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:

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.
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: Her Travel blog:
Her Climbing blog:

 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:

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:

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

 Read my first Interview Series on Heimat and feeling at home.

Best Of Instagram: November

November was a very exciting month – wrapping up work projects, getting ready to head out of town to get married, spending weekends in class and…enjoying some spectacular cold days in the sun! This weekend, my Canadian and I are heading to my “Heimat” Germany. As well as Munich we will visit Bamberg, Vienna and Budapest. Stay tuned for snaps and stories from Europe. Happy Glühwein-Season and see you in 2015, Vancouver!

Mayne Island was the second Gulf island I got to check out (next to Salt Spring) and I loved it. Especially the Japanese Garden and the Springwater Lodge were worth the rough ferry trip.

The view of English Bay on a blue bird day is hard to beat. This shot was taken on the afternoon of Remembrance Day.

Running in this city rules. Passing by tourist sights, running to the sound of crashing waves and stretching at the beach makes me grateful to live here, year-round. And grateful for gloves.

Somehow we managed to get our German wedding organized from afar. On top of work and school it was a challenge at times, but we even found the time and patience to make our very own, handmade invitations.

Early December we got hit by snow. It didn’t last for very long but seeing our doodley dog go nuts in the powder was very much worth the grey mud we had to wade through for the rest of the week.

Oyama Sausage Granville Island White Sausage

6 Tips on Where to Find German Food In Vancouver

When I am asked what I miss most about Germany, I always answer with the three F’s: family, friends and food. While the latter is a pure luxury problem and I very much enjoy the range of cuisines one can enjoy in Vancouver (especially the ocean to table options!) – sometimes I crave a taste of home. That’s what comfort food means to me, feeling a little closer to home with the help of a dish. A good pretzel can make my day and when I found Krapfen (basically a jelly filled donut without a hole) and good Bauernbrot (farmer’s bread) at a local bakery, Vancouver felt a lot more like home all of a sudden. So where do you go when homesickness hits or you just want to try some German staples?

1. Bread

I kissed a lot of frogs (named German Rye, Vienna Style or Fritz Buns) until I found the amazing ‘Bauernbrot’ at Breka Bakery. It’s the first bread that tasted just like at home. With salami, mustard and a pickle for lunch or Nutella for breakfast it hits the spot. Speaking of pickles: Germans do not hang a pickle in their christmas tree. This “tradition” is basically unheard of in Germany, against all North American beliefs.

German Christmas Myth Pickle

Photo by © Jamie Anderson

2. Pretzels

Similar to my bread research, it took me a while to find the best pretzel in town. The Deutsches Haus serves expensive and dry ones, so I turned to the Swiss (!) Bakery and  found my match. The pretzels here are a bit too soft for my Bavarian preference, but throw them in the toaster and you will get a sense of what a pretzel should taste like. Pretzels and sweet mustard – something is missing here…

Swiss Bakery Pretzels Vancouver

Photo by Swiss Bakery

3. Sausages

There are amazing butchers in Vancouver. Unlike German sausages, there is a lot of experimentation going on here: Blueberry-Elk, Apple-Pork, IPA-Bratwurst – there’s no limits when it comes to “Wurst”. My favourite sausage makers are Rio Friendly Meats on Hastings and Oyama on Granville Island. The latter is selling the best white sausage in the city. This brunch sausage is equally as important to a Bavarian as Bacon is to a Canadian. White sausages are simmered and not boiled. Don’t get caught putting it on the BBQ either or you will never hear the end of it.

Oyama Sausage Granville Island White Sausage

Photo by Oyama Sausage Co.

4. Sweets

Sometimes it has to be the real thing. You won’t have any trouble tracking down Ritter Sport or Lindt Chocolate. Milka is a different story though , but it is possible to find the purple goodness (I`ve seen it at the J N & Z Deli on Commercial Drive). London Drugs offers a surprisingly good selection of Bahlsen-Cookies, Manner-Waffers (Viennese!) and Haribo Candy. Same goes for Marmelade, Mustard (Kühne Sweet Mustard) and Spekulatius (spiced cookies) which you will find at Deli Supermarkets like Meinhardts or Stongs Market. And there is even a German Sweets Foodcart in this awesome city: The “Cändy Meister” Truck sells all natural German bonbons.

Ritter Sport German Chocolate

Photo by Ritter Sport

5. Beer

Liquor stores generally offer Löwenbräu and Becks…not my first choices. But there is great German style beer from local breweries in Vancouver. Russell Brewing and Bomber Brewing make a mean Märzen and a lot of the local wheat beer and Helles are very tasty too. I love touring around breweries like 33Acres, Parallel 49 and Brassneck to sample their fresh brews. But that’s a whole different blog post.

6. German Fast Food

A good Curry Sausage can do wonders before a big night out or after a long day. Bestie is the best place in town to get your fix. And on top of that, they serve litre-porcelain steins of beer, the only legitimate size in Bavaria where a “small beer” means 0,5 litre. Sometimes they feature a Leberkäs Specials which is basically a Bavarian Meatloaf in a bun. We call it health food.

Bestie Sausage Currywurst Vancouver

Photo via

What’s your favourite German food?

