1. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Cultural Perspective

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Wreybies, Jul 30, 2008.

    I know. I’m a broken record. Always going on about cultural this and that. It’s the theme of my life at the moment, so bear with me…


    Differences in cultural humor have been getting me into some trouble with the significant other as of late and I have started to wonder how pertinent the subject is when applied to humor in writing. I don’t often use humor in my writing, but I do like a bit of dry sarcasm from time to time.

    Britishly dry. Shaken, not stirred.

    Sarcasm here in my home culture (Puerto Rico) comes in two forms. Acceptable and unacceptable (refered to as malcriado.) I have yet to understand where the arbitrary line is drawn in the sand in order to remain on the acceptable side. It’s a cultural thing to which I am obviously not acculturated. I have no cultural frame of reference in order to know the difference, and stepping over the line can find you with a face full of fist in the wrong crowd. (Not with my boyfriend, of course. So not his stye.)

    How often do you find these concepts of cultural difference affecting your writing? Do you consider the issue at all? Up until now, I have not, but I have started to wonder how important it might be to my writing.

    Your thoughts?
     
  2. Heather Louise
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    Heather Louise Contributing Member Contributor

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    I can't say that I have ever had problems with cultural differences, in writing or life really, but we are a pretty, one culture area around here, and I have never wrote anything where I have exploered another culture, except fantasy, but that is a made up culture.

    Sorry I don't really have any advice or anything to offer ... it is something I am interested n though, other peoples cultures and differences, one of the main reasons I want to travel.
     
  3. CDRW
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    CDRW Contributing Member Contributor

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    I've had that happen, but in speaking not writing. It's funny when you try to make a joke and the person just stares at you like you're crazy. I haven't tried writing anything that could go across cultures yet. I've thought about doing something using hispanic culture, but the truth is that I don't know that much about it besides the fact that the cultures of different Latin American countries can be as different as American is from English.
     
  4. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Humor in particular consists of walking a blade's edge between acceptable and unacceptable. Much of humor is based on kicking the props out from the listener's comfort zone. Too safe, and it's just boring. Too far over the line, and you get a temper flare instead of a laugh.

    Cultural sacred cows are particularly productive for either wild laughter or indignance. Just look how the same joke told by a member of the 'hood will get cheers and whoops from the audiense, but if an uptowner tried to tell te same joke, he'd be lucky to keep his skin.
     
  5. NaCl
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    NaCl Contributing Member Contributor

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    hmmmm . . . I wonder how jokes about hamburger would go over in India???
     
  6. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Probably about as well as Asian culinary jokes about "bad dog!"would go over in the United States. Some would go over the listener's head, others would simply fall flat, and still others would be considered, if you'll forgive me, in poor taste.

    Also, there's a pretty wide cultural diversity in India, so all Indian audiences would probably not react identically.
     
  7. Lucy E.
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    Lucy E. Contributing Member

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    AMERICAN FROM BRITISH.

    And American and British really aren't that different. I have a lot of friends out in America, and the only jokes that don't really go down well with them are the ones that everyone here laughs at purely because don't make sense. For example:
    There were two trees. One tree said to the other tree, 'Are you a tree?' And the other tree said, 'No, I'm a rock.'
    It might just be my county, but I think that's hilarious. My American friend Imani looked at me as if I'd gone crackers when I told it to her.
     
  8. Adelaide
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    Though I have had glimpses into aspects of other cultures (in terms of other countries), I have not interacted with them intimately enough to write about them. None of my closest friends are immigrants or children of immigrants. I have tried to use my grandmother's journey from Greece to the US as fodder for writing, but it fell flat.

    I do find myself fascinated with aspects of American culture which I am largely unfamiliar with, particularly that of the South and Southwest. Or even just the difference between suburban lifestyles and rural ones are interesting to me. I don't know if it counts, but some of my work has included racial interactions within America and consequently how they play into the general way of life.
     
  9. SonnehLee
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    SonnehLee Contributing Member Contributor

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    I thought it was hilarious Lucy. I'm an american.
     
  10. CDRW
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    CDRW Contributing Member Contributor

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    I can tell you that in American culture we don't say crackers. :D That joke reminded me of an episode of Family Guy where Peter tripped on the sidewalk and sat there going ooo ahhh for probably a good solid minute. Everybody but me thought it was really funny for some reason.
     
  11. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    I have never understood, nor do I care for those over-extended routines from Family Guy. Often a funny show, but those particular gags... completely beyond me. All I can say is that shortly before those gags are cut, I often get a feeling of discomfort, akin to embarrassment. Does the humor lie in that feeling? An odd association.
     
  12. CDRW
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    CDRW Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think that's it. I think a lot of people just laugh because they don't really know what to do. I know that feeling very well, and that's why I don't really watch it anymore.
     
