Telling the truth

People think I am very funny, because I tell the truth. “Oh, how drole, how very amusing!” they chortle, trying not to choke on their tea, their coffee or their biscuit crumbs. “However do you manage?” Well, it’s easy, really. I say what everyone is thinking. I blurt out the “one stupid question” that no-one else wants to ask, for fear of looking idiotic. All things considered, I have little to lose, so I think of truth telling as my party piece instead: my secret weapon.

It was dad who started me thinking about this. During a visit to him abroad, as he was happily relating tales of his adventures, he confessed that it could be very tricky using humour to brighten the mood at a dinner party. Humour, it turns out, is a remarkably local affair – I may understand irony, a family joke, but the neighbours will probably consider the same joke too forward and rather rude. What might be amusing to the French ambassador sitting on dad’s right, may deeply embarrass the Lithuanian consul seated on his left…difficulties with language and the communication of small subtleties can proliferate alarmingly.

“So, what do you do about that?” I asked, wonderingly.

“Well, you see, Frannie, it’s easy….” He turned to me with a twinkle in his eye… “I just tell a story against myself. It could be anything…I might have told the cook I wanted salad for supper, not salami; or I might have dropped my glass of wine at an evening function. Whatever it is, I just make it sound funny and everyone laughs. We are all very entertained if the joke is on me, and my problem is solved. No more international misunderstandings. Very important, you see….”

While I marvelled at my father’s dedication to his job, even to the extent of putting himself forward so that everyone might laugh at his antics, I have learned that gentle humour is indeed a wonderful way to disarm unkindness, to steal a small advantage or to entertain our friends. If we make ourselves look a bit daft, they feel more comfortable telling us about their mistakes too. “Do you know, that yesterday, in my haste to get ready, I put my spectacles in the towel cupboard? I had gone in there to get a bath towel and took off my glasses ….I couldn’t see to find them again of course, and it took twenty minutes of padding about before I remembered….”

In my experience this sort of story always makes us feel better than merely gossiping, or telling the truth the way we usually do, with an earnest expression which we hope will soften the blow. There are times when “painful” truths are best left alone. Who wants to cause of unhappiness? Not me.

It was my father I thought of, when I had the wonderful idea to take twenty years of hard knocks and turn them into funny stories. At last, I realised, I could gleam something worthwhile from what I used to think of as my wasted years, by telling the truth and laughing about it. Hooray!

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