Humour is in our self-image

Humour is essential if you want to understand the British. I have already written about Multiculturalism and Violence (the latter in a negative way of course). Anyone coming here from Afghanistan or anywhere else needs to get our sense of humour. Whatever others think of us, we think it is great and distinctive.

Isn’t humour universal?

That’s a big question. Some foreigners think we exaggerate the uniqueness of this British quality. What matters is that we believe this about ourselves. Personally, I think some humour is international whilst there are national differences. Not all nations regard it as important.

What types of humour are particularly British?

  • We don’t like to take ourselves too seriously, most of the time. Laughing at ourselves is quite British.
  • The British often like irony. It is therefore important to learn to tell when someone means what he/she says and when it’s the opposite.
  • Wordplay is popular here. Perhaps it’s because the English language lends itself to it. Anyway, we usually like a pun. Unfortunately, people for whom English is a second language don’t always get that kind of joke It comes with practice.

Why does humour matter?

We don’t like people who ‘can’t take a joke’. If someone insults you and says it was just a joke, try to see the funny side of it. I know some people use that as an excuse for rudeness or worse, but most of us don’t like people who are easily offended. Personally, I dislike people who can give it but can’t take it.

How does humour help us?

  • It helps us to cope with misfortune. When things go wrong, we can often see a funny side to it and that softens the blow.
  • Laughter can ease a tense situation.
  • If you can make a point humorously, it will be less offensive, but possibly more memorable.
  • Laughter can lift you out of depression.
  • Bert Mathers, was a prisoner of war. In his account of that time, Came the Dawn, despite his suffering, his sense of humour comes across. I think it helped him cope.
The cover of Came the Dawn. Perhaps Bert's humour kept him sane?

Perhaps Bert’s humour kept him sane?

Understand this aspect of Britishness if you want to understand us!