Ask Men UK: BRITISH HUMOUR: Make Them LOL. Here’s Why British Humour Is Exactly What You Need On A Date

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


No. 13: Real Ale

SBL_Real Ale

Image credit: OAL Group

“The way the British like their beer is a standing joke based on foreigners’ shocked firsthand experiences. It’s warm, it’s flat, it’s served in those dimpled mugs, and it doesn’t taste like beer, it tastes like the backwash from a sluiced out bread bin. And of course all that stuff is broadly true, or at least it probably was forty years ago, and the reputation has stuck. The thing is, this is only a problem if you’re expecting your beer to be lager.”

Back catalogue: Anglophenia: 15 Beers Americans Should Try

Anglophenia: Five British Rockers Who Have Their Own Beer

Preorder your copy of Stuff Brits Like from: Amazon US, Amazon UK, Barnes & Noble Booksellers, Bryan Prince BooksellersBooks-A-MillionCogito BooksCamden Lock Books, and Book Warehouse.


No. 14: Talking About the Weather

SBL_women at bus stop

Photo credit: Enrico Natali / Art Blart

“Time to dig out the British cure for all awkwardness: a quick chat about the weather. This is one of the most commonly observed quirks of British social interaction; from Land’s End upward, the British are world renowned for striking up conversations that, to external ears, sound worryingly like banal observations about temperature and rainfall. They know this about themselves too and yet, in the absence of a better option, seem powerless to hold back. Where two British people are gathered together, there will be some talk about the weather.”

Back catalogue: Anglophenia: Iconic British Things No. 9: Talking About The Weather

Anglophenia: How To Discuss the Weather Like a Brit

Preorder your copy of Stuff Brits Like from: Amazon US, Amazon UK, Barnes & Noble Booksellers, Allen and Unwin, Laughing Oyster Bookshop, Misty River Books, Armchair Books, Coho Books, and Book City.

Pop by anytime and say hello over at the Stuff Brits Like Facebook page!

No. 15: Marmite


Photo credit: The Telegraph

“Marmite is perhaps the most contentious item in this entire book, or at least that’s what its marketing department would have everyone believe. The company has been running commercials for years claiming that people either love or hate its product, a breakfast spread that looks like boot polish and tastes like burned meat, and since then Brits have taken to labeling all manner of things that polarize opinion as ‘a bit Marmite.'”

Back catalogue: Anglophenia: Iconic British Things No. 7: Marmite

Anglophenia: Class Project: Let’s Cook Some Marmite

Anglophenia: 9 Things You’ll Find in a British Kitchen

Anglophenia: Junk Food Day: 5 Salty British Snacks Every American Should Try

Anglophenia: Lost in Translation: Five British Things Americans Are Missing Out On

Preorder your copy of Stuff Brits Like from: Amazon US, Amazon UK, Barnes & Noble Booksellers, Cover to Cover, Maple Street Bookshop, Gullivers, Hurley Books, and Word Power.

No. 16: Stonehenge


Photo credit: BBC Religion & Ethics

“Even taking into account the astonishing evidence that suggests it spent fifteen hundred years evolving as a constructed site, Stonehenge itself is only somewhere between four thousand and five thousand years old, of which a little over one thousand have been spent in a country called England. Before that it was in a land of warring kingdoms and battling barons — and the Romans — and back beyond that is all myth and legend and not writing enough stuff down.”

Back catalogue: Anglophenia: 6 Impressive British Stone Structures That Aren’t Stonehenge

Anglophenia: It’s Official: Stonehenge is Part Of the Longest Settlement In British History

Anglophenia: Is Stonehenge A Musical Infographic?

Anglophenia: Five Great Ancient British Landmarks

Preorder your copy of Stuff Brits Like from: Amazon US, Amazon UK, Barnes & Noble Booksellers, Longfellow Books, Hunting Raven BooksCommunity Bookstore, Dorset Books, and A Room Of One’s Own.

No. 17: Pedantry

SBL_misspelled garlicPhoto credit: Stephanie Scott

“The British have many international reputations to uphold, but the most fondly held is that of the upright gentleman in an immaculate suit waiting politely for his turn to explain that you’ve just done something wrong…

You can pin this intense desire for subjective accuracy down to a need to create order out of chaos — using unimprovably impatient phrases like ‘Why don’t you just…’ or ‘Surely you’d be better off…’ as a preface — but the British and their high standards manage to find chaos everywhere, even in places that look pretty ordered already, thank you very much.”

