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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.

New Blogs & Favourite Bloggers: Liebster Award

Liebster-Award Liebster Award? I had no idea there was such a thing until I received an email by a fellow blogger saying she just nominated me for it! This virtual award is given to newbies by other bloggers as a way to build community and exposure. Every blogger answers a short interview and passes the award on to their favourite new bloggers. I feel very lucky that Jeannine came across my blog and nominated me. A big DANKE to Jeannine for this. Jeannine’s instagram snaps are a great running inspiration, also check out her new “Everything but Weddings” blog, a great read for (newcomer) runners. And maybe you already know her from the wedding blog Vancity Bride. So here’s my answers to the “Liebster” questions.

How did you decide on the name of your blog?

I picked a name that relates to my Bavarian heritage and to my attitude towards life. Staying curious opens doors and makes the little things in life stand out.

Where does your blogging inspiration come from?

Most of my blogs are inspired by observations or experiences that I have while travelling, walking through the city or comparing my “European life” with my life here in Canada. Sometimes the topics are born through discussions with friends or Skype calls. My post about finding friends was one of those. After talking to many expats I realized that at some point everyone struggles with this. Same story with my interview about Heimat. I am blessed with many wonderfully open-minded, wandering and wondering friends that are a constant source of (writing) inspiration.

What is it that you love most about blogging?

I love the immediate nature of blogging. Getting feedback and being able to write without having to wait for an editor or the graphic team to work through your lines is pretty sweet. I’ve been writing for print magazines for years and although nothing quite compares to seeing your own words on shiny paper, having a blog with your name on it is a great feeling (and freedom) on its own. Receiving recognitions like this award are a nice side effect of blogging as well. The blogger community might seem “exclusive” and inaccessible first, but truly it is so easy to connect and engage and everyone is so positive and encouraging – people can be kind on the Internet!

What is your favorite food?

I love Thai curries and Japanese food. I could eat sushi every day and Takoyaki is a guilty pleasure of mine. In general I love trying different cuisines and writing about food is one of the most fun things about my job. It makes me truly happy to share new gems with readers and at the same time be able to support a local restaurant, bar, food truck or coffee shop that deserves recognition.

What is your favorite thing to drink? (alcoholic or not)

Well naturally, as a true Bavarian girl, my answer has to be beer. My favourite German beer would be Tegernseer Helles and Augustiner. In Canada the brews by Salt Spring Island Ale, Wolf Brewing and Mt. Begbie have impressed me the most.

What is an item you can’t live without?

My passport!

What are eleven random facts about yourself?

  1. I am Bavarian and therefore roll my “R”. People think I am from Russia all the time.
  2. I’ve been to Siem Reap twice but have never been to Cologne, Dresden or Leipzig. I need to visit more German cities!!
  3. Seinfeld is my favourite TV show ever.
  4. I hate Sauerkraut.
  5. I love Shizenya Sushi – the Yam Tempura roll is heaven.
  6. I just started using Pinterest and already regret it. So.much.to.explore.
  7. My middle name is Loni.
  8. Colour coordination is a bit of an obsession of mine.
  9. For as long as I remember I’ve been dreaming of visiting Hawaii. This year it will happen.
  10. My 87-year old granny was my bridesmaid. She’s the best.
  11. I’m terrified by the ocean (when I can’t see the ground) but I love surfing.

If you could live anywhere in the world, where would it be?

Vancouver is pretty much perfect. I just wish it was closer to my home country.

If you could meet anyone from history (alive or dead) who?

I would love to meet my great-grandparents.

What is your favorite outdoor activity?

Hiking and Running. Anything with beautiful scenery is such a rewarding workout to me.

Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

Happy with my life and feeling like a true Vancouverite. I will have visited Iceland, Belize and Easter Island and have a job that allows me to travel to Europe a lot. And hold a Canadian passport…ha. Who knows?

I’d like to nominate…

http://startrockin.ca/  Kristi used to blog about her life as a Canadian expat in Germany for the Vancouver Sun http://blogs.vancouversun.com/author/kristifuoco/. Her new project is a blog about climbing. A sport I have never tried but her inspiring posts sure make me want to give it a go!

https://nursedbyadventure.wordpress.com Barbara is an adventurous traveller with a background in pediatric nursing which makes her blog informative and fun at the same time.

Interview Series 1: Finding Heimat

Heimat is a unique term in the German language, describing more than just the feeling of being at home. It describes a feeling of belonging, a feeling of being rooted somewhere.

