize.”
Child was doubtless quoting John Wayne who said that too, fifty-five years earlier in She Wore a Yellow Ribbon. Nevertheless Julia Child is a great source for inspiration, although the linked article might give you an incomplete idea of just why she was so charming.
She had arrived in France in November 1948 not speaking the language or knowing how to cook. ''I had never even heard of a shallot,'' she said. ''I was there as Paul's extra baggage.'' Ten years older than Julia, he ran the visual presentation department at the United States Information Service. By the time they left for other postings six years later, Julia was fluent in French, ran a cooking school and was co-authoring a comprehensive cookbook that would later make her famous.

She learned many things in Paris, she said, one of the most important of which was how to shop like a Parisian. ''It was life-changing,'' she said, ''because shopping in France taught me about human relations.''...

With a smile, she added: ''I quickly learned how to communicate. If I wasn't willing to spend time to get to know the sellers and what they were selling, then I wouldn't go home with the freshest head of lettuce or best bit of steak in my basket. They really made me work for my supper. But what a supper -- yum! And it was such fun.''
The truth is that she had been carefully taught long before France.  What she doesn't explain in this rather modest interview is that by 1948 she had been working as an American spy for six years. She joined the OSS under Wild Bill Donovan during the war and served across Asia. She met Paul doing this work, which was at an extremely high level. She wasn't her husband's baggage -- the US Information Agency was our core propaganda outfit during the Cold War -- but it was sure helpful if she could appear that way.


Texan99 said...

"To me, they sound like tiny acts of revolt, expressions of frustration or anger at having to ask for what should be automatic. They are employed when a situation is so clearly not our fault that we think the apology will serve as a prompt for the person who should be apologizing."

That's right on target, as is the author's conclusion that this passive-aggressive nonsense. It's what a therapist friend of my called "BS telepathy," which is what annoyance over "having to ask for what should be automatic" so often is.

Which is not to say that a real apology isn't a great thing. I was just proofing a Civil War memoir containing a brief account of some ugly mistreatment of the author's prisoners by his comrades. He backed his comrades down, and they cooled off or sobered up. The next day the lot of them came by with their hats in their hands to apologize to the prisoners and to the author for how badly they'd behaved. That's the way we uphold and restore civilized norms. The author himself was taken prisoner more than once, and describes the humane treatment he received each time before he was exchanged.

The lesson? Save "I'm sorry" for times when we've screwed up and we know it. I suspect even Julia Child knew that, but she also knew the misuse of the conventional or self-anihilating "I'm sorry." I guess we can see from her history that she wasn't into self-anihilation.

Grim said...

Well, I mostly linked the article to tell the story about Julia Child. :)

Still, the other problem with "I'm sorry" from my perspective is that it transforms a practical problem into a case in which some emotional involvement is being asked. Engaging with people's emotions is always harder than solving the practical problem, since it's over on top of the practical problem that still needs to be solved. It's way easier to fix that someone was wrongfully served a salad that wasn't properly washed than that someone was wrongfully served a salad that wasn't properly washed and also needs me to figure out the right way to help them express their anguish, dismay, and sense of having been shown disrespect, in a way that helps them not have to feel bad for dumping all that on me.

I can get you that new salad right away. The other thing -- I can probably do it, but I'm going to be exhausted by the time we're finished, and I still have to go get you a new salad.