The Self-Deprecation Rule
The problem arises when we English attempt to play this game with people from outside our own culture, who do not understand the rules, fail to appreciate the irony, and therefore have an unfortunate tendency to take our self-deprecating statements at face value. We make our customary modest noises, the uninitiated foreigners accept our apparently low estimate of our achievements, and are duly unimpressed.
We cannot very well turn around and say ‘No hey, wait a minute, you’re supposed to give me a sort of knowingly sceptical smile, showing that you realise I’m being humorously self-deprecating, don’t believe a word of it and think even more highly of my abilities and my modesty’. They don’t know that this is the prescribed English response to prescribed English self-deprecation. They don’t know we are playing a convoluted bluffing game. They inadvertently call our bluff, and the whole thing backfires on us. And frankly, it serves us right for being so silly.
From: Watching the English: The Hidden Rules of English Behaviour, by Kate Fox