Back catalogue: Anglophenia: Doctor Whom: Five Common Points Of Time Lord Pedantry

Anglophenia: Fraser’s Phrases: More British Nerd Slang, ‘Spods and Anoraks’

Preorder your copy of Stuff Brits Like from: Amazon US, Amazon UK, Barnes & Noble BooksellersBrazos Bookstore, Book People — Austin, Normals Bookstore, Kramerbooks, and G.J. Ford Bookshop.

No. 18: Doctor Who

 SBL_tardisImage credit: TARDIS Data Core

“To anyone unfamiliar with the setup of the show, this next bit is going to be a bit baffling. There’s this guy, and he’s an alien. But he’s a very British sort of alien. He is, in fact, more British than the British people he takes with him on his travels, and you know this because he most often dresses like an Edwardian dandy with a serious frock coat addiction. He’s the archetypal British eccentric, a boffin, an inventor, and because he is a figure of authority and one of the good guys (mostly), his name is the Doctor.”

Back catalogue: Anglophenia: ‘Doctor Who’s Day Roundup

Anglophenia: A Companion To The Doctors

Anglophenia: A Companion To The Doctor’s Companions

Anglophenia: Doctor Who Rogues Gallery

Anglophenia: Guide To Whovian Cosplay

Anglophenia: 6 ‘Great Minds’ Moments Between ‘Doctor Who’ and ‘Star Wars’

Anglophenia: 10 Most Epic ‘Doctor Who’ Speeches

Preorder your copy of Stuff Brits Like from: Amazon USAmazon UK, Barnes & Noble Booksellers, P&G Wells Booksellers, Book Stop, Boulder Bookstore, Book Passage, Book and Books, and Bookshop Santa Cruz.


No. 19: Football

SBL_World Cup

“No sport carries the same degree of obsession in Britain as football does. Football players are national heroes, ambassadors for the country, and an inspiration to British youth, even the really badly behaved ones. From its relatively humble origins as a working-class expression of community rivalry, football has grown into a colossal industry, albeit one that still largely depends on the romantic idea of like-minded people — players and fans alike — uniting together against a common foe. It’s just that, for the biggest teams, it’s no longer simply a case of local players being cheered on by local supporters.”

Back catalogue: Anglophenia: Iconic British Things No. 13: Football

Anglophenia: World’s Oldest Football Being Looked At By A Dalek

Anglophenia: WATCH: Stephen Hawking Uses Math To Predict England’s World Cup Soccer Success

Preorder your copy of Stuff Brits Like from: Amazon USAmazon UK, Barnes & Noble Booksellers, Prairie PagesFerguson BooksBooks & CompanyBayshore Books, and Excelsior Bay Books.

No. 20: Chocolate That Tastes Of Chocolate

SBL_CadburyImage: Treehugger

“The Belgians and the Swiss claim to have the best chocolate in the world, but when it comes down to everyday candy, the kind of sweets you can eat between meals without ruining your appetite (as the commercials for British Milky Way used to say), the Brits tend to prefer their own… let’s just say the Brits now understand why Americans call their chocolate bars candy bars, ‘cos they sure don’t taste of chocolate.”

Back catalogue: Anglophenia: A Consumer’s Guide To British Chocolate

Anglophenia: Cadbury Invents Unmeltable Chocolate

Anglophenia: Five Great British Things The Americans Ruined

Preorder your copy of Stuff Brits Like from: Amazon USAmazon UK, Barnes & Noble Booksellers, The Book BarnBluebird BooksWatermark Books and CafeThe Bookworm, and Chapters Books and Gifts.

No. 21: Melancholy

SBL_HeathcliffImage: Wood engraving illustration by Fritz Eichenberg for a 1945 Random House edition of Wuthering Heights.

“Samuel Johnson called it ‘the black dog,’ and so, in his turn, did Winston Churchill. Nick Drake also had a dark hound of boreboding but only described its black eyes and the fact that it knew him by name. But all three did much the same job; namely, to act as the feral metaphor for an oncoming fug of wild melancholy. You could call it a result of changeable weather, you could say it’s a hangover from the decline of the empire or even a necessary by-product of a natural hardiness, but a significant proportion of the residents of the British Isles do seem to walk around underneath their own personal rain cloud all the time.”
Back catalogue: Anglophenia: 20 Victorian Terms That Seem Oddly Modern

Anglophenia: Five Great British Gentleman Singers

Anglophenia: In Celebration Of Dylan Thomas

Anglophenia: Miss the Old Mumford & Sons? Five British Bands With Banjos

Preorder your copy of Stuff Brits Like from: Amazon USAmazon UK, Barnes & Noble Booksellers, P&G Wells Booksellers, Book Stop, Boulder Bookstore, Book Passage, Book and Books, and Bookshop Santa Cruz.