Any kind of culture is funny, really, when you take into account the absurdity of community. The driving force for civilization, the idea of culture and community is a human invention. Aside from the prides of lions or the flock of gulls, society is largely non-existent in the natural world. It is unexpected for a group of organisms to suddenly develop the grounds for a society such as we observe in the modern day. We don’t find it particularly funny because it is our reality: society is what allows us the lives we lead. Taking a step back, though, once may come to realize the humor in the miniscule details of everyday life.
Bill Bryson offers us this perspective in his I’m a Stranger Here Myself as he relishes in the small absurdities that constitute daily life here in the United States of America. I argue that this book could be written about anywhere so long as it adheres to the native audience. The power behind Bryson’s prose is that he peels away the veil of normalcy in things in order to examine its nature and, ultimately, have fun with it. The part where he seats himself at a restaurant reminds me of Larry David in Curb Your Enthusiasm: by appealing to common sense rather than societal standards, Bryson has inadvertently become a nuisance to the restaurateurs. He uses this as an opportunity to examine the unspoken American customs that we have all but forgotten were there in the first place. By prying us from our comfort zones of culture, Bryson shows us what our culture really looks like, and it’s hilarious.