Ill-Judged Britishness, and Self-Deprecation within a Power Dynamic

By Charles Sutton on August 5, 2018

I really should know better. Twice now, I’ve done this to myself. I was a social event with one of my PhD students, like a party during a conference, where I was introducing them to a colleague. Feeling relaxed after a beer or two, I attempted an ill-judged joke, “So-and-so has the misfortune of being one of my students.”

Often that type of humour works well for me, and is enjoyed all around. Well, maybe I’m not perceptive enough to tell if anyone else enjoys it, but I do.

The misfortunate joke never works, though. Both times the student turned and looked at me like I had three heads. Why would I say something like that about myself? Why would being my PhD student be a bad thing?

The second time this happened, I at least maintained enough poise to explain myself. “Nothing to worry about,” I said quietly to my student. “I’m just feeling a bit British.”


“Self-deprecation,” I said.

“Oh, of course.” Immediate understanding.