One phrase that’s seen as part of having good manners is “excuse me”. And although we’re often taught to say “excuse me” it’s rare that we’re taught how to respond to it. This is why today, I want to cover 12 ways that you can reply when someone says “excuse me”.
In Which Situations Would A Person Say “Excuse Me”?
There are plenty of reasons why people say excuse me, this article will focus on when someone is in the way, or when someone wants your attention- That’s etiquette 101. But other reasons include not hearing what someone says, hearing something offensive, or hearing something shocking.
The first reason why someone would say “excuse me” is because you’re in the way. Most of the time, this is not intentional. Very few people will get in your way and annoy you on purpose. But, as human beings, we have bodies, and bodies take up space.
Take it from me, I’m 6ft 2. Whenever I’m in a place with lots of people I’m almost always in the way. And getting out of the way isn’t always quite as easy as it sounds.
If someone is in your way, “excuse me” is probably the best thing to get them to move. Other phrases such as “move” can come across as aggressive, and make it seem like you’re in a rush.
When we want to talk to someone, we need a way of letting them know. Words such as “oy” may come across as rude. So, “excuse me” is a nice way of saying that you want their attention, but do not want it to be confrontational.
Often, when we wish to speak to someone, they will be doing something else. In which case, you will need to somehow grab their attention. And “excuse me” is the most polite way to do so.
But, even if they’re not busy, just jumping in with what you want is not great as they probably won’t be able to pay as much attention. “excuse me” will put their minds in listening mode.
As we said earlier, most of the time, when we’re in the way, it is not our intention. However, apologies are not just for when we act immorally on purpose.
When you do something wrong, or you cause a problem for others, it’s always good to apologize. This does not mean that you think you’re a terrible person, it just shows that you are a human, you make mistakes, and you are not so blinded with pride that you cannot admit that.
When you’re in the way, a simple “sorry”, followed by moving out the way can let the other person know that no harm was intended.
2. How Can I Help?
This one is most commonly said by people who are being paid to help you. It’s one of the most polite responses to “excuse me” there is. However, for some people, it sounds so polite that it sounds artificial.
What I would say is only use this one if you’re helping someone who you are being paid to help, such as a customer.
When you say “how can I help?”, you are making it very clear that you intend to help them. And there is no doubt about that. The other person should then feel more comfortable explaining their problem to you
3. Am I In The Way?
I was reluctant to include this in the “formal” section because it can actually blur the lines between formal and funny. If you were to say this to someone at a formal event, or whilst you’re working, it’s unlikely that anyone would take offense or find it unprofessional.
However, you are still making a joke about the fact you’re in the way. Instead of acting as though you’ve just admitted a terrible crime, you are making light of an already light situation.
As we mentioned earlier, we all get in the way sometimes, so there is no point in acting as though getting in the way is killing people.
By asking the question “Am I in the way?”, you are acknowledging what the problem is, but with a slight hint of humour that could still be used in polite company.
4. How Can I Be Of Service?
This one is similar to “How can I help?”. You are not using any metaphors, humour, etc. You are just getting right to the point but in a non-aggressive manner.
You just want to know what actions you can perform that will be of service to the other person. And hopefully, they will be able to tell you exactly what they want you to do.
Also, much like “How can I help?”, this one is best used when you’re talking to someone who you are being paid to help. Otherwise, it can make you come across as robotic and artificial.
5. I Will Move Out The Way
Sometimes, you don’t need to overcomplicate it. All you need to do is get right to the point, and say what you’re going to do.
Well done for noticing that you’re in the way. But there is not much point in noticing a problem if you don’t do anything to solve it. Let the other person know what the solution to the “I’m in your way” problem is.
6. What Can I Do For You?
This one blurs the line between casual and professional. It would probably be fine if you worked in a place like a local pub, but maybe not if you worked as a Butler.
It conveys the message that you want to help the other person, and you’re listening to their instructions.
7. You Are Excused
This option is funny because you are intentionally misunderstanding what “excuse me” means. They usually mean it as one of the things mentioned earlier, but you have interpreted it as an instruction to excuse them. They may be annoyed, but that will just make things even funnier.
Otherwise, the only time people would expect you to say “you are excused”is when they say “may I be excused”.
Fair enough if this is not your sense of humor, but if it is, feel free to use this one to get a few laughs.
8. I Am Ignoring You On Purpose
Sometimes, people want your attention, but you don’t want to give it to them. At times like this, you could bite your tongue and help them, but you may not want to. Instead of wasting your time on them, just let them know that they can annoy you as much as they want, you are not going to talk to them.
If they are under the impression you cannot hear them, put them out of their misery by letting them know that isn’t the case.
9. I’m Good At Being In The Way
Maybe you know you’re in the way. And you want to make it clear that this is not the first time this has happened. As someone tall enough to always be in the way, this one can easily apply to me.
Instead of acting like being in the way is annoying, act as though it’s something you’re proud of. This will come across as both down to earth and funny. You can acknowledge your flaws, but you’re not acting as though they make you a bad person.
When you want someone’s attention, having them reply with “what?” can be quite rude. But, if you know them, and you understand their sense of humor, it can be funny.
In adulthood, people expect us to always be polite, say the right thing, and follow the rules. So having someone (you like) say “what?” can help to break this tension and make it clear that nobody needs to follow the rules, and both of you can just relax.
Just make sure to never use this one if you’re at work, or talking to someone new.
11. Am I Too Fat To Walk Around?
Once again, before you use this one, you need to be sure that the person you’re saying it to gets your sense of humor, and know that you’re not being serious.
In fact, I would say that this option is particularly funny if you’re skinny.
The joke here is of course that you are in the way because you are so enormous that walking around you is going to be too much effort.
In the real world, nobody is this fat, but acting as though you are creates a sort of self-depreciation that can make light of the annoyance of you being in the way.
12. I Heard You The First Time
When someone keeps on trying to get your attention, you can let them know that they do need to beg for your attention as though their life depended on it. You are aware that they need your help, and you will help them as soon as you can.
This option, however, is even funnier if they only say one “excuse me”. Reacting to a polite request with a brash reply is going to create tension, which will create humor.
Martin holds a Master’s degree in Finance and International Business. He has six years of experience in professional communication with clients, executives, and colleagues. Furthermore, he has teaching experience from Aarhus University. Martin has been featured as an expert in communication and teaching on Forbes and Shopify. Read more about Martin here.