  13. tehuti88
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    tehuti88 Contributing Member

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    I write fantasy stories based on an existing belief system, the mythology of the Ojibwa Indians. I mean nothing but the utmost respect in what I write--in fact, one of my main motives is to show off how beautiful and interesting this belief system is--but I constantly worry that what I'm doing might be seen as terribly disrespectful, especially considering that I'm not Ojibwa (this might be a lot more acceptable if I were, at least based on the reactions of one or two people online!). For comparison, it might be like a non-Christian saying, "I write fantasy fiction about Jesus and some of the saints"--I imagine that would not go over well with a lot of people.

    There's also the fact that I utilize a lot of humor in the writing--for example, poking fun at what's expected from spiritual beings, and presenting some of them as drastically different from what the traditional stories say--and this might be frowned upon. Granted, there's a LOT of humor present in traditional Ojibwa storytelling (some of it quite vulgar, in fact), and based on what I've read of personal accounts of spiritual and mythological beings, every encounter is highly individualized, so there's almost never a "right" or "wrong" way of seeing something--but as I said, some people get very touchy on the subject.

    I haven't been in contact with enough Ojibwa to know if I'm being offensive, though. One self-proclaimed Ojibwa was apparently offended by the mere fact that I was non-native and was writing about Ojibwa, period; one person claiming to be "adopted" into Ojibwa culture took issue with what she perceived as a mistake until I clarified that it was artistic license, then she was okay with it; two others seemed just fine with it and even expressed interest. I guess like with any group of people, it varies. (And the first person in question seemed to have issues with anybody who was non-native, based on what someone else told me.) *shrug*

    At times I would love for people of this culture to discover my writing and my own attempts to keep their stories alive, but at the same time I'm terrified that they would be horribly offended by it! Sometimes, even if one's intentions are good, cultural differences will just destroy all of that. Here's hoping I'm just being paranoid like usual.
     
  14. Chef Dave
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    Chef Dave Member

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    The Chinese have a sense of humor but our social mores have taught us that it is rude to show emotion in public. In this, we are much like the Vulcans of Star Trek. In fact, there are many who believe that Gene Roddenberry modeled the Vulcans using elements of Chinese culture.

    This is not to say that Chinese have NO sense of humor. Humor is after all, endemic to the human condition.

    With this being said, our jokes tend to be rather dry.

    This joke dates back to the 14th century during the time of the Ming Dynasty.

    On his birthday, the clerks of a government bureaucrat gave him a life sized statue of a gold rat since this official had been born during the year of the Rat. The official thanked his staff and told them that his wife's birthday was coming up. She had been born in the year of the ox.

    Here is a joke told in an old folktale.

    A farmer sent his field hand into the forest to chop wood. He gave his employee two small pieces of bread for lunch. When the employee complained, the farmer suggested that he dunk the bread in water before eating it. The bread would swell and fill his appetite.

    When the field hand returned to the farm, he brought two twigs. When the farmer complained that he had been expecting a load of fire wood, the worker told him to dunk the twigs in water.
    :)

    Here is a contemporary joke which is told in the People's Republic of China. It is also a subtle dig at the power and influence of Americans ... and the ability of the Chinese to thwart American wishes.

    An American was dining with a Chinese colleague. An immortal (a Chinese genie) suddenly appeared and offered each of them three wishes.

    The American wished for a hundred million dollars, a beautiful wife, and a transfer back home where he could enjoy his money and the company of his wife. The immortal granted all of these wishes and the American disappeared.

    The Chinese asked for a bottle of white liquor. He drank the bottle and asked for a second bottle of white liquor. After drinking this bottle, he said, "I miss the American ... bring him back."
    :eek:

    The Chinese don't do slap stick. A comedy club would probably not do well in China.
     
  15. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Thank you for that insightful and interesting peek into Chinese culture.

    I always knew (I studied anthropology) that humor is very culturally subjective. I guess what made me ask the question was the subtle difference in what is acceptable in my Spanish culture as opposed to my American culture. I belong to both cultures.

    There are biting little snippets of sarcasm that I have heard people use here in Puerto Rico, which to my way of thinking, come from the exact same page of sarcastic remarks as other remarks which are completely unacceptable. I just don’t get it.

    The last little bit of conversation that got me a hard look wasn’t even meant as sarcasm! My boyfriend is a bit of a hypochondriac. He gets a pain or a strange feeling and he starts questioning me. “What do you think this is? Do you think it might be this or that?” I told him, “I’m not a doctor. I have no idea.” That got me about two hours of the silent treatment. When he got over it, I asked him what I had said to put him in such a foul mood. He told me, “That was melcriado. I don’t appreciate that kind of sarcasm.”

    I was like, “What!?” Completely random.

    I asked my friend, Victor, about the conversation and he told me he would have reacted the same way if I had said that to him.

    I don’t get it. I’m pretty sure that my statement about not being a doctor would have gone by without notice in the States.
     
