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Tuesday, September 25, 2012

"Taste the soup!"

It's always fascinated me that every culture group has its own brand of humour. Sometimes a joke is so culture bound that it is incomprehensible to outsiders. 

   I remember being in Taiwan with a group of Taiwanese students and we began telling jokes. It was clear that while many of them are universal, several just didn't cross the culture barrier. Some of their own jokes were uproariously funny to them, but not to us. Some of ours were also funny for them, but others were clearly mystifying. 

   In Korea on that same trip, it seemed that all the jokes were compatible, though I admit that there were plentiful supplies of soju at that dinner, and the things that amused us highly first time round might not have stood up very well to the retelling on the next morning. 

   Sufi humour is also well known. I have a whole book of it. Sometimes I find that the stories are the same as Zen ones, but as both are in the mystical tradition, that is hardly surprising. Russian and Polish humour have their own edge as well. 

   Yet somehow Jewish humour cuts across all boundaries. Maybe we just get to see so much of it on American sitcoms. This one, from Leo Rosten's The New Joys of Yiddish tickled my fancy. 

   The book was given to me by my friends Carl and Joan. Well, in my cracked memory I thought it was Joan who'd brought it, but Tracey assures me that it was Carl who did, so there you go. I seem to recall the harder I think about it that she's right, as I now have a clear memory of it – maybe a reinvented one, as she described just where he was, next to my bookcase, at the time he gave it to me. Memory does that. 

   Anyway, here's a tiny example, based on the way 'Aha!' is used in Yiddish. 

Postscript: we were just now watching a TV show with Bernadette Peters in it.
   "How old do you think she is?" I asked, having just consulted the oracle.

   "Old!" Tracey said. "I've been watching her in musicals since I was little."

   There was a pause.

   "She's just a couple of months younger than I am," I said, in mock-injury at her comment.

   She laughed much too loudly when admitting to her faux pas.

   I guess that's our brand of humour....


  1. It was Joan who bought the book. Carl was the messenger.


  2. Aha! We were both right then. I'll bet Carl mentioned that you bought it. Win-win. Thanks, Joan!

    That reminds me of an incident that happened many years ago. There were a lot of Down Syndrome children lined up to race, and they crossed the finish line together.

    "No-one won," said a bystander.

    'Everybody won!" shouted one of the kids in great glee.

    Beautiful kids.

  3. Humour - a touch of the litigious variety...

    Thank you for the smiles.

    1. These are priceless. I don't say LOL unless I LOL, but I lolled several times, e.g.,

      Q: Have you lived in this town all your life?
      A: Not yet.



  4. "where's the spoon?" TOO GOOD! gentle humour with a think-about-it twist!

    i remember being told, as i plunged through six years of schoolgirl French, that there are two ways to tell if you are fluent in a second language: 1. you dream in that language, and 2. you can tell a joke in that language … managed the first but never the second! xt


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