Here’s my tip of the week. Don’t make jokes in
America. Even in experienced hands, a joke can be a
dangerous thing. I came...
‘No, I meant which airline did you fly with,’ he said. Soon after this
my wife ordered me to stop making jokes with him, a...
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Sense of humor adapted

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Sense of humor adapted

  1. 1. Here’s my tip of the week. Don’t make jokes in America. Even in experienced hands, a joke can be a dangerous thing. I came to this conclusion recently while passing through Customs and Immigration at Logan airport in Boston. As I approached the last immigration official, he said to me, ‘Any fruit or vegetables?’ I considered for a moment. ‘Sure, why not?’ I said. ‘I’ll have four pounds of potatoes and some mangoes, if they’re fresh.’ Instantly, I could see that I had misjudged my audience. He looked at me with one of those slow, dark expressions that you never want to see in a uniformed official, but especially in a US Customs and Immigration officer. Luckily he appeared to conclude that I was just incredibly stupid. ‘Sir,’ he enquired more specifically, ‘are you carrying any items of fruit or vegetable?’ ‘No, sir, I am not,’ I answered at once, and gave him the most respectful look I believe I have ever given anybody in my life. I left him shaking his head. I am sure that for the rest of his career he will always be telling people about the idiot who thought he was a greengrocer. The same thing happened another time when I was talking to my neighbour about a disastrous airline trip which had left me stranded overnight in Denver. ‘Who did you fly with?’ he asked. ‘I don’t know,’ I replied. ‘They were all strangers.’ He looked at me with an expression of panic.
  2. 2. ‘No, I meant which airline did you fly with,’ he said. Soon after this my wife ordered me to stop making jokes with him, as our conversations were giving him a migraine. ‘Irony’ of course is the key word here. Americans don’t use it very much. (I’m being ironic; they don’t use it at all.) The English writer Howard Jacobson says that Americans don’t have a sense of humour. Actually he is wrong. Many of the funniest people who ever lived were or are Americans, such as the Marx brothers or Woody Allen. But it is certainly true that wit and sense of humour are not valued as much in America as they are in Britain. The comedian John Cleese once said: ‘An Englishman would rather be told that he was a bad lover than that he had no sense of humour.’ It isn’t that there are no people with an active sense of humour in America, it’s just that there are fewer of them. When you meet one it’s like I imagine it must be when two Masons recognize each other across a crowded room. The last time I experienced this was a few weeks ago when I arrived at our local airport and approached a cab for a ride home. ‘Are you free?’ I innocently asked the driver. He looked at me with an expression I recognized at once – the look of someone who can see the chance of a joke. ‘No,’ he said, ‘I charge like everyone else.’ I could almost have hugged him. Adapted from Notes From A Big Country, Bill Bryson

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