As anyone familiar with Ray from the Mary Whitehouse Experience will know, the propensity to be sarcastic can get you into all sorts of trouble. Ray is the man cursed with a sarcastic tone of voice. You can watch him here.
When I was at university – it was in the early days of email – an Australian friend sent me a message to say that he’d heard that a rare type of walrus had been sighted off the coast of the UK and had I seen any? He was, he explained, a walrus enthusiast.
I replied that while I hadn’t seen any walruses, if I happened to spot one while walking through Cambridge I’d be sure to let him know.
“Thanks – that would be great,” he replied.
He then signed me up to a walrus aficionados’ e-newsletter.
I quite enjoyed reading it, actually. It was a little window into a world I would ordinarily never have known existed.
Of course, it’s well known that it’s really difficult to convey tone of voice in an email, and you therefore have to be extra careful what you say. I’m not good at taking heed of this. The problem is, I also run into trouble when talking to people face to face – particularly strangers.
My husband Anthony suffers from the same problem. A few years ago we were in the Lake District with our four-month-old baby. (This was the same trip on which we acquired All Terrain Pushchair Walks, South Lakeland – click here to read more about that.) Out on a walk, our son began screaming hysterically in his pushchair.
A passing lady said in consternation,
“Gosh, he doesn’t look very happy, does he?”
“That’s because he’s starved of affection,” Anthony replied.
“Oh dear!” said the lady, clearly alarmed, and scuttled off looking as if she were about to call social services.
Having failed to learn from this encounter, I make sarcastic comments to strangers all the time. I imagine I’m being funny.
Given that sarcasm tends to consist of saying the exact opposite of what you really think, if the person you’re talking to doesn’t realise that you’re being sarcastic, it is excruciating. The chances are you’ll come out of the encounter looking stupid or crazy, or quite possibly both.
And yet… it’s difficult to give it up because sometimes – just sometimes – the stranger I’m talking to gets the joke and laughs. And so my comment allows us to make an immediate, genuine connection that no amount of small talk can create.
It is almost never worth trying to dig your way out of these situations by explaining yourself. That just leads to embarrassment all round. I tend to just swallow the misunderstanding, grit my teeth, and accept that this person now thinks I’m socially or intellectually deficient.
Perhaps the answer is to carry a sarcasm sign around with me, like Leonard does for Sheldon’s benefit in the Big Bang Theory.
If I hold it up whenever I’m being sarcastic, I’m sure that will solve all my problems.
😉 😉 😉
Have you ever found yourself in trouble due to being sarcastic? Or do you hate it when other people are? Do let me know in the comments.
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