Sunday, 23 May 2010

Just Cut the Sarcasm

Having lived in the States for 20 years now, I use sarcasm, self-deprecation and other alternative forms of humo(u)r a lot less than I used to. Americans are a very sincere bunch and many attempts at sarcasm are met with confused or pleading looks. Sometimes the recipients of my rapier-like wit don't realise I'm having them on, so attempt to discuss or argue the point.

Last week I was part of a conversation about school sports' transportation, and (as usual) the topic turned to snacks. One parent questioned the need to provide teenage boys with snacks (ie. can't they bring their own), while the pro-snack dad all but said "Well, it'll give them something to do on the bus." My big mouth couldn't them resist piping in with "Oh great, teach them how to fill their time by stuffing their faces." (I know, I know, I told you I had a big mouth.) Pro-dad shot me a withering look then pointed out (quite correctly) that these kids are about to burn thousands of calories, yada, yada, yada. It's times like these when you really want to say "No, no, I was only joking." and generally make yourself look like less of a bad/stupid person. After 20 years however, I've given up. My silence after his comment (plus me walking away in despair) gave him a hint that he might be taking things a little too seriously, as the next thing I knew he was offering me coffee!

What I didn't expect however, was a similar reaction on the Alpha Mummy pages recently (it being a British paper). The post was about "Take our Children to the Park - and Leave them There", which apparently happened in New York this past weekend. You'll have to read the piece for yourself, but the gist is that city kids at least, are too cocooned and parents should take their kids to the park (with other kids) and leave them for a while. Fair enough. You know some parents are going to feel that it's too riskly while others are going to tell them to lighten up.

Big mouth here couldn't resist stirring it a bit and added the first comment. Ver batim - Great idea except that by giving it so much publicity, isn't that going to atttract just the people everyone is afraid of. You know - the pervs? I suppose you have to know me to realise that I was being tongue in cheek and apeing the over-protectiveness the author was critisicing. I didn't expect -

Expat Mum needs to lighten up. It's that kind of attitude that leads to them being wrapped in balls of cotton wool in the first place.

Cough, splutter.

Then -

Expat mum, statistically, the 'pervs' you're talking of are likely to be someone you know, someone in a position of trust or even in your family.  What will you do now, follow your kid around at all times and fit CCTV in every room in your house?

Of course, I couldn't resist another comment but fell far short of the usual attempts at clarification:

Oh dear, I guess "tongue in cheek" doesn't translate very well on paper.

All quite funny really especially considering my kids were one of the first in their grades to walk to school without me, but Jeez - lighten up guys. I was kidding!!




  1. Big sympathy on this one - been there, done that. Worst case was when Ronald Reagan died and there was a day off for workers - or at least bankers, husband and I walked the children to school, skipping along with anticipation of a rare day together and meeting some neighbours I with characteristic British irreverence towards politicians said "we were just calculating the age of the other ex presidents and wondering what the odds are of another day off soon" - lead balloons didn't cover the sudden silence and I was forced to go round later and grovel about the unfortunate British sense of humour. Fortunately the Australian level of humour is even lower/blacker than the Brits so my normal level of sarcasm/humour/ sending myself up fits in Sydney - or perhaps they're just being polite.

  2. Oh, the Alpha Mummy site - not a good place to attempt sarcasm or levity, as plenty of people have found to their cost in the past... (in other words, you're in good company!)

  3. This made me laugh. I'm an American but use sarcasm rather (too) freely---maybe it comes with having a British husband and mostly British children or from having lived in London for the past 10 years. Even on my blog, I'm often tongue-in-cheek and have had a few friends email me to say that I sound so self-deprecating. It's a joke... on me. Surely, it's okay, even necessary, to laugh at yourself. But so many Americans do take things quite literally and take themselves very seriously. In those cases, it's just pointless to continue the conversation with irony or sarcasm.

  4. American moms and dads can be very protective but I have found that those parents with at least one European parent in America, tend to have a bit more humo(u)r and can see the lighter side of life. Being an American mom in the Uk has let me be much more ....light. Daughter was riding 30 miles on a public bus to school at 11yrs. Her American grandparents thought I was bonkers! They are both full American and too serious.

    Let it out Expat Mum

  5. Poor you! Children don't get sarcasm and irony either, and my 10 year old has often been in a strop when subjected to a touch of my sarcastic tone! It could be called teasing too, I guess.

    I once commented to a relieved groom after his excellent and well received speech at his wedding 'well, that was as rubbish as you said it was going to be, then' with a huge smile on my face and a twinkle in my eye, but he took great offence and stomped off. OOps!

  6. Having been raised in the States on PBS and all the Fawlty Towers that offered I was fairly well prepared by Mr Fawlty for the British humour when I landed. I find it a far more intelligent humour than most American humour--the only equal is Southern American humour, which I also love.

    How do you do it? Green Bean Casserole, attacking Alpha Mummy and her chosen topic of the week...? What next, you blog hooligan?


  7. Like I said - a big mouth and no filter!
    Actually I know Jen Howze and she probably didn't take offence. I was aiming it more at all the potential commenters who would have said it was too risky.
    Oh well. Sigh.

  8. Have committed similar crimes when commenting on blogs, particularly when I first began. Was mortified when my comments were then quoted back to me.
    I'm more wary now, which is a pity as it's great to stir things up, but maybe 'tongue-in-cheek' only works with appropriate emoticons after the comment? ;-)
    Funnily enough, being sarcastic never seems to be a problem on facebook; maybe as they are 'friends' they can take the jibes?

  9. Alpha Mummy is never a good place to try to be tongue in cheek.....

    I think Americans DO understand sarcasm - when they get it, they really laugh. But they don't expect it, and I've often found myself having to repeat the remark twice before they get it.

  10. After 7 years of marriage, my American husband still doesn't get that side of me. I'm learning that if I keep my mouth shut, then my feet can't fit in!

  11. I find Americans have a completely different sense of humour. They are very friendly though :-)
    We Brits can be very ironic. However we are good at laughing at ourselves and that is not a common trait (in Europe) Don't know about America.
    Maggie X

    Nuts in May

  12. I think like most people, Americans can laugh at themselves but don't care for someone else poking fun. The Brits are the same way though - unless it's Bill Bryson.
    Probably why it's taking me so long to get another book out!

  13. I just want to know if the pro-dad said "let's talk about it" when he offered to buy you coffee...?!?
    As if you were a naughty child that needed to have the matter 'explained' to you in great detail.

    Sarcasm. The world would be a poorer place without it!

    LCM x

  14. We all like sarcasm around here, but know what you mean. The little one's softball coach is very sarcastic, and the girls are terrified of him (some parents too), except Kate who's been surrounded by sarcasm for many a year...and likes to partake herself, may I say.

  15. Reminds of one of the kids' baseball coaches a few years ago. He used to tell the kids "That was the worst pitch/catch I've ever seen in my life", but in a fake Chicago accent. I knew he was joking, but the kids (12-13) didn't get it and the parents were apoplectic.

  16. Oh my Toni, I sympathize. I've been called a smart ass before because of my sense of humor. When I started my new job three years ago, there was a lady who took a while to warm up to me. She just didn't get my sense of humor, thought I was being rude. I think I know who needs to lighten up and it's not you.

  17. Don't worry - the ones that don't get it never will. And the ones that do, appreciate you for it.

    I'd rather put my foot in it like that a few times than give up the sense of humour.


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