Two kids sneak up behind our group on bikes and startle us unintentionally. Immediately they apologize followed by us apologizing. A total of four “I’m sorry’s” in the span of 5 seconds, and so it donned on me — “sorry” in Canada is not actually an apology — it’s a greeting.
We tend to apologize for things that really don’t need apologizing for. Simple mistakes like brushing up against someone in a crowded shop, or trying to pass someone on the sidewalk. These are innocent encounters that don’t really require an apology, but culturally, it is what we’re indoctrinated to do; however, if you replace “I’m sorry” with '“hello,” or “how’s it going?” it all makes perfect sense.
As much as it is a caricature of our Canadian-ness, there’s something welcoming about a good I’m sorry. It’s both welcoming and self-effacing all at once, and that is why we are Canadian.