It’s tough being a humour columnist right now. There’s a flood of whacky stories, and it’s difficult to tell what’s real and what’s satire, and what’s just flat out fake.
So, it was with a jaundiced eye that I read an old news release by the Zoological Society of London about chimpanzees. After explaining how chimps are our closest living relatives, with similar expressions and behaviours, the group — apparently in all seriousness — calls for volunteers to talk like chimpanzees.
“Animal behaviour experts at ZSL are asking volunteers to ‘talk chimp’ in everyday life,” says the press release, “and see how primate patter can resolve workplace conflicts, express emotions and strengthen human bonds.”
The Society helpfully provides a form that explains six chimpanzee behaviours, and asks you to report back where you used the behaviour and how it helped you. Never one to shy away from progress and research, I have performed my own experiments. Here are the results:
Distress: For this behaviour, you’re meant to form an ‘o’ with your mouth and make a short, high pitched “oo oo oo” sound. I attempted this during my last call to technical support, while navigating the voice mail options. After pressing 384 for “please start again because you’ve gotten completely lost,” I made a very loud “oooooo” noise. An operator immediately broke in over the hold music and asked if I was okay. Results: I made several more noises, and was not only immediately patched through to a technician who solved my problem, but I received a free software upgrade CD.
Fear: Here you’re supposed to bare all your teeth, lower your head, and crouch down. I did this the last time the postman brought me a fistful of utility bills. Positive results: He doesn’t come around anymore. No more bills! Negative results: No more Christmas cards either, I suspect.
Play face: This requires a smiley type face and a high-pitched hoot that rises, sometimes changing into a throaty laugh. I did this several times at the last hockey game that I attended. Results: No one appeared to notice.
Authority: Usually demonstrated by males, during this display the chimp makes as much noise as possible to shock and awe his foes, brandishing objects and trying to seem bigger. Results: I didn’t bother trying this one as clearly there are a few world leaders using this behaviour already.
Greeting: Here the arm is to be extended with an open fist, and the greeting is to be accompanied by a throaty “huh huh huh.” I never did work out what an open fist was supposed to be, but I tried this behaviour at a convention recently. Positive results: I had several offers of employment. Negative results: They were all for, erm, ‘adult chat’ phone services.
Grooming: A more dominant chimp presents his or her back to another chimp for grooming. Since the best place to observe groming behaviour in modern society is at a teenaged girl’s slumber party, I crashed one this weekend. Positive results: I have way cool hair now. Negative results: I am also sporting a tattoo that says “Hoobastank rocks!” and I have no idea what this means.
The Zoological Society claims that it will publish the results of this study later this year. Given the reactions of some of the people I tried “chimp talk” on, I suspect the study will say one of two things:
1) “The chimp talk experiment provided valuable data on both chimp/human interactions and corporate communications techniques.”
2) “The lads at the society had a jolly good laugh at the expense of all the dorks who actually went around talking like monkeys at their family and friends. Results: It’s amazing what you can get people to do with a press release!”