Two Romans and a Briton

Did you hear the one about the two Roman soldiers and a Briton watching the chariot races at Londinium ?

Me neither,  but I am sure there was such a story similar to the one told by Billy Connolly about rival fans at a Rangers Vs Celtic match.

I saw the same story recently cast in the form of two Arabs and an American on a plane.

It seems that after takeoff, the American kicked off his shoes and one of the Arabs sitting in a window seat announced that he was going to get a beer. The American, in the aisle seat, said “I’ll get it for you”.

While the American was gone, one of the Arabs spat in the American’s shoe. When the American returned with the beer, the other Arab said “that looks good, I think I’ll have one too.” Again, the American obligingly went to get another beer and the Arab spat in his other shoe.

As the plane began its approach for landing, the American slipped on his shoes and realized what had happened. He looked over at his Arab companions and asked “Why does it have to be this way?. How long must this go on, this fighting between our nations? This hatred? This animosity? This spitting in shoes and pissing in beer?”

This more recent incarnation of a very old joke is interesting in that the story assumes that the “Arabs” are not American and that the American is not Semitic. If the story were just about three guys on a plane, it probably wouldn’t work. The joke depends on the listener supplying the tension by assuming American and Arab stereotypes.

The Billy Connolly version is much funnier and far cleverer. The Connolly version is not merely a funny story about the passions of rival football teams but a brilliant satire ridiculing all conflicts over trivialities.

The earliest version of this satire may be Jonathon Swifts “Gulliver’s Travels” in which the diminutive Lilliputians fought a perpetual war against the equally diminutive Blefuscudians. The casus belli was a difference of opinion over whether a boiled egg ought to be opened at the big end or the little end hence the “bigendians” versus the “littleendians”. This was a biting satire against wars over trivial differences of religious opinion as typified by the early 18th century wars between catholic France and protestant England. Don’t forget that we once burned people alive over differences of religious opinion.

Will we ever stop pissing in each others boots over trivialities? I hope so, but I wont hold my breath.