Laughter is a great ice-breaker, especially in an emotionally-charged situation like a date, and humour is one of the most commonly used arrows in the British quiver of social interaction. So adding a touch of levity can only be a good thing, as numerous studies have found. But there’s a fine line between engagingly funny and being laughed at for the wrong reasons, so here is a guide to British humour that should help keep the conversation flowing. NB: If you’re dating someone from elsewhere, not all of this will land as you expect.
1. Restrain yourself
As far as the British are concerned, a sense of humour is like a good Martini: the drier, the better. That means it’s not necessary to guffaw, David Brent-style, if you have made a joke. It’s not even desirable. It’s not necessary even to smile. In fact, if you can manage to arrange your face in such a way that it’s hard to spot that you’re even joking at all – no raised eyebrows, no cute eye rolling, and definitely no winking – you’re automatically more interesting.
2. Withering heights
There’s also a well-established British love of sarcasm, whether it’s the fine traditions of John Cleese’s withering scorn or the fathomless cynicism of Rowan Atkinson’s Edmund Blackadder. It is also a fine weapon for your own humour arsenal – showing your date that you’re confident enough to say something you don’t mean, just for comic effect. Mutually understood sarcasm is a form of honesty and that affection can take the form of ‘pretend abuse’ — providing the abuser and the abusee with a ready-made in-joke they can both enjoy, especially if the roles can be freely exchanged. Subtlety is key however, as is the need for both parties to be in on the joke…
3. Mock thyself
Another key point: Self-deprecation is a cornerstone of British humour, a subset of decorum and not making a fuss. If you expect your date to be able to take a joke, you had better be willing to make them at your own expense too. And don’t be afraid to be yourself. There are few things Brits enjoy more than individuals with genuine quirks and foibles. Sir George Sitwell had a sign in his mansion requesting that guests should not contradict him, lest it interfere with his digestion and prevent sleep. He also created a miniature pistol for shooting wasps, so your hidden passion for classic Doctor Who or The Boat Race is small beer (sorry, real ale) by comparison.
4. Load a pun
The British also love nothing more than a good pun, and examples of these are all around, particularly in the high street. I once saw a tanning shop that gloried under the name U-Rang-A-Tan, presumably without stopping to think that any kind of visual link between their prospective customers and a wrinkled orange ape might undermine what the business owners hope to achieve. Then again, I’ve remembered it for over 10 years, so maybe they’re cleverer than I thought.
5. Give her one …as it were
That leaves the potentially explosive topic of innuendo. The British have a long history of talking about sex without talking about sex (in pantomimes, Carry On comedies and saucy seaside postcards from your Nan). A few innocent double entendres, especially delivered with a dry smirk, go down (yes, yes) very well indeed.
And if it all goes horribly wrong, be quick to apologise. That’s the British way.
Fraser McAlpine is the author of Stuff Brits Like (out on 7 July, £9.99 from Nicholas Brealey Publishing)
Via Ask Men UK