A friend in a Couchsurfing forum observed that when he first moved to Malta he would try jokes, wry observations, and other kinds of humor I was used to back in New Hampshire and Boston. I’d usually receive blank stares, nasty looks, and be ignored. I stopped the jokes, quickly.
Maltese culture has been affected by population packed on small islands, being colonized, and surely other forces unknown to me. My friend Michael, an extremely astute retired sales person, told me that the men here never consciously show weakness – loss of face is a serious thing.
Humor in Malta seems to be heavily into toilet references and slapstick (people slipping/falling, dropping packages, being splashed by cars, etc.). Enjoyment of the misfortune of someone else.
Humor and culture in Ireland has been refreshing for me. People are far more open, smile and talk to strangers, love long well crafted stories that have a clever punchline, and most of all seem to make a high art of slagging.
Slagging took some getting used after a dozen years in the Mediterranean. Slagging is making fun of someone (in a good natured verbal way), give them a bit of a hard time, and welcomes engagement. It promotes verbal, goodhearted interaction.
Slagging in the Med might result in your new car being scratched by a key or maybe even a more severe, dramatic action. Losing face is a major traumatic experience in the Med.
I think gender plays a big part too. Women are more geared to sympathy-giving however sincere it may or may not be. And there may be other more arcane reasons too.
I think razzing/slagging is more a male thing in the western world…a safe way of bonding…if there is a common understanding and it isn’t underscoring hostility or used as a way of keeping emotional distance. Which is another story entirely. Heaven forbid that an ordinary western man would admit to sentiment! Although I have met some…and read some…of the most deeply sentimental men. It takes great courage and confidence.
I grew up hearing my father razz his friends and being razzed by them. Then I lived in a house for years with a male spouse and 3 male off-spring and their friends. I was the in-house “straight man.” I soon learned that it was much more fun to join them than to go off sulking…thinking they were making fun of me. And to give it out as good as I got it. A bit of a confession here: Fortunately or unfortunately it has become second nature for me but usually people don’t expect it coming from a woman. So generally I prefer being around men who don’t take everything so deadly serious.
But this only works within cultures, as you say, where it is known and understood what is going on. And it can be absolutely hilarious. To this day I love being around my kids and their friends and listening to the repartee. “Intelligence” may play a part in how quickly a person can pick up on it and think of a “comeback though.
Outside of a culture that does this, though, it can be very dangerous. I had to laugh at my friend’s description of men in Malta!
My husband has a very dry sense of humor and he could say the most outrageous things possible with a totally straight face when we were traveling together. Getting enjoyment, of course, out of watching a shocked face of the person who doesn’t get it and takes him literally. Many times I have wanted to crawl under a chair when they get the feeling they are being made fun of.
This is most common in Asia. It got so tiring of having to take care to “save face.” Which is why I am so simpatico with Mexico and most Latino cultures that place a great value on humility. They can laugh easily at themselves and they are delighted when you tease them and they can tease back. The countries we were in in East Africa were great fun in this regard too. And India was the best of all! Indians can be really funny and they were great fun! Of course these are all generalities.
In the Couchsurfing International Politics group right now we are seeing a lot of sparring between an ardent edgy Iranian female feminist and an irascible male New Yorker neither of whom “get” the other’s sense of humor. Of course the start of it was a self-proclaimed satirical post which bombed because no one there really knew her and took it literally.
But humor is a great way of getting under the skin of another culture…if you survive to tell about it! Ha!
Tags: Culture, Reflections