‘Understanding the Ur-Bororo’ by Will Self

This is Self’s funniest story: an aspiring anthologist called Janner, based at university in Reigate, wins a bursary to study the Ur-Bororo, a mysterious tribe living in the Paquatyl region of the Amazon. When Janner returns from his mission, he has suddenly become adept at making small-talk, for the Ur-Bororo have rubbed off on him. It transpires the tribe are “relentlessly banal”, their language possessing a number of different inflections which describe various states of boredom – boring hunting, boring gathering, boring fishing, boring sex. In a deliciously satirical ending, Janner marries a member of the tribe and they settle in England, where she fits in perfectly with British society.

First published in The Quantity Theory of Insanity, Bloomsbury, 1991

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