Experiences of an American woman who was married to a Serb.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

American vs Serbian Humor: Why My Husband Usually Doesn't Laugh at My Jokes

I was always a little proud of my wit. Throughout my 20s, most of my friends were in a comedic improvisation troupe. You don't know what honed humor is until you've had to hold your own over a decade of late night parties (not to mention hung over Sunday brunches) with a group of semi-pro comedians.

At the ripe age of 42, I at long last met my dream man. And lo, the lord and god above gave him a fantastic sense of humor. But, here's the kicker: the lord made him a Serb.

For the first few years I thought the reason why he almost never laughed at any of my quips was the language thing. He was just picking English back up, 30 years after leaving it behind in the schoolroom. "Excuse me?" he would ask whenever I cracked a joke, "Say again please?" Gamely, I'd repeat, often two or even three times. But there's nothing flatter than a merry little witticism that's been enunciated slowly over and over again as if to a half-deaf listener.

At the same time, whenever he was with a member of his family or an old Yugoslav-friend, everyone was roaring with laughter at and with him. "What are you saying?" "Oh honey, I can't translate it." OK. I'll take it on evidence that you are a funny guy. Maybe when I can speak fluent Serb someday, I'll be able to laugh too.

Then this spring we got a Netflix membership and started sending away for our old favorite movies to show one another. That's when the penny dropped. The reason we didn't get each other's jokes wasn't language, it was culture.

First we saw Serbian film 'The Wounds" (also released as "Rane".) It's an action-filled portrayal of the lives of young Belgrade gangsters in the 1990s. "Gritty," "heartwrenching", and "powerful" are words you could apply to it, but it's not remotely funny. Unless you're a Serb. My husband and step-daughter burst into loud laughter repeatedly throughout. I sat quietly mystified.

Next it was my turn. Knowing how much my step-son likes classic heavy metal, I sent for 'This is Spinal Tap" and we all watched it together one rainy evening last week. His silence was almost painfully polite. He did not laugh, he did not crack a smile. He was good enough to wait until the credits began to roll before he fled back to his room. I turned to my husband, who had actually laughed at least twice, not big laughs, but still something. "Why didn't he enjoy it?" "What were you expecting?" he replied. "It's not like it's a funny movie."

1 comment:

Sleepwalker said...

You're adorable:)
I'm your new fan.

For Serbian humor I'll recommend
"Who's singing over there"
"The Marathon Family"
I don't know for your husband, but I think Serbs in general love British black humor.
Try it with "Only Fools and Horses" or "Mucke" as it was translated in Serbian.
Greetings from Belgrade