Funny, How ?

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100_0741+copyWe 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 !


About Author

French woman in English Canada. World citizen, new mom, traveler, translator, writer and photographer. Looking for comrades to start a new revolution.


  1. Ya know, I still don’t really understand that whole Bill Clinton thing, it’s so weird to me, didn’t he just get it on with another lady? Why did he have to get tried for that, or tried for lying about it, or whatever…

    It really is interesting, the differences between cultures, what’s funny, what isn’t. Although, I do get this feeling, that with the pervasiveness of US culture, especially with Europe, certain things are more similar than they used to be a couple generations ago.

    I think, only by witnessing and experiencing other cultures, only then can we become a better judge of our own society, or at least have better insight into it. I mean, that’s a pretty standard thought, but it just sorta makes sense to me.

  2. ~*SilverNeurotic*~ on

    I never really thought about the difference in humor in different cultures. I mean, I guess I just took for granted that there probably was a difference but because I’ve not had an opportunity to travel much I don’t see the difference like you have.

  3. Devil's Son on

    sometimes they just funny because they are not into that culture…

    ps: just knew that u r a teacher!
    lol….which level of school?

  4. are people that lazy they can’t get out of their car

    Yes. That’s exactly right. Welcome to North America!

    Zhu, thanks for visiting my blog and for the kind words you left. I love your writing as well!

  5. it’s legal to smoke in france indoors? wow.

    Oh and the hummer is hilarious! the choice of song is the greatest point of that…haha…

    If i ever had a hummer, I would play some punk rock or hardcore

  6. Sebastien : what’s funny for you ? How would you define humour in North America ? Sorry boy… you get the tough question ! 😉

    Silverneurotic : yes, different cultures have different kind of humour. It’s part of the culture shock I guess… interesting though.

    Devil’s son : I’m teaching gov’ employee, they should be grown up but behave like teenagers ! 😀

    Dan : thanks for visiting ! I was truly impressed with your writing. I just started reading and reading and couldn’t stop !

    Sir Jorge : yep, legal to smoke inside, prostitution is legal, drugs are – almost – legals… Gee, I wonder why the rest of the world think French are arrogant socialists-artists-rebels ! 😀

  7. Zuh, Thanks for your visit & kind comments on my blog!

    😀 even I do not understand what clinton did to Monica 😀

    I am not shocked by anything! 🙂

  8. I was trying to comment yesterday, but something was wrong.

    Anyway, culture shock is a very common problem. I myself experienced this growing up in a very Hispanic/Latino home and then venturing out into the real Anglo world when I was a child growing up in the United States. It was quite weird/bizarre actually, but I am glad for it because it made me a much more complete person with a bigger world view than typical Americans.

    And then, AND THEN…I went to high school and took four years of French! Aren’t you proud of me?

    C’est dificle l’écrire, mais j’essaie, alors, c’est comme l’espagnol grace a Dieu.

  9. Oh wow, that is difficult. Very difficult question! I must admit, there are different variations, especially in a country this huge, but there are certainly common traits. I think I could write a zillion words as an answer. One thing I don’t like, is humor that puts other’s down, that is the worst kind of humor, to me. I also don’t like too much sarcasm and cynicism in my humor (although, I’m guilty of that sometimes, haha, and I think, humor, at least a lot of it, is intrinsically cynical)… I think a comedy, like Seinfeld, can only be a product of our age, our circumstances, this show that finds humor in silly, minor situations, I mean, you would never see that sort of show in a country that had great worries, it wouldn’t connect with people (at least, I assume it wouldn’t)… I guess Seinfeld’s humor is so perfect for our time because it finds humor in the monotony and pettiness that define certain aspects of our culture. But, of course, I’m no expert, I just say what comes off the top of my head…

    I like all sorts of humor in the end. But, as you might guess from my blog, I usually like ridiculous/absurd/post-moderny/situational humor. Which is kinda standard for our generation. One of my favorite movies is Zoolander, I know a lot of people hate it, but it’s soooo funny in my opinion…I also really like people like Louis de Funes, and early Jim Carey comedies, great physical comedic actors…

  10. Mona : Thanks for visiting ! I’m not shocked by anything as well… especially not in politic, I mean, we had it all in France ! 😀

    Wat : yeah, something was wrong yesterday with the comment, one of these blogger glitch.

    I totally agree with you : culture shock is tough when you first experience it, but mastering two, three or more cultures is a precious gift. I love it !

    Tu as de la chance, le français et l’espagnol sont assez similaires ! I speak Spanish too, but I find the conjugaisons trickier than in French.

    Webmiztris : The grass is always greener on the other side… I don’t regret moving to Canada, but a lot of people don’t understand it, since I’m French, you know, wine, perfume, arts oh lalala ! 😀

    Sebastien : great answers ! I totally agree about your blog being ridiculous/absurd/post-moderny/situational humor (did I forget anything ? :$ ). I like this kind of humour. But for example, I never really understood Chinese humour, based on quiproquos (is that even an English word ?) and wordplay.

    BTW… I laugh so much when I saw Zoolander, with the “gas station accident”, I though I was gonna die ! 😀

  11. Hahahaha, oh my, that’s one of my favorite scenes in Zoolander! And the moment where everyone at the same time says, you know what you need? “Orange Mocha Frappucino!!!!” Kills me every time.

  12. I have two cultural differences about driving that always make me smile in Canada.

    The first is the mall parking lot ritual where people will drive around the mall entrance area for ages just to get a spot close to the doors. I always head for the far corners – drives my wife and mother-in-law crazy. I have a cruel streak!

    The second concerns a ritual in the car waiting areas at the GO suburban train stations around the Greater Toronto Area.

    When a train is due to arrive in rush hour, these are usually full of cars ready to pick people up from the trains.

    Here’s the thing. If a woman is waiting in the car for her boyfriend or husband (with the engine running of course), very often the guy will arrive and take over driving duties.

    The ‘poor little lady’ is forced to get out of the car and walk around to the passenger side.

    Think about it: the woman has been driving around just minutes before, so she’s alert and in tune with road conditions if icy or wet, whereas the guy is half comatose from a stressful day at work and a drooly nap on the train. And he’s going to drive her home!

    Needless to say, tempers flare in GO station parking lots!

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