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Interview Series 2: Humour Abroad

Germans don’t get much credit when it comes to rating a nation’s humour. We are either said to have no humour at all, or are credited as the inventors of the particularly rude “Schadenfreude”. The misunderstanding of German “Witz” (sense of humour) might originate in the difficulty of translating certain layers of humour. There are amazing comedians in Germany (we also have legendary bad ones like Mario Barth, who thinks it’s still funny to joke about how long it takes a woman in the bathroom and such).

Gerhard Polt, Loriot or Karl Valentin are three of the most valued ones. Have you heard their names before? Probably not. Trying to translate their intelligent and dark yet light natured humour to someone from outside of Germany, well sometimes even outside of Bavaria and Austria, is nearly impossible. And trust me, I have tried. My husband has been patient enough to at least feign an interest in my badly translated YouTube videos, only for me to come to the bitter conclusion that although we share a great sense of humour, we will probably never share a love for Gerhard Polt. Just as I will probably never get all jokes by Canadian comedians. That doesn´t mean humour is a barrier! Discovering a country through its humour is a unique way to learn about politics and national identity.

When I first moved to Vienna, the capital of sarcasm and melancholia, I got a grip on the mentality by listening to Josef Hader tapes, watching TV series like Braunschlag and shows like Stermann und Grissemann. I felt I understood the city better because of it. Hearing about humour in other countries and from other perspectives is a way to learn more about a country.

That’s why I asked a few of my expat friends, comedians and bloggers to tell me about their experience with humour abroad, translating jokes and stereotypes.


Norman, EngineerNorman Engineer Oman

Q: Where are you from and where do you live now? I’m a Bavarian currently living and working in the Sultanate of Oman.

Q: What do you think of humour in the country you live in? The Omanis are very cheerful and smile almost 24/7, whether it be out of pure happiness or out of courtesy. In conversations, they seem to have the same humour as us, at least the English-speaking Omani. Also, you can sense a certain kind of black humour while having conversations with them, as they see tragic happenings or misfortune not as a part of fate, but more as a will of Allah.

On our construction sites with a huge variety of workers from all over the world, you could write books about funny misunderstandings due to the language barriers

Q: Do you feel like people understand your sense of humour? It depends totally on the persons you talk to, as there are very educated Omanis who have lived abroad and thus share kind of the same Western humour, as long as you respect some basic cultural rules of courtesy. Also the locals which are living in the remote areas are very easy to talk to and to laugh with them, although I don’t really speak Arabic. Even if you meet an Omani who doesn’t speak any English at all, you can have a conversation with him by hand and feet and you will experience a lot of laughter and helpfulness.

Q: What is typical for your home country’s brand of humour? The Bavarians are generally said to be quite grumpy. Nevertheless, I have no problems to keep up with the happiness of the foreign locals.

Q: Humour and language barriers – any good stories you have experienced? On our construction sites with a huge variety of workers from all over the world, you could write books about funny misunderstandings due to the language barriers. For example I heard a funny story about a petrol truck paint job, where the workshop gave the labeling instruction : “No Smoking” and in Arabic. Finally the truck came back with exactly the words “No smoking and in Arabic”! Some weeks ago I personally had a funny misunderstanding, as a subcontractor repeatedly asked for “Martin from the surveyors”. After an afternoon of searching for the mysterious surveyor “Mr. Martin”, we found out that he wanted to say he needs “marking by the surveyors” Another funny fact, although not particularly connected to language barriers: We have a lot of Indian workers here, wo have the habit of shaking their heads while affirming questions. A lot of my colleagues, especially if they are new here, take that shaking heads as a “No” and funny arguments such as “WHY NOT??” develop.


Kristi, Social Media Specialist & Blogger

Kristi Fuoco Blogger Vancouver Sun

Q: Where are you from and where do you live now?
I’m originally from Vancouver Island but now live in Vancouver, BC and in between those times I’ve lived in New Brunswick, England, on the Isle of Man and in Germany.

Q: What do you think of humour in the country you live in?
I really enjoy Canadian humour. It’s a mix of American and British humour so we get this fun mix of self-deprecation with goofiness.

You know you’ve reached the next level with a language when you can understand and make jokes that are actually funny.

Q: Do you feel like people understand your sense of humour (away from home)? Funny, I actually wrote a whole blog post about this when I was living in Hamburg. It’s WAY harder to make a joke in a foreign language. You know you’ve reached the next level with a language when you can understand and make jokes that are actually funny. I’m not sure I ever got there in Germany but I sure had plenty of people laugh AT my accidental German mistakes.

