The importance of not being earnest, and why I love English humour

I had a bit of a cultural shock last night, as I attended a French event in London, and we started the evening with a minute’s silence for the Manchester victims. In France, people love solemn manifestations and hold minutes’ silence at every opportunity.

This is however very rare in England, which is probably why I lost the habit. In England, as Kate Fox explains in her fascinating book Watching the English, “seriousness is acceptable, solemnity is prohibited. Sincerity is allowed; earnestness is strictly forbidden”.

Therefore, after the country performing a minute’s silence yesterday, today, in a true illustration of the importance of not being earnest rule, normal English service has resumed; and the Guardian has helped spread the wonderful English irony with a compilation of the funniest tweets:

#BritishThreatLevels hashtag delivers stoical humour in the face of terror

In her book, Kate Fox was also telling about the immediate reactions to the 7/7 terrorist bombings in London in 2005, which occurred just a day after London had been chosen for the Olympic Games for 2012.

One of the survivors, who had been trapped in one of the bombed trains, reported that after the explosion, as the train filled with thick smoke, ‘Silence descended on the carriage apart from people choking and coughing. Then someone near me quipped, “Well, at least we got the Olympics!”‘

Other jokes also heard at that occasion, as a response to the over-solemn forum set up by a few well-meaning Americans entitled ‘Today I am a Londoner and Today I Hurt’:

Today I am a Londoner and Today I Got a Day Off

If you’re all Londoners today, that’s eight quid each for the congestion charge

The English are always in a state of readiness for humour, and today is no exception. Go England!


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