Following research into 5000 sets of twins by the University of Western Ontario, there is news today that the British tendency to sardonic humour and self-deprecation is down to a gene that most Americans don't possess.
Whether it is nature or nurture, the difference exists. I noticed yesterday that when a correspondent from this side of the pond used the spoof term 'interweb' in a posting to Garrison Keillor's 'A Prairie Home Companion' site, the host entirely failed to get the joke. Assuming the term was a quirky linguistic difference, he (or she) pay-tronisingly replied; "...the Interweb — what we call the Internet, but never mind..."
The Canadian researchers suggest that 'the British may have a greater tolerance for a wide range of expressions of humour, including those many Americans might consider aggressively sarcastic or denigrating, like Fawlty Towers and Blackadder. In the North American version of The Office the lead character is much less insensitive and intolerant than in the original UK version.' (I knew there was something wrong with that programme. David Brent was too insensitive. Lucky there were some good straight-talking American genes around to put that right).
This British fondness for taking the piss out of the good and the great, for challenging shibboleths and questioning accepted truths, often seems a bit grubby and ignoble, but it's a lot less scary than those clear-eyed, god-fearing, proselytizing nations or individuals which believe themselves to be infallibly right, and therefore justified in imposing their beliefs, faith, principles and bigotry on others.
It occurs to me, perhaps credulity is the root of all evil? Discuss.