10 Signs of Becoming a Vancouverite

The place you live changes you. For the better and the worse. Leaving my German “Pünktlichkeit” (punctuality) behind and cutting back on the infamous “Direktheit” (brutal honesty) has come naturally. Some things though, like addressing your employer or instructor with their first name or shouting a heartfelt “Thank you” to the Bus driver still take some courage. But I start feeling the change and despite being a “Working Traveller” on paper, I feel closer to becoming a Vancouverite already.

1. The 24/7 Yoga Outfit

To the coffee shop, to the bank, meeting a friend for lunch, at the grocery store, to the park, in class, on public transport, at the beach, in restaurants, in the pub. They are everywhere. Yoga pants are the uniform of Vancouver’s women. Casual, comfy and flattering, it fits almost any activity of the day – hard not to see the benefits of that. For me as a European this is a new definition of effortless style and it didn’t take me very long to embrace it.

Note from the author: A velour track suit or the very popular parachute style (Berlin) are definitely not accepted in public in Vancouver. If you are unsure about the rule set, consult your nearest Lululemon sales assistant.

2. No Umbrella

Big news – it rains a lot in Vancouver. But you will hardly find a local carrying an umbrella with them. You invest in good (looking) rainboots and a stylish rain jacket, but umbrellas are tourist wear. Toughen up!

Dylan King Red Umbrella                                  Source: Dylan King Photography

3. The Bacon

Maple Bacon Donuts? Eww. My first reaction was disgust. Meanwhile, about a year later, I like to eat my Sunday waffles topped with raspberries, maple syrup and some bacon. Yes, I am a convert.

4. “It’s local!”

Having people over for dinner? You better check where your beets are from. Knowing each and every origin of your dinner supplies is crucial for hosting a dinner party. Even better: Get a Community Garden lot and serve the best introduction possible “They’re homegrown”. Jackpot.

5. Own a Growler

The Growler has become a collector’s item and at the same time is a way to express your enviro-friendly self. The further your branded beer container has travelled, the more nods from bearded men you will get at the brewery.

Note from the author: I am not talking about animals here. A Growler is a 1,9l refillable jug for craft beer.

Growler at Brassneck Brewery

6. No  Smoking

Having lived in Vienna for six years I got pretty used to yellow stained walls and constant cigarette smoke around. Vancouver is the complete opposite. Vancouverites don’t smoke. Well, let’s say they don’t smoke tobacco.

7. Be Active

Run, Hike, Paddle – Vancouverites love the outdoors. And there is no excuse. Heavy rain? Pack an extra set of clothes. Snow? Throw some snowshoes on. Heat? Well. Okay. Let’s go to the beach then…

8. Kale, Quinoa and Kraft Dinner

Kale is the arugula of the 21st century. Just salad does not fulfill any yoga-triathlete-crossfit-practicer. Kale is the Vancouverite’s superfood of choice. Only quinoa might be a competition. Or Kraft Dinner. Not celery though (Have you seen this awesome Portlandia episode starring Steve Buscemi?).

9. Hike in MEC

Owning a piece of MEC is crucial to survive the daily city grind. And if you are out on trails, MEC is everywhere. Just like Germans are easy to spot in their trafficlight-coloured Jack Wolfskin gear, you will be able to identify the Vancouverite. Only their Return policy is more loved than their gear.

10. Fear the Wildlife

You’ve stopped requesting a bear sighting in the city. While tourists get very excited about spotting a bear on top of Grouse Grind or seeing a coyote warning sign at Charleson Park, you get excited if there is no wild animal crossing your path. Bears and cougars don’t really phase you much, you care more about that racoon in your garage or the skunk in your neighbour’s garden.

Bear Warning Whistler

Put a Little Oom-pah in Your Life

Living abroad means that I sometimes crave the things that I take for granted at home. Like a German newspaper, the obligatory “Tatort” crime series ritual each Sunday, fresh pretzels and white sausages, or even things I would complain about in Munich. Like the public transport system. Or Oom-pah Music. Never in my life have I voluntary listened to bavarian music, except when driving with my granny in the car or visiting one of the region’s famous beer festivals. But things have changed. Recently I caught myself craving a good Oom-pah-pah for dinner time and studying seems to flow much better when there is a brass band playing in the background. This being the case, my excitement for Canadian Oktoberfest celebrations shouldn’t come as a surprise.

We visited the Bomber Brewing Oktoberfest in East Vancouver last weekend and my Canadian fiancé and I were buzzing with excitement. German sausages, beer kegs, bavarian music and a beer garden party – that’s what dreams are made of!  Riding my bike through the city in a ‘Dirndl’ (traditional bavarian dress) was also a highlight. Suddenly the houses looked more bavarian and even the air smelled just like home…but reality caught up with me and next thing I knew, we were standing in the craft breweries concrete ‘backyard’, fenced in with wire. The prison flair gave the beery neighbourhood party some edge for sure.

A legal beer festival outside – this is still a novelty for Vancouverites. No German would understand the excitement of drinking outside (!) but it is a big deal in this city. Any trace of homesickness was forgotten when I smelled the bratwurst on the BBQ and saw the white and blue flag flying overhead. Funny how the little things become so important when you’re living abroad. I didn’t even complain too much about the plastic stein or the unsalted pretzels. The music wasn’t particulary German either and the ‘costumes’ could have been offensive to my bavarian eyes. But I was on cloud nine. Teaching bavarian drinking chants to my friends and sharing Oktoberfest stories with locals made me embrace my Bavarianism more than ever. And I truly believe that everybody needs a little Oom-pah in their life.

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