Romanians are very social and talkative people. They like to spend time in company and they are fond of having conversations. Beside their love for philosophy and conspiracy theories, they also have a taste for humour. But beware, make sure you are not the subject of their jokes, because they are usually not very flattering.
Romanian humour has some similarities to Scandinavian humour in the sense that it can be anything from slightly ironic to quite painful and directly onto the person. It is unscandinavian in the way it is has a very consistent basis of political incorrectness. Harsh, discriminatory jokes about women or homosexuals could potentially make Northern Europeans turn away from their Romanian conversation partners. Fellow Romanians, on the other hand, enjoy giggling at any simple reference to the word gay or the mention of any female body part.
..suggests that a wall be built around Hungary and water be poured in
Out of the ordinary
Romanians, like all humans, use humour as a way to position themselves using others as a reference. One major difference resides in the way Romanians have a tendency not to think in terms of `different`, but in terms of better and worse, with a preference for the latter. Oftentimes, unknown is also ranked under `worse`.
Most popular Romanian jokes deal with cultural minorities within the country. Jews are often chosen as victims and so are Romanians from the South, Moldavians, Gypsies, Hungarians and about Romanians who leave for Spain and Italy to work as olive pickers. Russians seem surprisingly safe ? they only used to be made fun of during the early years of communism.
Timi (22) is an ethnic Hungarian living in Romania. She is not too happy that Romanians keep joking about Hungarians. She explains that she doesn`t feel the necessity to joke back at the Romanians: `We simply have different ways of thinking. Romanians are not so well-developed intellectually. We tolerate them in our community, but the other way around: no.` Timi can laugh at some more general jokes that describe police officers and politicians as stupid. She particularly likes jokes about the hairstyle of the Romanian president.
Dan (24, photo) tells me that many Romanian jokes have a standard format: `Most of them start out with fishermen who catch a goldfish and are allowed to make one wish each. Of course, the Romanian always comes out on top. The most famous joke is about a Hungarian, a Gypsy and a Romanian who go fishing. One of them catches a goldfish and they are all allowed to make one wish. The Hungarian wishes for a big Hungarian country where all Hungarians can live freely and without foreign interference. Poof ? the Hungarian disappears to his promised land. The Gypsy wishes for a big country where all Gypsies can live together in peace and harmony. Poof ? the Gypsy also disappears. The Romanian is last and asks the goldfish - hey goldfish, so the Hungarians are all gone and so are the Gypsies. Positive ? replies the goldfish. OK in that case I wish for nothing but a glass of beer, the Romanian replies.`
`And there`s another one`, Dan continues. `In this one the Hungarian asks for a big wall around his territory. The Romanian is next and asks the goldfish ? hey goldfish, does this wall have any doors? ? No ? Does it have any doors ? No ? OK, then please just fill it with water.`
Dan explains that most of the jokes that do not deal with goldfish and cultural minorities have Bula as a main character, with John and Mary as alternative figurants. Dan says that many Romanians also like to joke about themselves or their family members, but that it is not advisable for strangers to start joking about a Romanian`s family members out of their own initiative. `That`s more suitable for insulting somebody`, Dan says.
Bogdan (17), a fanatic fan of jokes about Hungarians, explains me that Romanians like joking about themselves, just like Scandinavians do. `There`s one major difference`, he specifies. `If a Romanian does that, it`s usually not at his own expense. Instead, he will use the joke to appear more important than he is, for example by joking that he is Jesus, just a cool guy, or somebody important.`
Bogdan also explains that Romanians feel rather uncomfortable with silence. `They will be happy to clear the sky with a joke or just by saying something random to get a conversation started. The strategy works alright if his comment makes the conversation partner(s) laugh. If not, he will try to add another joke to compensate for the first one. In case they do laugh, he will feel accepted and use this invitation to come up with some additional comic remarks.`
As it seems, Romanians prefer to listen to themselves rather than somebody else. And aren`t they right? The one who takes the lead is in charge, and can hardly be offended in his face as long as he/she`s speaking. According to Bogdan, the best thing to do when somebody`s joke offends you is to either remain silent or to come back with a smarter joke, `even if you run the risk of getting into a fight at the end of the whole process. I don`t mind one personal attack, but I think three of four is too much. It`s not so much the content of the joke, it`s just the number of jokes following one another that matters. People should know when to stop.`
Bogdan explains that a Romanian try to have an adequate answer ready for any situation they might get themselves in to. He explains that most of the jokes in the end balance out. `We laugh at women, especially blondes. But they also have jokes about us men.` Bogdan tells me one joke about women and another one about men: `Most inventions were made by men, while women found a use for it. That all went alright until men invented money.` The one about men runs as follows: `A man runs into a genie lamp who grants him a wish. He wishes to become irresistible to women and changes into a credit card.`
Gender roles are a grateful subject of jokes. Bogdan explains that men are forced to keep a masculine image of themselves in order not to fall victim to jokes about their sexual preferences. `Apart from that, there are many jokes about the position of the man as the moneymaker in the family. It`s all a bit in the style of Married with Children, but in reality.
Bogdan declares himself a fan of British humour, with Blackadder as one of the best examples of what he finds funny. Raluca (20) thinks that Romanian humour is one of the funniest around. She is not too sure about Northern Europeans when it comes to joke: `I think they are much more rigid. You hardly ever see them almost die laughing, I guess they take themselves too serious to let go.`
Robert (19) has a different opinion. Beside liking American and British humour, he is quite a big fan of German humour: `Many people say that Germans have no humour but I think they are actually quite funny. They are good imitators and they have funny jokes about gays.`
Robert also enjoys ironic jokes about politicians: `There`s a TV program called Animat Planet. They show a cartoon with the faces of real politicians and imitations of their voices. They obviously make fun of the so-manieth stupid political decision and they can be very critical and worth laughing at. Joking about politics is a popular pastime, and also about the history of the country. About the crappiness of Dacia`s and about the everlasting queues in communist times. Whenever something goes wrong in the country, the communist memories make a good reference of how we do not want situations to be solved.`
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