  16. Gone Wishing
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    Gone Wishing Contributing Member

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    Obviously, I can't comment too much on the humour in other cultures. In Australia, though, we have a very laid back, sarcastic (to the point of insulting) and self-deprecating sense of humour, and since meeting and talking to people online, I've found that it can be quite affronting to people, and quite often I'm taken seriously when I never meant to be... :/

    Honestly, the above comment re: not being a doctor wouldn't even be viewed as sarcasm here... Here, that situation would have elicited a response of the following ilk:

    "Quit your complaining, a shark ate my leg yesterday and you don't see me running around making a fuss of it..." (Aussies are fond of one-upmanship... lol).
     
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  17. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    That is too delicious for words. :D
     
  18. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Aussies may be fond of one-upmanship, but Americans will always go for a leg up on them - especially this guy! :)

    (Remember, the Americans may not have invented the tall tale, but they certainly elevated it to new heights.)
     
  19. CDRW
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    CDRW Contributing Member Contributor

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    "That's not a knife. That's a knife." Australia has given us americans many things, not the least of which is Crocodile Dundee.
     
  20. Gone Wishing
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    Gone Wishing Contributing Member

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    In Australia, we have yarn-spinning contests - an esteemed skill steeped in tradition. :p They tour the pubs, kind of like an open mic night, except it'll just be a storyteller sitting on the stage weaving a tale for the audience - they're totally awesome!
    ("Spinning a yarn" is Aussie colloquialism for telling a tall tale :)).


    Totally off-topic, so apologies, but back when I used to watch that quirky American soap opera known as wrestling (WWE), I always wanted to go to a show and hold up a sign with a picture of The Rock, saying "That's not a rock..." next to a picture of Uluru (Ayers Rock) saying "That's a rock!"
     
  21. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    I'm pretty sure "spinning a yarn" is an old sailor's colloquiallism. You hear it in America too, although it seems to be falling out of fashion.
     
  22. Still Life
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    Still Life Active Member

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    My Japanese half appreciates slap stick, which is pretty rampant in Japan. Newcomers train under the tutelage of their "sempai", or upperclassmans. Some of the humor just leaves me feeling really uncomfortable (especially when it's not funny), but comedy duo Downtown revolutionized the idea of slap stick in Japan, and made it thoroughly enjoyable for me. Their batsu-game episodes or "Punishment Games" seem to translate well even in Sweden, and one half of the duo's - Matsumoto Hitoshi's - mockumentary film " Big Man Japan" did pretty well (though it was more low-key, offbeat, and just really weird humor rather than slap stick).

    An example would be http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4iwM2hzprEY. Some people find it hilarious ( I do), others won't get it.

    But I'm also a fan of traditional rakugo comedy (sort of like a sitcom on stage with one person performing all the parts). It's really out of style in this day and age, but I still find rakugo hilarious.

    I find that when I take the readers into consideration, I struggle with cultural humor. It's a given: Some people will love it, some will go " Huh", and others will just hate it. Since the audience is going to be split anyway, I just charge ahead with what I think is funny.
     
  23. Chef Dave
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    Yes, the Chinese also have traditional opera. Our comedy features the antics of the Monkey King who was irreverent of the Jade Emperor (chief God) and his heavenly host. He had many adventures with Zhu Bajie who was a lazy and gluttonous character who was half human and half pig. Sha Wujing, a former General of Heaven, also accompanied them bearing his staff that was tipped with a crescent-moon yuèyá blade.

    Sha Wujing was essentially the foil against which Zhu Bajie and the Monkey King would play jokes as he he had a gruff personality and absolutely no sense of humor.

    In 2001, Hollywood made a movie about the adventures of the Monkey King in a film called, "Journey to the West."

    My cousin also reminded me that some slapstick has made it into Chinese humor.

    The movie, "Kung Fu Hustle" is a wuxia, quasi-fantasy sub-genre of martial arts film. It features caricatures known to Chinese opera ... the abusive and loudmouthed wife, the effete shop keeper, and villains who act tough but are really not.

    There is one scene where a thug who wants to join the Red Ax gang, so named because the men all carry short axes, decides to assassinate the abusive and loudmouthed wife of a slum tenement landlord. His buddy has a throwing knife and when he swung his arm back for the throw, he accidentally released the blade and stabbed his friend.

    The thug who was stabbed subsequently has to run for his life when the woman chases him. They run so fast, that their legs are whirling like that bird in the roadrunner and coyote cartoons.
     
  24. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    I thought Kung-Fu Hustle was AWEsome! I laughed my arse off. :D
     
  25. TwinPanther13
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    TwinPanther13 Contributing Member

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    I have lived a little of every where and I would say from my perspective that dry, sarcastic humor is the only thing that is universal. Some countries are big on slapstic and some places are so conservative that slapstic will get you in trouble.

    Dry humor transcends that. You also do not need to know much about the culture. All of the jokes Chef Dave wrote out were funny to me and I do not need to know much about chinese culture. Seriously though my favorite was the one about the golden rat
     

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