Growing up, my mother and my aunt would go back and forth with jokes and quips that could leave the nearby family in physical pain from laughing too hard. I remember asking my mom why I couldn't make people laugh like she and my aunt could. She explained that "wit" was something that came with age, like wisdom. This "wit" that so evaded me at the time was something that had to be learned, then sharpened so that it could be properly and expertly implemented for the maximum effect. Even years after having that conversation, I can't say I'm as witty as my mother, but I'm getting somewhere.
You have to understand that my mother is in the medical field. People in the medical and/or law enforcement (meaning police/detective) fields have to have a slightly twisted sense of humor in order to cope with what they do on a day to day basis. Though I'm not going into either of these fields, I have inherited this twisted sense of humor from my mother. The fact that I'm always around the medical field on the wrong end of the spectrum might have reinforced that sense of humor. I get along with doctors and doctor types very well.
I only get a chance to see my primary care physician once a year when I'm home in the summer, usually just to get a "physical" and to update him on what I've been up to. This year involved some paperwork for France, of course, and this exchange.
Doctor: "Any new conditions?"
Me: "Headaches, and some new acquired allergies. I'll put it this way, they're on my Medic Alert bracelet, and now there are abbreviations. The day I am limited in bracelet selection to "large ID," you're going to have to refer me to a really good psychiatrist."
And the sickness continues... A specialist had ordered an MRI for me, and the company he went through contacted me to make the appointment. After the formalities of "when are you free?" "that depends on how much I need to pay to have this done." passed, this exchange happened.
Receptionist: "Okay. So that's an MRI of the brain."
Me: "Yes, to make sure I have one."
It's just one of those quips that makes you go... wait, what?! Then you laugh, and you move on. That's exactly what the receptionist did. Maybe she'll remember my quip, maybe she won't, but I made her laugh, and as far as I'm concerned, I won that one.
To anyone that's worked in any type of service industry, you have a few different types of people that you deal with. You have the majority of the people that are indifferent: some say please and thank you, some don't, they don't make too much of a fuss, you don't remember them. They're your daily grind. Then there are the people that make crazy orders or are incredibly impolite or otherwise fussy. These are the people that you say "Have a nice day" to with the not-so-veiled sub text of "go die in a fire" below. Then every once in a while, you get someone like me that comes along...
I visited a local camera shop to see if they had the Nikon AW100 that I've had my heart set on for my trip to France for it's shock proof quality (I'm a bit of a camera killer). After explaining my track record and my needs to the owner of the shop, he reluctantly agreed to sell me the camera ("I feel like I'm knowingly sending my cat to the pound"), and even set it up for me by setting the date, time, destination of trip, and adding the strap. Every camera I'd had (there have been six) up to this point had wrist straps, and this one looked a little long. This exchange took place.
Me: "Is that a wrist strap or like... a neck lanyard?"
Owner: "It's a neck strap. You could shorten it to put it on your wrist, I guess."
Me: "No, it's probably better on my neck. I'd be less likely to drop it if it were on my neck... maybe I should stay away from the guillotines..."
The rest of the transaction was filled with quips and jokes between myself and the owner (who had quite the commendable sense of wit as well) before I went on my merry way to play with the new camera that's still intact. Check out my Flickr account to see the pictures I've taken with it so far!
One of my favorite French movies has to be Ridicule. In a nutshell, the main character wants to solve a water quality issue in a poorer part of France (during the Marie Antoinette pre-Guillotine period), and needs an audience with the King. He finds out the the "easiest" way to see the king is to work his way up through the King's Court, and to do that, he needs to master l'esprit or his sense of wit. It's pretty funny, even if you're only reading the subtitles, and you get to understand how devastating it can be when your entire reputation lives or dies on one ill-placest (or properly timed) joke.
It's clear to me that we're no longer in the same time period as Ridicule, but being witty in Paris might help me out in the same way it seems to have in America. Wit seems to act as a sort of "social lubricant" that adds class as well as ease to a conversation or lengthy transaction, and I always find that the pleasantest of company seem to be the funnier people (but not necessarily the brash kind of "funny," though that has its place too).
Les langues n'ont d'élégance qu'autant qu'il y en a dans l'esprit de ceux qui les parlent. -Étienne Bonnot