People often ask me what long-term care is like in Canada.* Trying to keep the peace, I usually answer, “Different.”

I choose this passive path because a) I’m Canadian, so it’s genetic, and b) I know how quickly conversations can escalate these days.

Once, against all my docile instincts, I answered with a needlessly inflammatory, “It’s fine. People up there seem to like it.” The response was inevitable. “Oh, so you’re a socialist.”

Since it was my fault and I should have known better, I simply said “No, not at all,” followed by a contrite, eyes-averted, “Sorry,” (which of course I pronounced “sore-ee”) and the tension was defused. Canadians are born with a hockey stick in one hand and an apology in the other, and we wield them equally deftly — sometimes in the same situation.

I actually know few specifics of exactly how the long-term care system works up there in the Great White North — just that it seems to. It must be good because I never hear anything very bad, and the secret has to be the unabashedly apologetic culture.

It would surprise me, for instance, if providers face fines or citations. If something goes wrong, the administrator probably just says, “Sorry” over and over again until the survey team apologizes for asking the questions.

After an owner delivers a tearful courtroom mea culpa for recklessly allowing a rabid moose with sharpened antlers to run wild through his facility, a truly Canadian litigator on the verge of winning a massive settlement would feel compelled to hand him a Kleenex and say, “Your contrition is enough. Sorry to put you through this. Please keep the money, and give my regards to the moose.”

Even the recent news, reported in McKnight’s, that residents at one Canadian nursing home were served roast beef accidentally seasoned with toxic hand sanitizer fits this theory. You might think this would be a case where a simple apology wouldn’t suffice, but the evidence suggests otherwise.

“The Saskatchewan Health Authority is very sorry for any anxiety this error may have caused our residents and their families,” read the official response. No reference was made in the article to any impending penalty or lawsuit, and no angry family members were quoted — even though after facility leaders discovered the problem, they just cut away the outer layers and pragmatically served the roast beef anyway. “Sorry” and a promise to review policies and procedures was apparently enough.

My point is that it’s a whole different mindset up there and could offer a welcome respite, especially if you’re someone inclined toward personal responsibility who appreciates the vanishing art of the apology. Because in Canada, despite what Elton John believes, “sorry” seems to be the easiest word.

*Quick digression: For some reason, over the last couple years, the nature of long-term care is not the first question I’m usually asked regarding my native homeland. Now when the word leaks out I’m Canadian, it provokes wide eyes and an instantaneous, “Can I marry you?” I don’t know why that keeps coming up, but I’m assuming it’s my relentless optimism, wit and chiseled physique, rather than just a blind desire to escape by any available means. My standard response is to express how flattering it is to be asked, and that all reasonable offers will be considered.

Things I Think is written by Gary Tetz, a national Silver Medalist and regional Gold and Silver Medal winner in the Association of Business Press Editors (ASBPE) awards program. He has amused, informed and sometimes befuddled long-term care readers worldwide since his debut with the former at the end of a previous century. He is a multimedia consultant for Consonus Healthcare Services in Portland, OR.