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British Humour - Six Years and I Still Don't Get It

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"...Who apparently can be heard on the Wi-Fi in the morning," muttered Jeremy Paxman behind the dusty Hitachi screen.

The room erupted into another long burst of hysterical laughter, palms beating thighs into discs of red submission and eyes squeezed so tightly it forced tear ducts into duty.

"Brilliant, absolutely brilliant!" cried one of my British friends as I pulled an awkward smile, my brain now racing furiously to translate the humour.

Half a second, then one second, then two - the window to exercise herd mentality was shutting me in!

Ah, whatever, I thought to myself as I tightened my diaphragm to echo the chorus of boisterous laughter in the room.

Although embarrassing, such a charade occurred with surprising regularity. I did not want to be the only nitwit who didn't understand the witty and sophisticated makeup of British humour, especially coming from a Commonwealth country - notice how I orthographised 'humour', not orthographized 'humor'.

And so, ever since I arrived in England almost six years ago to embark on university life, I've actively made a conscious effort to learn the angle of British humour. Yes, you heard that right. In the name of research, I've spent many hours watching back-to-back Youtube clips of Black Adder and Monty Python after trawling the World Wide Web for explanations as to what it meant for humour to be dry... As you could probably tell, it was a desperate situation. Faking laughter during efforts to socialise at university quickly became exhausting before grating away quietly at my own self-esteem -I had to do something!

Intent on being able to explain why British humour was NOT an oxymoron, I made a huge effort to improve my understanding of it. Here's what experience and copious amounts of Youtubing has taught me.

Firstly, irony and heavy sarcasm are the bedrock of British humour. If it were pouring outside, the joke would be to comment on the lovely weather (an extremely stale English classic). Morsels of unpalatable quality could invite commentary of gratitude and amazement. It is as if it is 'Opposite Day' every day in Britain. To make matters even more confusing, the delivery of British humour is almost always deadpan which means that there will be no sign in red neon lights telling you 'This Is The Joke'. There is a lot of reading between the lines to be done and so as result of this, you might find yourself in situations where you just cannot tell if it was harmless banter or a serious conversation that you were having with a British friend. They are a breed that express abhorrence for something by saying it is "a bit much for their taste", so a little ambiguity in their dealings is to be expected.

Finally, subjects of humour typically involve mockery of failure, both yours and theirs but mostly yours. It might seem insensitive and if you were anywhere outside Britain, you would probably be right. But joking about your dead grandfather or your cousin's dyslexia is completely acceptable in the country of tea and scones, so long as it is done in jest. Why else would you have an extra 'u' in humour if not for the fact that the joke is most often on you?

All this can be very frustrating, particularly to someone who has probably watched one too many episodes of his fair share of Friends and who's fed on American pop culture his entire life. But there are actually many things that I really admire British humour for. For one, it teaches you not to take yourself too seriously through its strong theme of self-deprecation (a harsh way to learn this, but effective nonetheless), which I feel is very important in this day and age. It also makes light of tough situations, which is a good thing because when things look grim, it definitely helps to laugh. But most of all, I like that the very nature of British humour does not encourage over-sensitivity or self-entitlement, two things our generation, Generation Y could learn to live without.

But for all that British humour is worth, I've come to terms with the fact that whilst I understand why dry humour might tickle some people, my brain is fortunately or unfortunately wired differently to function at a different wavelength. I will readily admit now, even in social situations, that despite six years of being in the UK, British humour to me is as funny as watching furniture. And for me, that's OK because university life is enriching and interesting for reasons such as this. I don't believe that it makes you intellectually inferior or any less witty for not finding British humour funny. And there is certainly no need for you to pretend to like something just to fit in. Just be yourself.

Nothing shows more courage in our society than a rejection of conformity anyway.

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