According to the classically terrible 1970 film, Love Story, love means never having to say you’re sorry.

But in Lebanon, we say sorry a lot.

One of the first phrases any foreigner learns upon coming to Lebanon is how to actually say the word, "sorry."

Suh-REE is the correct pronunciation. Not like the Canadian SORE-ee or the American SAWR–EEE, it’s more like the Indian garment sari, but rapid, with an almost imperceptible roll of the tongue at the 'r', and always with an upward inflection at the end, so it sounds like a question.


To an outsider, this linguistic twist could make Beirutis seem extraordinarily apologetic. We’re always going around saying “sorry.” But let’s get one thing straight: we may be saying "sorry," but that in no way, shape or form should actually indicate that we're sorry about anything.

What we really mean is: “hey, you!” – or even, “hey jerk, I want your attention," or, “Hi d-bag, you certainly seem to enjoy taking up all the space on whatever shred of sidewalk we have here. Now would you mind getting the F out the way?

When you say it correctly, it should have just a touch of passive aggression.

When retail clerks use it to ask if you need help, what they really mean is: “are you going to buy something, or can I go back to texting my cousin?” We also use it in restaurants to flag down waiters when they pretend they can’t see you. (I CAN SEE YOU, FADI, SO I KNOW YOU CAN SEE ME)

I imagine that there are waiters who hear my voice in their nightmares saying, "SARI? SARI? SARRRRRRI?"

Like all good Lebanese-isms, such as “Hi/ Keefik/Ca Va?” the “Sorry?” is a product of this fair country’s rich national heritage, and its status as a veritable melting pot of various cultures, languages, and traditions. Where else on earth can you have Manakesh for breakfast, Burger King for lunch, and a fine fois gras for dinner?

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love it. right on.

Aneese Makdisi on Apr 10, 2015 via web