When do kids learn about sarcasm?
Middle children no doubt pick up on the subtleties of twisting words for ironic effect faster than others in order to justify the way their families treat them. "We love you all the same, buuut, if we had to choose, we love Jessica the least."
My parents are hilarious. And also, mildly abusive.
I don't remember the exact moment of learning about sarcasm, like I do the exact moment of learning to read. Hours on end, going over the pages of Are You My Mother with my mom until the words resonated. And after reading the entire story aloud, I looked to my Italian/Filipino mother and thought, no seriously--are you?
But I think I became aware of sarcasm around the time my parents dropped the "if you don't have anything nice to say..." bomb. My mother used to wait with us at the end of our driveway for the school bus and when we would get on she would yell out, "Be kind!" That always annoyed me because it was obvious no one else on the bus had gotten that memo. So the coupling of the "don't say anything at all" advice with the direction to be kind, left me and my sisters silently smiling as kids told us we ate poop.
And I guess around this time it occurred to me to ask, could you say something maybe not so nice, if you did it in a joking matter? New York and my family said yes. And so it was.
Later in life I read that people are only half kidding when they are kidding and that 50% of it is true. This made me nervous because I had previously worked out that 87% of the time, I'm not serious, and therefore when I thought I was kidding, people probably thought I was telling the truth. So on top of the 13% of the time I was being genuinely serious, people thought that half of that 87% was real, which I guarantee it was not. So 43.5% of the kidding time I was not being kind, or funny, and people thought I was a complete ass. Or was it actually a higher percentage? Carry the two...and then my head burst into flames so I put the pencil down.
But it's all so much to think about. Truth, irony, sincerity, wit, all coming together to form this confusing mess in which we hope to relate to each other. I'm all for sarcasm but I also have the socially crippling tendency to over-analyze dialogue. So while I totally appreciate tongue-in-cheek conversation, I often walk away thinking, wait, was that for real?
Gah, does she have a point?!
So I was reading an article about the Iranian social principle of taarof, which is a practice of insincerity. It's a concept of telling people what they want to hear even if you don't mean it, inviting people to dinner when you really don't want them there, and dishing out false praise, but it's all considered polite. The article says, "The way Iranians themselves describe it, is to say that being direct and telling the truth are not prized principles in Iran."
OK, so this sort of blew my mind. Bringing this up is not to play ugly American dissing Middle East, it's a social reality there, and Iranians accept it freely, according to the article. Much the way I think Americans accept sarcasm as a social reality here. But the thing is, we know when we're kidding and work to let the people we're talking with know we're kidding too (if only to avoid the math). In Iran, taarof is used to keep people constantly guessing if you're sincere. The article says, "In the West "yes" generally means yes. In Iran, "yes" can mean yes, but it often means maybe or no...In Iran you praise people and you don't mean it. You promise things and you don't mean it. People who live here understand that."
If Iranians understand that what people are telling them is insincere why would they even bother conversing? I guess, because there's that chance that it might be true? I don't know, it's so confusing to me. I wouldn't last 3 seconds in Iran. Despite the exaggerated eye rolls after everything I said peering out from beneath my burkha, I would be socially paralyzed talking to people--"OK, holmes, for reals-- what do you mean?!"
Remind me never to go shopping for jeans in Iran. Yea, really? They look good? Aw, thanks! And can i ask you? out of me, brina and ness? who do you love the most?
Boy, I'm tired.