Brits love sarcasm. You’ll often hear people respond to each other in a blunt manner but it’s all in jest.
Take this conversation I overheard between a Scottish couple:
Woman: Wait so the central line only goes through central London?’
Man: Well it doesn’t go through the South of France does it Sandra!
Many would take this scenario and conclude that the woman is in a horrible relationship with a miserable old sod, who treats her unfairly. All sorts of abuse scenarios would be running through your head and you may even contemplate with the idea of interfering and saving this poor lady from her vile partner.
In actuality, this is a very common British manner of speaking. We tend to use sarcasm as a way of pointing out the obvious but only in informal situations or ones where we are very comfortable with the people we’re around. So please, don’t try and be sarcastic in public where you don’t know people!
Another form of British sarcasm is used in situations where you are annoyed or breaking the ice. For instance, a woman says to her husband: ‘Oh, so you do know how to answer your phone?” after trying to call him several times. Strangers on a platform may say: “I absolutely love it when my train is delayed” to express their annoyance at TFL services. This form of sarcasm can be difficult to detect, since we deliver such lines with straight faces and in a deadpan* manner.
Brits are quite fussy about their humour. We aren’t so simple in our comedy preferences whereas our cousins in America laugh at…everything.
I was enjoying my bank holiday weekend on the balcony with my family. My sister was watching the Big Bang Theory, a famous American sitcom. As I was sipping away on my iced tea, I heard one of the most atrocious jokes ever!
Raj: Who was Stephen Hawking?
Penny: The wheelchair guy who invented time!
Audience: hahahhahaha *in tears*
If that joke had been written into a British show, the media would’ve reported on it non stop focusing on how dead and dry that attempt at humour was. I’m no comedian, but come on! Is that seriously what people are calling a sitcom? Those actors used to earn a million an episode…I expect worthy jokes if I’m contributing to their salary by watching.
What’s worse is that it was followed by canned laughter. I’m sure I’m not alone in my hatred for this as there doesn’t seem to be any show on British TV at the moment, where canned laughter works. The Big Bang Theory makes Adam Sandler* appear as a comedy genius.
American humour is definitely easier to grasp. Their most successful shows feature a sensible or grounded main character in the midst of a chaotic or crazy life. Frasier, Seinfield and Friends are examples of their typical humour. That’s probably why students prefer American shows, they don’t require so much thinking so it’s an easy and relaxing way of enjoying English.
British society was founded on the principle of societal status and aristocracy. Our history is basically a fight between rich and poor, working class and upper class, peasants and aristocrats…etc. Our humour reflects this and we always make jokes about things others may find dark, but I guess it’s a way of attempting to move on form our flawed past. It’s quite difficult to offend a Brit with humour as they usually have a ton of responses ready.
If you’d like to find out more about British humour, I’d recommend watching panel shows like Have I Got News for You, Mock The Week or 9 out of 10 Cats.
*Adam Sandler is a very unfunny ‘actor/comedian’ from the USA
*Deadpan- impassive or expressionless.