We Brits are a very polite people, on the whole. Even in my home town of Liverpool, which doesn’t have the best reputation, most people with thank you if you hold a door open; most will let you get off the bus before fighting their way on; most of them apologise if they bump into you, or even if you bump into them; lots of them allow you though the checkout first if you only have one item.
And then there is the “excuse me,” an expression to be heard often when people are trying to get past on an escalator, trying to push through for a bus that you don’t need. A burp or audible fart will often be accompanied by “excuse me.” But almost never will you hear you best friend or neighbour use the expression when they want you to repeat something you’ve said or as an expression of incredulity – in Liverpool that function is usually performed by “Yer wha!”
So why, oh why, does everyone seem to say it on TV? Well, the answer is quite simple really. Those were the words that one writer put into the mouth of one of the characters in Friends, that wonderful American sitcom that first aired on our screens in the 1990’s. Since then, every scriptwriter in the world seems to be putting those words into character’s mouths (except for me, of course).
Excuse me, used in this context, is just another example of an expression that is only ever used in TV land, along with other gems such as “no, please don’t put me on hold” and “little Jimmy just fell over”.
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