'Banter' – Sarcasm and mean fun in the UK

The British sense of humour might be one of the hardest things to get used to if you move to the UK, to work, study or just travel. British people don’t normally show their love and friendship with hugs, but do it with mean jokes! It can range from simple and gentle joking, to quite intense and rude comments; but it can all be part of what we call ‘banter’!


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Gentle banter

The first thing you need to know, is that if you’re going to spend time in the UK, and speak with native English speakers, you’ll need to be ready to have some fun insults thrown at you!


In the UK, we don’t really speak to strangers much, and we talk to our friends in a bad way quite often!


The social mistake is the best example of gentle banter. If you’re with a group of Brits and you spill your drink, trip over, drop something or basically do anything a little bit clumsy or silly, you should expect them to make fun of you for quite a while! It won’t be very serious mean comments, but they probably won’t let you forget for months!


Even new friends will probably make fun of you in this way. Don’t be stressed, it means they feel comfortable with you.


Medium banter

As you get to know people even better, they might start aiming some of their ‘fun’ comments at things that are not so innocent. If you make a big mistake at work (but you don’t get fired), then your colleagues (if they like you) might feel comfortable enough to make fun of the mistake, even if you’re still worried.


It’s partly a way to let you know that everything is ok, and also to help the group improve and encourage people to do well too.


Intense Banter


The final type of banter could be for things that you really can’t change or do anything about. It could be about the way you look, your family, your partner, your talents or lack of them! These are things that you can’t do anything about, so to make fun of them really needs a much closer relationship.


Remember the idea of ‘banter’ is not to make you sad, but to make sure that you don’t think that you’re too amazing or special, and also to make you feel part of the group.


In general, this idea of ‘banter’ does not cross the Atlantic, an Americans often don’t feel the same way about these fun insults as Brits do. Lots of British TV shows have lots of teasing and banter, but US shows don’t feature it as much.


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