We were three friends sit at a small wobbly wooden table, set half on the sidewalk, half on the curb side of the dusty road. We just came back from a bar where my roommate’s Chinese boyfriend was performing and we were starving, craving for a platter of jiaozi. It was a hot and humid night in Nanjing, China.
The three of us were chatting and the rest of the band had joined us. The night was alive and even though the restaurant was located in a small side street, we could hear the traffic on the busy Nanjing Lu. It was around 3 am, another hot and humid night in China.
Suddenly, we heard the strangest noise. Couldn’t have been human. A painful caterwaul, a muffled barking… It was coming from Nanjing Lu, the main street a few meter away from where we were sit.
We heard it coming or way. I looked behind my shoulder towards the main street. And we saw it.
A young men, riding an old beat-up moped. On the luggage-rack were a lot of parcels piled up, and… tied on both side of the rack, two geese, tied up by their feet, cackling on top of their lungs.
My roommate and I burst into laughter seeing this weird urban scenery. The four Chinese guys looked at us, puzzled :
– What’s so funny ?
– Well… People don’t usually carry geese around tied on a moped’s luggage rack !
– What’s wrong with that ? It’s much easier this way than holding them while driving !
It was. In a way. But this scene remained incongruous for us, the two Westerners. It made us laugh. The Chinese guys didn’t understand why.
Humour, jokes, what’s funny and what’s not strongly differs in cultures.
When I first came to Canada, I couldn’t really understand any of the Jay Leno jokes on the Tonight Show because I lack the basics understanding of North-American culture. Stand up comedy was also fairly new to me. On the other side, I found some situations totally hilarious :
- The huge line up at Tim Horton drive-through while nobody was queuing inside (are people that lazy they can’t get out of their car ?)
- Seeing people wearing shorts and tee-shirt when it’s just +1C
- Translation of every single English word in Quebec (like the “stop-arrêt” sign)
No later than yesterday, I saw a guy driving a huuuuge Hummer downtown, around the market. His stereo was blasting “Men, I feel like a woman” by Shania Twain and he was singing along. I found the whole scene terribly funny, but nobody else seemed to notice !
I focus less on culture shock situations now, since I’m kind of used to my Canadian life. Yet, I’m experiencing another culture shock, with my friends and family back in France.
French like to rely on wordplays and misunderstanding, political humour and playing with social convention. The thing is, I left France a while ago now, and don’t follow politics as much as I used to. So I don’t know the latest gossips. A few years ago, I would have been able to crack a joke on every single articles of this satirical newspaper, “Le Canard Enchaîné”. Not anymore. But you wanna hear a good one about the Maple Leafs ?
My friends found it hilarious when, last year, I excused myself from the café where we were sitting “to go have a smoke outside”. Duh. It’s okay to smoke indoors in France ! On the other side, I was almost shocked when I heard them cracking non-politically correct jokes about immigrants, or sex jokes about politicians. North America is much more conservative about that… (i.e : French never really understood what Bill Clinton did wrong with his secretary – isn’t it commonplace ?)
And here I am, one more time, stuck between two cultures if not three or four !