we may be 4th from bottom, but our humour is intact.
The English are not usually given to patriotic boasting - indeed, both
patriotism and boasting are regarded as unseemly, so the combination of
these two sins is doubly distasteful. But there is one significant exception
to this rule, and that is the patriotic pride we take in our sense of humour,
particularly in our expert use of irony. The popular belief is that we have
a better, more subtle, more highly developed sense of humour than any
other nation, and specifically that other nations are all tediously literal in
their thinking and incapable of understanding or appreciating irony.
Almost all of the English people I interviewed subscribed to this belief,
and many foreigners, rather surprisingly, humbly concurred. ........
For those attempting to acclimatize to this atmosphere, the most
important "rule" to remember is that irony is endemic: like the humour in
general, irony is a constant, a given, a normal element of ordinary,
everyday conversation. The English may not always be joking, but they
are always in a state of readiness for humour. We do not always say the
opposite of what we mean, but we are always alert to the possibility of
From: Watching the English by Kate Fox, anthropologist, London 2004.
more of it here, and in German. (or google "particularly in our expert use of irony")