Q: What is typical for your home country’s brand of humour?
Canadians are good at laughing at themselves. We appreciate wit and subtlety and anything tongue-in-cheek, but we also appreciate the more “in your face” American style humour occasionally. We also really enjoy making fun of Americans: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gFgPX0hnNfA.

Q: Humour and language barriers – any good stories you have experienced? Probably my favourite blog post to write while travel blogging in Germany was my one on the mistakes my students made in English:

In terms of my own story, I do remember one day in German class very vividly. At this point I had the scariest German teacher ever. Our teacher yelled at us if we even pulled out our language dictionaries, told us not to ask questions and told us to NEVER apologize. She was an odd woman. We were convinced she lived at home with 35 cats. In any case, one day in class she went around the class asking each of us what we did last night. Here’s how I went down:
Teacher: Kristi, was hast du gestern Abend gemacht? (Kristi, what did you do last night?)
Me: Ich kochte mein Fernseher.
Teacher? Wie bitte? (I’m sorry, what?)
Me: Ich kochte mein Fernseher.
Teacher:…Um….
Me: Ja, Ich kochte “How I met your Mother”!
Teacher: Oh!! Nicht Kochen! Gucken! Guckte! (It sounds almost identical to me as the “G” in German is pronounced like a “K” sound)
Me: Oh! Ja! Oops…Ich guckte mein Fernseher…..
Apparently I had been saying that I “cooked” my TV for a good five minutes in front of the whole class. Insert pink and embarrassed face here. That was just one of the many times my German failed me. Or I failed at German.

More about Kristi:
Twitter: @kristifuoco, Instagram: https://instagram.com/kristifuoco Her Travel blog: http://blogs.vancouversun.com/author/kristifuoco/
Her Climbing blog: http://startrockin.ca/


 Patrick, Expat & Blogger

Bavarian Expat in Columbia

Q: Where are you from and where do you live now? I am from Munich in Germany and live in Colombia right now, where I am spending half a year in total.

Q: What do you think of humour in the country you live in? People in Colombia are very friendly and have a good sense of humour. They like to joke around just like they do back home in Germany.

…you just can’t react as fast to comical situations like you can in your native language.

Q: Is it harder to make a joke in a foreign language?
It is certainly harder to make a joke if you are not absolutely fluent in a foreign language. I speak Spanish well but you just can’t react as fast to comical situations like you can in your native language.

Q: What is typical for your home country’s brand of humour?
Even though we Germans are not most famous for our sense of humour and are stuck with the stereotype of being rather serious, I’d say we rather have a dry sense of humour, which I am a big fan of.

Q: Humour and language barriers – any good stories you have experienced?
There tend to be misunderstandings which can be quite funny. I lived in the U.S. when I was 16 years old. I had always been curious why Pizza Hut is called that, without giving it too much thought. “Hut” means “hat” in German and I didn’t get why the place would be called pizza hat.There are also a lot of false friends between languages, so I often had difficulties using the wrong words without realizing it. It only becomes apparent when the people you talk to give you that slightly strange look.

Read about his Colombian adventures on Patrick’s Blog: https://einbayerinkolumbien.wordpress.com/


Erica Sigurdson, Comedian

Erica Sigurdson Canadian Comedian

Q: Where are you from and where do you live now?
I was born in Goderich, Ontario but have lived on the west coast since I was 6. I grew up in Surrey and moved to the West End of Vancouver in 2002, where I have lived since.

Q: What do you think of humour in Canada, what is typical “Canadian humour”?
Canadian are some of the funniest people on the planet. I don’t know exactly what it is but you look at some of the top comics in the world and they’re Canadian. I don’t think we have typical Canadian humour – there’s a wide variety of funny people out there. Maybe when people make fun of Canadians they have the idea that we’re super nice and all skate to work.

It’s always funny after you get off stage and realize what’s happened. In the moment though you’re wondering if it’s too late to go back to college.

Q: Humour and language barriers – any good stories you’ve experienced? Being that Vancouver is a tourist destination, you’re going to have a group of people show up to a show that don’t really understand English well enough to ‘get’ jokes. For some reason those people seem to love to sit in the front row. If you don’t know the situation before you start performing, you just watch as you tell a joke and it dies right there in the front row. Somehow they block it from even reaching people in the second row. It’s always funny after you get off stage and realize what’s happened. In the moment though you’re wondering if it’s too late to go back to college.

