British working-class banter. Cultural or just plain disrespectful?
Over the past few months, my dear new wife has overheard the banter between me and my daughter and was left almost traumatized to the point where I questioned whether I had been as good of a father as I had thought.
Perplexed, I immediately called a friend I had grown up with, now living in Ireland to seek his opinion. In stitches, he said that my idea of banter was lame compared to that of him his daughter. His wife too, at first, was distraught with the apparent cruelty of words that were brushed off so easily and countered with equal venom. Today, he is happy to say, his wife is now a master in this form of communication and could hold courses in its subtitles.
So how did I master this art and unwittingly pass it down a generation? It certainly wasn’t from my Jamaican parents, who too would be mortified if they heard me speaking in such tones. Not here in this area of North American where it would certainly result in fisticuffs or worse………. It was learned as an engineering apprentice in the heart of a rough, working-class environment of a small town called Willenhall nestled in the ‘black country’ of the Midlands, so-called for its role in the industrial revolution. In my mind ‘Black Country” would have been better referenced to the style of humor.
My teachers were Mick, Gary, Ernie, Harold, and Willie. Every one of them a unique character. I remember it well, during a coughing fit on my first day as a fresh-faced apprenticeship one of them shouted, “Hurry up and die yuh bastard!” That was my initiation and joyful to say, it only got worse from that point on.
Banter was the means of communication throughout building sites and it worked to pass an otherwise repetitive and boring day, provided everyone involved was in on the joke. The gentler form of banter involved sport but once that was established it could progress to sexual orientation and performance, colour and even mild disability. The ground rules were that remarks were delivered with underlying, if heavily disguised, humour with the understanding that all would be received without offence and returned with a withering riposte. The ‘slag’ had to be received as well as given.
Puppy dogs and roses weren’t our environment. We used what we had to, to bond and create friendships- memories that I still hold dear to this day.
This won’t make sense to many readers but those from a similar background will understand only too well. My daughter flipping me the bird is not a form of disrespect or anger, but actually a term of endearment.