Heimat (pronounced [ˈhaɪmat]) is a German word with no English equivalent[1] that denotes the relationship of a human being towards a certain spatial social unit. The term forms a contrast to social alienation and usually carries positive connotations. It is often expressed with terms such as home or homeland. (Wikipedia)

Your Heimat does not have to be where you currently live or where you were born, it has individual meaning to everyone. My Heimat is the countryside in Bavaria, where my family lives and where most of my early memories are. Going to Vienna feels like “coming home” too, when I arrive in the city it usually takes me a while to grasp that I am just a visitor now.

Vancouver has grown to become Heimat for me very quickly. Being with my husband makes me feel at home and I truly connect with the mentality and lifestyle in Vancouver – I feel like I belong here. It’s the sum of places, friends, family and memories that give me a sense of Heimat. A beautiful concept: It means you are never lost.

Many of my friends and fellow bloggers have this one thing in common: They live or have lived abroad for multiple years. I am fascinated by how our notion of home and Heimat changes with the experience of being abroad, being a foreigner and searching for a home away from home.

These four people have never met and yet they have a whole lot in common.


Kemara Pol

Blogger and Photographer

Kemara Pol Photographer and BloggerWhere is your home and what does “Heimat” mean to you?

I don’t necessarily see home as something that is geographically determined. To me it has to do with a certain emotion of comfort, trust and understanding. I think home is where your people are, that could be your family you were born into, the family that you’ve created yourself or your friends you’ve become close with over the years. Home is being with people you love and trust and where you unapologetically can be your true self.  ‘Heimat’ as in a geographic area that you feel close to or connected with, isn’t really something that I think about and it’s not the way I want to go through life.

Which cities have you lived in?

I’ve lived in Berlin, Vienna, Linz, Shanghai and Bangkok.

What makes you feel at home in a new place?

For me it’s all about the people you choose to surround yourself with, your social environment, your support system, people who literally make you feel at home. Why is it that we get homesick when we’re abroad? Why do we feel isolated if we just moved to another city or even another country? Because we feel left out and we miss the people who we’ve left behind who gave us the feeling of comfort and being at home.

What do you miss about living in those places?

I miss the big city life, the challenge of conquering a metropolis, the exciting feeling of being somewhere else, exploring new horizons and adventures. I still remember the day when I moved to Shanghai as part of my exchange semester as if it was yesterday. I found an apartment for myself in just four days. On the first day I sat on the window bench in my room on the 28th floor or something and looked out the window at the amazing skyline and thought to myself ‘This city is mine now, and I’m gonna conquer it!’

Where to next – or are you staying?

I don’t know yet. I’m hoping  to move to a major city that excites me culturally as well as mentality-wise at some point in my life. My absolute priority for right now is to establish my blog and I’ll see where life will take me….

Blog: yokemara.com

Instagram: instagram.com/yokemara

Facebook: facebook.com/yokemara


Cheryl Howard

Travel Blogger

Blogger Cheryl HowardWhere is your home and what does “Heimat” mean to you?

I now live in Berlin, Germany, which I feel is the best city on earth! While I’ve lived the majority of my life in Toronto, Canada, I feel much more “at home” in Berlin. It’s where I’m most happy and there’s no where else that I’d rather be. It’s odd how a person can move to an entirely new city and country and feel more at home there than in their native land. But I think I’ve found my place. So, I think the key to “Heimat” is simply the feeling of being happy with where you are.

Which cities have you lived in?

I’m Canadian and have lived all over the country! I was born in Woodstock, a small city in South Western Ontario. At age 13, I moved to a tiny village in Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia where I spent my high school years. Terrified at the thought of living out the rest of my life in a rural setting, the day after my graduation, I eagerly left Nova Scotia behind to spend the summer before university with my father in Brantford, Ontario. That fall, I began post secondary school in Toronto and three years later, finished my last semester in Calgary, Alberta. After graduation, I returned to Toronto to establish my career as a project manager. I then stayed in Toronto for a very long time, but longing for a new life I eventually moved to Europe, ending up in Berlin for 18 months where I started a new career as a travel blogger. For personal reasons, I moved back home to Toronto for two years. After realising how much I missed Germany, I happily moved back in November 2014.

What makes you feel at home in a new place?

When I first arrived in Berlin, I was pretty homesick. I’d never been on a vacation longer than three weeks and had never lived so far away from home before. There were a lot of Skype calls! But then I started going out and meeting people and that changed everything. I met people with whom I had more in common with than the friends I had at home. People who loved travelling, pursuing new adventures abroad and more. I really came to like the German culture and identified with it in a way that I never expected. The new friends made all the difference and made me feel at home in my new surroundings.

