Tales from my youth - "When a joke is not a joke"
What's funny to one man becomes an insult to another.
A cultural lesson for Bob Hope
Humour means different things to different people – what seems funny to one person becomes an insult to another. It’s one of those cultural things of which we must beware.
Bob Hope, the celebrated American comedian, found out this to his cost when he visited our country many years ago. In an effort to give topicality and colour to his one-liners, his script-writers came up with some insipid jokes with local references, which, when told by lesser lights might have caused just a yawn, but when told by the great man himself, became mildly amusing.
To anyone born and raised in an English speaking culture, these little jokes would have seemed completely harmless, and offensive to nobody. But when translated word for word into the local language, the meaning was seen to be grossly insulting.
As a result, there was an uproar, the local media having a field day excoriating Hope and Americans in general, and, in the end, Hope was forced to issue an apology.
Later, when asked about this incident. Hope was quoted as saying
“Well, I didn’t really realize that the people here were so sensitive”.
And here he hit on the crux of this cultural problem – that in some countries words can be spoken without any offence being caused, but when the same words are spoken in another country, they become the cause for a fight. What is funny to one man is offensive to another.
It reminds me of what my mother kept telling me when I was a boy -
“Sticks and stones will break your bones,
But words will never hurt you.”
Well, Bob Hope found out that, in some cultures, it’s the opposite that is true.