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Can an American get British humour?

We have really everything in common with America nowadays except, of course, language

–Oscar Wilde, The Canterville Ghost, 1887

After years of study here in the UK, I can manage an all-purpose conversation, especially if I have my cover dog along to provide a topic if the weather fails me. As a public service, I provide the following conversation translator:

HOW TO SAY IT IN BRITISH HOW TO SAY IT IN AMERICAN
I’m sorry. You just bumped my arm and spilled my overpriced caffeinated beverage down my favorite cashmere sweater. I’m going to sue you.
I’m sorry. Then you tried to wipe it up and ended up groping my private bits. I may file charges.
I’m sorry. And now, you cretin, you’ve [smashed into the back of my car/ruined my day/spoken to me in public/wasted perfectly good oxygen]. A guy I know named Vinnie is going to remove your kneecaps.
Oh, dear. The [back of my car/rest of my life/ universe]now looks like an irredeemable disaster and I can’t look away. Vinnie has brothers.
Looks like a bit of rain. Of course it does, you imbecile—this is Scotland. But there’s a gap in the conversation, and by law it must be filled with observations regarding the weather. Speaking of which…
I’ve been a bit under the weather. I had the priest over for the last rites.
But not to worry. I’m fine. Actually, I’m moments away from complete mental and possibly physical collapse.
You should come around for dinner. If I see you at my house, I’m calling the police.
Cheers. Please die painfully.

Clearly, I’m not the first American to have these communication issues.

IMG_3762In 1942, the US War Department realized that most of the thousands of young servicemen they were sending to the UK wouldn’t have a clue what to expect when they arrived. They quickly developed a little booklet called “Instructions for American Servicemen in Britain” to prepare them to be Great Britain’s guests until the allies could “meet Hitler and beat him on his own ground”.

Advice to Americans coming to the UK—Don't force your way into dart games, complain about warm beer, or expect to get the jokes. Do buy the next round. --

Advice to Americans coming to the UK—Don’t force your way into dart games, complain about warm beer, or expect to get the jokes. Do buy the next round.
–“Welcome to Britain”, film made for American GIs, Strand Films, 1943

Along with the mysteries of money based on an ‘impossible’ accounting system, and drinking warm beer, they were warned that the British were reserved, tough, and spoke a different language where “…there are many words which have different meanings from the way we use them and many common objects have different names.”  In other words, don’t expect to get their jokes. Or even be able to tell if they’re joking.

When

When “bollocks” means rubbish/utter crap/testicles but “dogs bollocks” means “effing A”?

I’ve been in the UK for several years now, but I’m only starting to get the hang of the language. Like those GIs, I realized that I have a lot to learn about UK life and especially about humor. So when I was asked to review a humor book by that most British of cartoonists, Mel Calman, I told the very nice publisher that it was probably not quite as good an idea as having the Womens Temperance Movement judge a single malt whiskey contest.

But am I ready to review British humor? Or, for that matter, will I ever get the dry, self-deprecating, sarcastic, and often bitter repartee that the British bond over? Sure, I can quote the Monty Python “Dead Parrott” sketch, but I can’t help thinking that there’s still a lot I have to learn.

I tried to explain this to her, but the Very Nice Publisher Lady was undeterred, and asked me to give it a shot. So she sent the book. And actually…

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Let’s Compromise and Say I’m Right–collected cartoons by Mel Calman (With a foreword by Michael Palin)

 
Lets Compromise cover“These wonderful cartoons won’t stem the tears but they might just produce some choking laughter. And that’s a start.”
–Michael Palin
 
No-one captured the triumphs and defeats in the war between the sexes as hilariously and succinctly as Mel Calman, one of the most popular cartoonists Britain has ever produced. Selected by his daughter, the writer and broadcaster Stephanie Calman, this is the first ever collection of the very best of his cartoons about being in love, falling out of love and wondering what went wrong.
 

WIN A FREE PRINT COPY!!! Just add comment below to enter contest.

 

Purchase Links:

Amazon UK | Amazon US


EmojisMy review: 5 out of 5 happy-faces for Let’s Compromise and Say I’m Right by Mel Calman

I can’t assign stars to this little book because my review rubric only covers character development, plot, pace, etc. These cartoons don’t contain laugh out loud guffaw-inducing, knee-slappin Saturday Night Live humor. And they’re certainly not standard American fare.

Mel Calman’s work appeared daily on the front page of ‘The Times’, and regularly elsewhere, including ‘The Sunday Times’, ‘The Observer’, ‘Cosmopolitan’ and newspapers across the USA, as well as in advertising and on television. He published over 20 collections of cartoons and co-founded the Cartoon Museum. Mel Calman died in 1994. [Image credit: Stephen Hyde, 20 May 1986]

Mel Calman’s work appeared daily on the front page of ‘The Times’, and regularly elsewhere,
including ‘The Sunday Times’, ‘The Observer’, ‘Cosmopolitan’ and newspapers across the USA, as well as in advertising and on television. He published over 20 collections of cartoons and
co-founded the Cartoon Museum. Mel Calman died in 1994.
[Image credit: Stephen Hyde, 20 May 1986]

But like the very best of humor, each of Calman’s cartoons tells an entire novel’s worth of story. All the heartbreak, hope, and promise of love and romance is presented in the most spare, understated little pencil scribbles possible. Calman isn’t Da Vinci any more than he’s Shakespeare or even a reasonably competent copywriter. Instead, he’s more like an unobtrusive little family dog, sitting in the corner with one ear cocked and a little notebook where he’s taking notes on what people really say. (Okay, a family dog with opposable thumbs and a pencil. Work with me here, people…)

So his little man is stumbling through his love life with dark heart-shaped glasses and a cane. He’s telling a woman “I related to you yesterday. Today I’m resting…” Or he’s anxiously explaining, “Doctor, I’m suffering from bouts of marriage.” His heart isn’t on his sleeve, it’s being pitched into the back of his head by a determined woman. Or he’s tied to a stake and instead of trying to remember their safe-word or whose turn it is for the cuffs, he’s wondering, “I think she want’s more than an apology…”

These little cartoons are gentle, timeless, and devastatingly hilarious. And best of all, you don’t need a translator, a booklet explaining them, or even need to be British to think so.

**I received this book for free from the publisher or author in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.**

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LET’S COMPROMISE AND SAY I’M RIGHT,

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image credit: Mel Calman,

[image credit: Mel Calman, “Let’s Compromise and Say I’m Right”]

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