"In Canada or the States, you'd be fired," I said. "You're not supposed to give them an excuse to do it. In America, if you tell people you're rubbish, they'll believe you're rubbish."
"It's British self-deprecation, darling," said B.A. "People expect it. They like it. They think well of you for it."
"How does THAT work?" I grumbled. "Surely human nature is the same across all cultures. I'm googling this."
"Yes, google it," said B.A.
So I googled "British self-deprecation" and it came up at once. On Debrett's:
Self-deprecation is a trait that permeates British culture. It is a national characteristic - evident in a sense of history that, possibly uniquely, dwells on 'glorious' failures (the Charge of the Light Brigade, Dunkirk, Scott's race against Amunsden). It is also a valued personality trait, which people find engaging and - according to the latest anthropological research - sexually attractive.
The British have a horror of what they call 'blowing your own trumpet', and are deeply averse to earnestness, pomposity and self-importance. Statements that, in another culture, would simply be attributed as confident expressions of self-esteem, are misinterpreted in Britain as boastful and self-aggrandising.
If you want to avoid being misunderstood, learn to downplay your attributes and resort wherever possible to understatement. People will read between the lines and admire your modesty.
"See?" demanded B.A. "See? And it's so basic to British culture I had no idea you didn't know that."
Well, I'm jiggered. No wonder I don't have a blinking job here. Blimey, the British are even more wily, perfidious and deceitful than I thought. Sexually attractive?!?! Yeah, I want to see a link for that one. How does anyone get anything sold? Really, I will never understand this island.
Brit Man: Well, I'll tell you, old girl, I just looked up from the jolly old whodunit and saw a blinking tiger! Well! You expect that kind of thing in India, but not after four on a drowsy afternoon on the verandah, eh? So anyway, wouldn't you know it, the bally beast was creeping up on a native child quietly amusing itself in the jolly old dirt with a friendly centipede! So I picked up my gun in my ham-fisted sort of way, you know, and shot off a round or two that went absolutely wide, but at least it gave the tiger pause for thought, no pun intended-ha ha ha! And wouldn't you know it, but the striped beggar came bounding towards me! But fortunately, my shots alerted clever Anton here---
European Continental: And I shoot him between eyes. I am best shot in entire, how you say, Eendyan subcontinent. I drill him; he fall flat. Will make beautiful rug for fortunate wooman.
Brit Woman (totally ignoring Continental Anton): Oh, Bertie. You are brave.
Brit Man: Oh, pshaw. All in a day's work, what, what? Let's have a drink, shall we?