Earlier today I got to thinking about one cultural difference that I don’t often seem to here about: sarcasm. It has been pointed out to me from time to time that I’m sarcastic. I don’t take this to be an insult or unfair critique. It’s just the way I am. But for the most part it’s completely normal around here. It’s usually not picked up on by other locals. They take part in it as much as I do. I remember one time in high school a teacher told me that the further you go into the Downeast area of Maine the more sarcastic people are. I’ve only driven through there so I can’t relate completely. I’ll just have to take her word for it.
I have heard more than once that sarcasm isn’t big in Scandinavia. I have heard from at least one stand-up comedian that around there people have a hard time with irony, which makes for interesting results when performing. I went to Norway for a week back in 2006 but I didn’t talk to people all that much.
The point of this post isn’t to point out the difference in these cultures as far as sarcasm is concerned. The point is that it is a difference. Not everybody picks up on irony at the same level as everybody else. This suggests that I was brought up in a culture with a mid-to-high level of sarcasm. Having it as part of my upbringing makes me wonder how much it affects the way I think and act. For the most part sarcasm is based on the negative. “Like I’m rich” is saying that I’m not rich. If I were to humorously tell somebody to fix a problem with their house by burning it I’m most likely not telling them to burn it. These aren’t exactly the same type of negativity but you get the idea.
How much of this translates to the way I think and act? The most obvious example is in conversation but I have to wonder what else might be affected. Do I have a largely negative worldview? Not entirely but I think having a good sense of sarcasm gives one the extra push to think of alternatives. Let’s take the above example of being rich. Simply saying that I’m not rich stops the thought there. But if I were to say that I am rich, even though I’m not, puts that idea in my head. What if I were rich? What would I do with that money? How do I get rich?
Obviously I haven’t figured the answers to these questions out but that isn’t the point. By exercising that way of thinking I feel that I’m more prone to problem-solving. At least that’s my working hypothesis. This is something I would like to study but I’m not sure how. Perhaps a sociology student could devise a way to study this in college. Maybe friends of mine who live in other parts of the world can try changing their levels of sarcasm and see what results they yield. Or I could be completely wrong. But I get the feeling that sarcasm does affect us in certain ways without our thinking about it.