What do you miss about living in those places?

When I moved home to Toronto in November 2012, it seemed like the right thing to do. I missed my friends and family, was tired of freelancing and dealing with some of the difficulties of expat life. Sometimes it takes leaving a place before you figure out where your home (and heart) really are and for me, that was Berlin. My two years home were great, but I constantly ached for Berlin and for the longest time, it didn’t seem like it would happen. Thankfully, it did and now that I’m back, I don’t imagine myself ever leaving.

Where to next – or are you staying?

As I said, there’s no other place I’d rather be than in Berlin. I even plan to apply for permanent residency in about two years and may even consider citizenship at a later date.


W. D.

Recent MSc Graduate

ViennaWhere is your home and what does “Heimat” mean to you?

I’d say that I’ve had several homes throughout the years. Home is a place – certainly Bavaria, where I grew up and where my family lives, and whose traditions, music, food, fashions I relate to. I’d probably describe Bavaria as “Heimat”, too, because of these traditions, which for some reason I connect with the German word “Heimat”. However, what I call “home”, and not “Heimat” in what I see as a traditional word, has a lot to do with the people I connect with. Therefore, home is also a feeling and not just a place. My friends are my home, special evenings or days of happiness with my friends are and have been my home. When I’ve been happy in relationships I was at home when I was with my respective partner. People who make me feel good about myself are what makes me feel at home.

Which cities have you lived in?

Munich, Vienna, Edinburgh, Hong Kong, Sydney, Melbourne, and, briefly, London.

What makes you feel at home in a new place?

Having my own flat or room, it doesn’t matter where but it has to feel like my own place. Also having a regular pub or someplace where I can easily get to talking with people in the evenings. The advantage of not being straight is often that you’ll find people in any city that has some kind of gay scene, too. It might also just be superficial encounters and chats but it helps to not feel alone when you’re completely new. I also like exploring a new place via public transport and on foot. Once I know my way around a bit, I feel much more at home.

What do you miss about living in those places?

About the places I’ve lived, I miss the specific atmospheres of those cities.
For Hong Kong, I miss the food, the contrasts between sky scrapers and expensive malls on the one hand and the smaller alleys with cheap and local food markets or diner-like places. I miss hearing Cantonese and the excitement I felt at all the differences I saw to European cities. With Sydney and Melbourne, I miss the good friends that I made there. I miss what I perceived as a much more easygoing vibe in general (as opposed to Germany, for instance). I also miss the beach and the good times I had working as a bartender. For Vienna, I miss the pubs and bars I used to go to, the Danube and going swimming there in the summer. I miss the Viennese grumpiness and special sense of humour. I especially miss the great times I had with some of my best friends there. It still feels like I only just left Edinburgh, so I don’t necessarily miss it that much – although I recently heard a bagpipe play at a festival and became nostalgic as I used to hear them play everyday outside my window in Edinburgh. London: I miss the great walks that I took there, through all the big parks, along the Thames and the canals.

Where to next – or are you staying?

Hopefully China, but via Iceland and Vancouver. It could also be Brussels or London, though, depending on job situation…


Barbara Tiedke

Paediatric intensive care nurse and Blogger

Barbara Tiedke BloggerWhere is your home and what does “Heimat” mean to you?

One of my new years resolutions for 2015 is to find a place I can call home. I truly don`t know where that particular place could be…I guess it is true: Home is where your heart is. Whereas I had a feeling of belonging during my last visit in Vancouver. “Heimat” means one thing to me: Back to the roots, back to the family. Especially my Mam`s place in Germany.

Which cities have you lived in?

I have lived and worked in a few cities for months and years. For example: Bochum and Tübingen (Germany), Whangamata (NZ), Rarotonga (Cook Islands), Brisbane (Australia), Vancouver (Canada), London (UK).

What makes you feel at home in a new place?

I adjust to new environments quite easily. I have the tendency to call a flat/room “home” quickly, even though I have no real bond with it and am basically just renting it for a while. It might be the excitement which comes with new places, people and experiences.

What do you miss about living in those places?

I wish that there would be a combination of them! Close to my family, vast and wild like Canada, sophisticated like London, and relaxed and with warm temperatures like the Cook Islands and Australia.

Where to next – or are you staying?

I have a stop over at my Mam`s for two weeks before I will hike along the Camino de Santiago. My mission is to clear my mind and think about what to do with my life, which also means where to stay or settle for more than two years. Eventually I will return to Vancouver. Who knows? There are so many beautiful places out there! So much to explore!

Blog: urbanocelot.wordpress.com/