My bilingual evening in the pub was about half successful. On my right, most of our multinational party was gamely attempting to speak French. I find my confidence in another language takes a great leap when I'm in a pub rather than a classroom, so I was chatting away about my Fête du Canada experience in Trafalgar Square.
I was sampling a beer called Naked Ladies (not nearly as nice as it sounds) when the man and woman on my left began to engage me in English conversation. They understood enough French to take me for a Canadian, which I guess explains why they launched the following topic: how Americans don't get irony.
Where does this idea come from? I've heard it a lot on this particular sojourn in England, but I was never aware of this misconception when I lived in Oxford. Possibly because Oxford is full of sarcastic Americans speaking ironically all the time.
Everyone in my family, and most of my American friends, not only use irony and sarcasm, but have a difficult time not doing so. We of course do know people who don't "get" sarcasm. They are called stupid.
No, I'm just being sarcastic--see what I did there? But honestly, I was in a bind as to how to respond. If I "came out" as an American, and expressed any sort of annoyance at this patently false observation, I was only going to prove their point. Americans, the man said with confidence, take everything literally and therefore are offended. They don't know when someone is taking the p*ss. (NB: I never heard that expression before this round in England either--"to mock, tease, ridicule, or scoff"--but I certainly knew how to do it!)
So finally, I turned to them both and said, "Have you ever met my mother?"
Because my mom, and I mean this as the highest compliment, is the most ironic person I have ever heard. Her path, on which the rest of us are set for life, is to never say anything straight if there is any possible way to be sarcastic about it. We cannot even help it. Glimpses of this can be found in my fiction: "He's ugly" means "What a good-looking guy." "Brilliant" does not mean (as it does in England) "great, thanks," it means, "what a stupid thing to do." (Come to think of it, so does "Great, thanks.")
The guy said, "Why? Is your mother English?"
"No," I said, "she's American!"