Humour and Culture

Not everyone understands the Australian sense of humour. Sometimes it's even beyond Australians. Some of my countrymen have complained about the Prime Minister's recent video declaring that the end of the world is nigh. In one case, a mother of a young autistic man has had to convince her son that the Mayan calendar can't influence the physical world and the seemingly authoritative video didn't help. Aside from a few such cases, most Australians love the fact that our leader doesn't take herself seriously all the time. Many other cultures, particularly those in which humour is based on word plays or visual misfortune, just don't get it. Gillard's video went viral in China, where the reaction was of bafflement that a world leader could believe in the end of the world. When the subtitled version began to circulate, some Chinese accepted the joke ('oh no, but I haven't gotten married yet'), but more were horrified that a head of state could be so irresponsible as to push a false message to her people. I wish that I could explain, in 500 words, why humour doesn't translate between cultures, but I can't. Word plays, at least, suffer from homonyms in one language sounding nothing alike in another, and humour based on political or historical context is doomed to fail outside of the original setting. But I never understood why Japanese comedians must perform in pairs or why Asians don't understand irony. The best I can do, unless you have the time to read a thesis, is to respect Gillard for understanding her own people and to remind the rest of the world that we're all different.

By |December 21st, 2012|Categories: Australia, China, Japan|Tags: , , , , |0 Comments

The Good Samaritans

I didn't see what befell the old man, but he's being helped off the highway crossing by two others as I walk around the corner. He doesn't appear to know his helpers and doesn't acknowledge either. As soon as he reaches the curb, he grabs hold of a railing and tries to support himself. I try to work out what has happened before I offer help. Is the man hurt or in shock or just slow? Was one of the men who helped him off the road a friend? Did the two of them have the situation under control and would they resent interference. Two men and a woman in business suit approach from behind me and offer their help. There's a hospital just across the road - I wonder if that's where he came from - would he like them to take him there? It seems to me that the old man really wants to be left alone with a chance to redeem his pride, and he has enough assistance so I go on my way, but with a smile. Too often I write about how life in Australia frustrates me. We're usually too focused on ourselves and I miss the culture of Bhutan, where people always have time for one another. I might prefer the passersby to be more aware of the situation before stepping in, but I'm glad to see my countrymen looking out for others. And perhaps I should do something myself. Am I wrong not to step in and offer help? Am I wrong not to ask the others to give the old man some space? After word: While looking for images for this post, I found an article from

By |November 6th, 2011|Categories: Australia, Bhutan, China|Tags: , , |0 Comments