The other day I mentioned the confusion so many of the Europeans I meet feel when they contemplate the ways of their British colleagues. Reading Olivia Manning's Balkan Trilogy this morning, I was struck by a passage, which dramatises the situation. A young Romanian woman called Sophie has just listened to a group of English speakers telling a joke, and finds it confusing; she proceeds to tell a Romanian joke to illustrate what humour is about so far as she is concerned:
'"Then I do not understand. Why is it funny?"
"Why," Inchcape blandly asked, "is anything funny?"
The answer did not satisfy Sophie. She said with some asperity, "That is an English joke, eh? Here in Romania we have jokes, too. We ask, 'What is the difference between a kitten and a bar of soap?' I think they are silly, such jokes."
"Well, what is the difference?" Guy asked.
Sophie gave him an irritated look and would not answer. He set about persuading her until at last she whispered in a petulant little voice: "If you put a kitten to the foot of a tree, it will climb up."'