Farting etiquette

A tourist on safari once asked me whether there was a polite way of farting – he was obviously being facetious. It’s no secret that we gorillas are prone to flatulence because of our lush, vegetarian diet, and I could tell from his twitching lip that he was poking fun at our emissions.

“We gorillas are proficient at breaking wind politely,” I said, “but I fear that our methods would not travel well to the lounge-room.”

“Oh, go on!” insisted the man. “I’d love to blow one off in my mother-in-law’s place and get away with it!”

“Since you are so adamant, I will instruct you on the basic principles,” I replied. “The courteous farter makes every effort to prevent the pungent gases from his bowels arriving at the nostrils of his companions. In the open air, this can normally be achieved by pointing one’s posterior in the right direction. But if you are indoors, I can only suggest that you put your head between your legs and sniff up the fumes like a vacuum cleaner.”

“I couldn’t do that!” exclaimed the man. “My farts are too rich and would poison me if I inhaled them deeply!”

I could have said “So what?”, but one makes an effort to be polite to tourists in my part of the world. “If your farts are so constituted, I would advise you to run into the garden when you feel your bowels tighten and discharge the gas on a lit match. As well as burning off the pollutants, the ignition of the vapours would be an enthralling spectacle for any spectators watching indoors.”

“I might just try that after eating a curry!” he retorted, before walking away with a hideous grin on his face.

Although we gorillas take pains to avoid farting in each other’s faces, we feel no shame about breaking wind audibly. It’s only humans who have these curious complexes about not wanting to be caught doing something that everyone does. Smacker Ramrod, the circus vet, told me a story about a boy who farted in his old school. It was a tradition, at that establishment, for boys to take sherry with the masters on their final day at the school. While sipping his beverage, a boy called Cedric Guppy had the misfortune to break wind loudly. As all eyes turned towards him, the poor fellow blushed horribly and raced out of the room without saying a word. His shame was such that he never returned for any old boys’ events and avoided all contact with his former classmates.

Many years later, when all witnesses to the incident had left the school, Cedric could not resist returning to his alma mater, fervently hoping that memories of his indiscretion had faded into oblivion. Turning up on a sports day, he saw no familiar faces apart from one: that of Mulberry, the groundsman, now stooping and grey with age. Noticing that he had not been recognised, Cedric asked Mulberry about the recent history of the school. Assuming that Cedric was an old boy, the groundsman told him about the new library, the geography master who had played rugby for England, the boys who had won Oxbridge scholarships, and a host of other significant events on a far higher plane than ancient flatulence.

Cedric then made tentative enquiries about the boys in his year, and was pleased that Mulberry remembered many things about them without once mentioning the valedictory sherry party. He went on to ask about the masters who had taught him, and was intrigued to learn that his old history teacher had been dismissed for seducing the girl who worked at the tuck shop.

“When did that happen?” asked Cedric in prurient fascination.

“Couldn’t give you the exact date,” replied Mulberry, “but I think it was the year after Cedric Guppy’s fart.”

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