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Last week, I ordered a salad at a restaurant and found myself crunching on a shoddily washed leaf. I took a few more sandy bites before explaining the situation to my waiter, apologizing and asking to see the menu once again. When my second-choice dish arrived, 20 minutes later, it was blanketed in bacon. By the time a plate of edible food appeared, my fork had been a casualty of the confusion.
Unable to catch the waiter’s eye, I walked to the kitchen, where I apologized to a busboy. For so many women, myself included, apologies are inexorably linked with our conception of politeness. True, this affliction is not exclusive to our gender. It can be found among men — in particular, British men — but it is far more stereotypical of women. One commonly posited theory, which informs everything from shampoo commercials to doctoral dissertations, is that being perceived as rude is so abhorrent to women that we need to make ourselves less obtrusive before we speak up. We are even apt to shoehorn apologies into instances where being direct is vital — such as when demanding a raise.