The Borat phenomenon is sweeping the nation both despite and because of the extremely bad taste of the movie. Anyone who has not seen the nude wrestling scenes have missed the biggest sacrifice an actor (Sash Baron Cohen, not the fat dude, Ken Davitian) has ever made for his art. Coming out of the theater, what people were talking about was that scene. It makes all of us enjoy outrageous sophomoric humor despite our inclination not to do so. I almost didn't go to the movie since I had seen so many of its scenes but I did want to see the wrestling scene.
But what really interests me is how easily "regular folks" were taken in by Cohen's antics. I am, of course, assuming that most of the "regular folks" were not in on the joke in many of the scenes, including the one in which the wrestlers went into a room where a convention meeting was going on. In cases in which individuals are filmed he had to get release forms but not, I suspect, when large groups were involved, in part because it would be impossible. Right now, Cohen is being sued by the drunken frat kids he traveled with for a while because they were drunk when they signed it. This is not quite as bad as the Twinkie Defense but it is close. I suspect that thee young men find it difficult to get dates.
Cohen's ability, as Borat, to con people depends on their having had little personal familiarity with foreigners but having seen people living in very primitive circumstances Such people are likely to assume that that a foreigner may not know our customs and manners or level of technology. This will tend to make them more forgiving of errors in behavior that seem to be honest ones at the time. A second reason is that Americans who have had few interactions with foreigners tend to assume that people who do not speak English properly are a little stupid. I don't think Americans are alone in having that prejudice. A third reason that such people can easily be taken in by someone as gifted as Cohen is that they will expect substantive linguistic errors. So, if Borat is trying to excuse himself to "go to the bathroom" he may be assumed not to know the name of the room he wants to go to or the correct language to use to explain why he needs to go there.
Spoiler paragraph coming: The "dinner party" scene has a hilarious sequence of events in which he tries to excuse himself to "go to the bathroom" and uses some impolite ways of talking about it. That much he could easily get away with. He then returns dangling a little white semi-transparent sack with dark stuff in it. At that point, surely some would assume that he was pulling their legs but the movie continues with a woman in the "bathroom" with him explaining how to use the toilet. We will never know whether she was in on the joke or not, but I've known some fairly dim, very polite people in my life who could possibly be taken that far "down the garden path," as it is called.
Last Spoiler paragraph: Borat's encounter with Holy Rollers (Evangelicals who "act out verbally" by hopping about and speaking in tongues is particularly nice since he, for the most part, lets these people make fools out of themselves without too much exaggeration in behavior by Cohen. I say that in full ignorance of what actually happens when Holy Rollers get together but stories I have heard made what went on seem credible.
Cohen has used interactions not only with ordinary folks (watch his HBO show "Da Ali G" if you can) as well as some very prominent persons such as James Baker, who will shortly tell W how to get us out of Iraq. Of course he can't con such people for long but what he does get is funny. Clearly, there needs to be a separate genre for his sort of humor -- I suggest it be called "train wreck humor" for Cohen creates little and even some quite big train wrecks wherever he goes.
The linguistic moral to this story is don't assume that foreigners are stupid simply because they don't know English well. I should add to that that one should not assume that they are culturally backward except in very rare cases such as encountering Tarzan in a jungle.