Sticky Notes of Thoughts

…because some thoughts are worth remembering

On Being Funny in Another Language/Culture


They say you’ve mastered a language when you dream in that language. I say you’ve mastered the culture when you can joke in that culture.

Humor can be one of the final frontiers of acclimating to another country. You have to command a certain level of language skill and be immersed in their cultural practices sufficiently enough to know what their “norm” is, to be able to crack a joke. One of my Danish language school teachers was brave enough (?) to give us some humor books in Danish by some popular TV hosts. The class read the books for the first 20 minutes in complete silence, only interrupted by questioning ourselves if we misunderstood any of the words because, well, the jokes were lost on us.

Here’s one in a Danish culture book called How to be Danish that I did get, mocking the west part of Jutland of Denmark, known for taciturn folks:

A farmer from West Jutland needed some help, and hires a young lad with a warning: “we work hard around here. none of these chitchats”. the young lad nods and gets working right away.
A year later, the farmer approaches the lad and says he’s thinking about buying a new bicycle. The lad nods and gets back to work.
Six month later, the farmer approaches the lad again and tells him that he bought the said bike. The lad nods, and gets back to work.
Then six more month after that, it’s the lad who approaches the farmer this time, and says “sorry, I can’t work for you anymore”. “Why? am I not paying you enough?”
“No, it’s not that”, says the lad, “I just can’t stand any more of this bicycle talk.”

It’s one thing to understand a joke, it’s a whole different level to be able to crack one people in that culture really get. I think I’m going to be dreaming in Danish before I get to deliver a punch line that elicits a quiet Danish laugh.


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This entry was posted on April 10, 2015 by in Culture, Denmark, language and tagged , , , , .
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