Q: Any other Canadian comedians you would recommend to check out, especially for Canada “newbies”?
Oh, wow. There’s almost too many to mention – but I will try. Locally we’ve got some amazing talent – Ivan Decker, Kyle Bottom, Katie-Ellen Humphries, Chris James, Graham Clark, Charlie Demers, Sophie Buddle, Brent Butt – and across Canada even more – Trent McClellan, Pete Zedlacher, Steve Patterson, Jen Grant, Rebecca Kohler, Derek Seguin … there’s so many.

See Erica in action: https://www.facebook.com/events/124961817840213/

Erica will perform at the Ladies Day Out, a fabulous High Tea Event at the Fairmont.
Erica’s homepage: http://www.ericasigurdson.com/


 Read my first Interview Series on Heimat and feeling at home.
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My 5 Favourite Festivities in Vancouver

To get to know a city, it’s people and quirks, taking part in local celebrations is key. Vancouver has a couple of amazing, hilarious and beautiful festivities that give the city a special flavour.These are my five favourite celebrations and festivities throughout the year:

Halloween

Not all Germans carry the Carneval gene. In Munich, Oktoberfest is way more important than Karneval (ask someone from Cologne or Mainz though!). Dressing up was never one of my obsessions. But being creative is – and that’s why the contagious Halloween-fever in North America finally got to me this year. While I was half-heartedly dressed as a budget-saving “London Eye”-riddle last year (obviously no one knew what or who I was), this year I will actually make an effort to get some proper accessoires and fake blood on me. And what’s not to love about this holiday: Adorable kids dressed as Oreo Cookies and Mini-Zombies on the sidewalk, carving pumpkins with friends, eating candy, watching Beetlejuice and taking walks through the neighbourhood looking at peoples tricked out gardens transformed into graveyards and skeleton-parties. Fun.

Halloween House Shaugnessy Garden Fall

Polar Bear Swim

The Vancouverite way of starting the new year is with blue lips and clacking teeth. The Polar Bear Swim is an infamous annual hangover cure that separates the Vancouverites into three groups: The bystanders holding towels, hot chocolate and rum; the brave swimmers, partly costumed; and the whimps, those that can’t face the cold waters of English Bay. Too bad I am not in town for this years swim. Next year I will take the plunge. Maybe.

Polar Bear Vancouver Sun
Credit: Ward Perrin, PNG

Canada Day

I had no idea what an array of maple leaf accessories there were out there. On Canada Day Canadians go all out. Everyone is in their red and white gear and out on the beach, BBQ’n it up and celebrating Canada’s birthday. This year was particulary nice as the 1st of July was one of those über-hot 36°C summer days. I highly recommend going down to Wreck Beach to celebrate with the locals.Never have I seen our beloved Nudie Beach (We call it FKK in Germany, meaning ‘free body culture’) so packed. Needless to say the Canada Day costumes down there were legendary. I’ve never seen more relaxed beach cops either, playing frisbee with some Wreck regulars and ignoring the obvious cocktail pitchers (and yes, we are in North America after all. We have beach cops.). There is also a funky parade and fireworks. Which leads me to another favourite in my calendar…

IMG_7250

The Celebration of Light

I thought my New Years experience in Sydney, Australia in 2007 was hard to top. But I had seen nothing yet. The Celebration of Lights is something else, especially because it is in the middle of summer. It’s three days long and three nations compete to show who can create the best firework show. The whole city is watching, even on TV. The professionally orchestrated pyro-show is accompanied by music which you can tune in on the radio. Bring a camping chair to any high ground or make friends with someone living in a high rise with a waterfront view and you are set for the jaw-dropping celebration.

Terry Fox Run

I had never heard of Terry Fox until I moved to Vancouver. Shocking, I know. His ‘Marathon of Hope’ (1980) across the country to raise money for cancer research made him a national hero and running legend. He could not finish his run due to cancer in his lungs and when he died in 1981 at the age of only 22 the whole nation was grief-struck.

“Even if I don’t finish, we need others to continue. It’s got to keep going without me.” – Terry Fox

His legacy kept running strong. Terry has become synonymous for the fight of cancer and every year thousands of people gather in his memory to participate in running events across the country to keep his goals alive: Support Cancer research and never give up on your dreams. Read more about the Terry Fox Foundation here. Who’s joining me 2015?

Terry Fox Run Vancouver 2014
Picture: Flickr.com / RunSociety