Desperate English Housewife in Washington, chapter 511

Taking the piss UK style

How we Brits love to take the piss out of each other, out of events, out of everyone else, and out of ourselves.

Taking the piss – one of the things Americans find hardest about the Brits is our sense of humour. It is obviously different and is mainly based on irony, sarcasm and an in-built desire to “take the piss”. This has nothing to do with urine, but simply means making fun of someone.’ (From The Effing Pot).

Sometimes I do find that this piss-taking British-stylie sense of humour that I am partial to (maybe that’s why I love Ricky Gervais) is not always so easy for my American friends to understand. It’s really like a form of endearment, maybe because sometimes we Brits actually struggle to emote exactly how we feel.



The differences in our senses of humour and our approach to each other still fascinates me. Some British bloke told me this week something that went a bit like this: ‘Americans think that there is a time and a place for comedy, and that’s why they write excellent comedy shows because it is the right place for that to happen. Otherwise, forget it – making jokes, taking the piss, having a laugh about something – not done.’

Another chap, this time American, told me this when discussing the subject: ‘We are such prudes about things. We don’t always remember to laugh at stuff, especially ourselves. And we’re totally fine with guns and murder and violence depicted in a PG movie, but heaven forbid there be a breast on-screen. We have issues and I don’t think we get the irony of that when we think we’re so progressive.’

Boobs and guns aside, I don’t think the issue of Americans not getting irony really exists anymore – much of their great comedy is dripping in it. It’s the taking the piss / being sarcastic / using an insult to be affectionate thing that I don’t think Americans sit very comfortably with. And, you know, it’s quite a strange way to bond with someone if you think about it!

Think of familiar British greetings such as: ‘Hi, mate. Who ate all the pies, hey?’ (I can see that can perceived as being just plain rude!)

Anyway, whatever your thoughts on it, this is an extract from one of my favoutite commentaries on the subject. It’s from a blog called From Sheep to Alligators….

I think there are 3 ways that irony can be misunderstood or cause confusion when a Brit uses it here:

1. It is being used in a context that is appropriate in a British context, but simply not done in the USA.

2. Although โ€œtaking the pissโ€ is seen as fun in the UK, there is an ever-present danger of you being perceived as being mean-spirited in the USA.

3. Generally speaking, Americans are much more serious in their approach to life, their beliefs, and themselves than the Brits. Itโ€™s actually quite rare for an American to be seen laughing at their own foibles, in my experience, so they are suspicious of others doing it.

To avoid problems, many Americans who use irony will often “signpost” it – they will add an “only joking” to the end of an ironic statement (which seems to defeat the point of irony to me!)

There are, of course, positives to the American not-taking-the-piss approach in that there is far less of the negative dragging down that can happen when people use humour to ridicule people in the UK.



Much of this very blog you are reading now is based on taking the piss out of either us Brits or my American chums. Gentle jibes, you know. ‘Tis the British way embedded in my nature, and no offense is meant, don’t ya know!

Real signs in the USA




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2 Responses to Desperate English Housewife in Washington, chapter 511

  1. tim spahr says:

    That’s not funny! ๐Ÿ™‚

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