Cultural Differences

We were at the professor’s birthday dinner.  As the evening progressed, it came to Brian to make a speech.  This is what Europeans (or maybe just extroverts) do, it seems.

So, Brian stood up, and began his speech.  He decided to open with a joke, in honour of the professor.

An infinite number of mathematicians walk into a bar.

The first one tells the bartender he wants a beer.

The second one says he wants half a beer.

The third one says he wants a fourth of a beer.

The bartender puts two beers on the bar and says “You guys need to learn your limits.”.

The professor had heard the joke before, but it still immediately got a smile.

The rest of the group remained silent, staring back at Brian, like in an akward Friends moment were Ross has just made some completely inappropriate remark.   The professor tries to explain the punch line.  All being mostly engineers, they soon get it, and laugh belatedly in a feeble attempt of support.

Ok, Brian tries again, with his favourite joke.

Time flies like an arrow.  Fruit flies like a banana.

Again silence.

Eventually someone chuckles.

They explain it to the rest of the group.  “See, it’s funny because time flies like an arrow – you know like an arrow, which flies through the air.  And fruit doesn’t fly like an arrow, more like a banana.”

“No, no”,  someone else replies.  “It’s funny because you have fruit flies, you know the insects, and they’re attracted to the banana.”

“Oh I see it works on different levels”.  “Your version is funny too, but I think my one is better”.

Exasperated, Brian makes one last attempt.

Where did Napoleon keep his armies?
In his sleevies.

Alas, this joke didn’t hit the mark either, and no amount of explaining seemed to make it funny at all.

One more, for the professor:

So I was at DNB (Den Norske Bank), and this old lady there comes up to me and asks me “Unskyld, can you hjelpe meg check my balance”?
So, I pushed her over.

One chuckle.

A while later, it was my turn.  I tried my joke with George Bush and the Brazilian soldiers in respect to the Brazilians at our table.

Back in the 90s Donald Rumsfeld is giving the president his daily briefing. He concludes by saying: “Yesterday, 3 Brazilian soldiers were killed.”

“OH NO!” the President exclaims. “That’s terrible!”

His staff sits stunned at this display of emotion, nervously watching as the President sits, head in hands.

Finally, the President looks up and asks, “How many is a brazillion?”

Eventually the Brazilians at our table did get it, and even thought it was funny, but only after explaining it to each other at length in Portuguese.

It was at this point that I realised that Brian and I are the only ones in our norsk circle of friends who are native speakers of English.   Our humour is usually based on complex puns, taking into account obscure expressions, and double entendres.  This is something that will take an ESL years of mastery and experience of English  to appreciate.  In the same way, I suspect I will never be able to understand Norwegian (or even German) humour.

Needless to say, we have now been banned from telling jokes.

Still, we spent the following day researching, and found a couple of possible contenders, which might more likely hit the mark (should we ever be asked to give another speech, that is).

An out-of-work actor gets a call from his agent one day. “I’ve got you a job,” says his agent. “That’s great,” says the actor, what is it?” “Well,” says his agent, “it’s a one-liner” “That’s okay,” replies the actor, “I’ve been out of work for so long I’ll take anything. What’s the line?” “Hark, I hear the cannons roar” says the agent. “I love it” says the actor “When’s the audition?” “Wednesday” says the agent.

Wednesday comes and the actor arrives at the audition. He marches on stage and shouts: “Hark, I hear the cannons roar”. “Brilliant,” says the director, “you’ve got the job. Be here 9 o’clock Saturday evening.”

The actor is so happy he got the job that he goes on a major bender. He wakes up at 8:30 Saturday evening and runs to the theatre continually repeating his line; “Hark, I hear the cannons roar, hark, I hear the cannons roar, hark, I hear the cannons roar.”

He arrives at the stage entrance, out of breath and is stopped by the guard. “Who the hell are you?” asks the guard. “I’m “hark, I hear the cannons roar.” “If you’re “hark I hear the cannons roar”, you’re late. Get up to makeup right now!”

So he runs up to makeup. “Who the hell are you” asks the makeup girl. “I’m “hark I hear the cannons roar.”” “If you’re hark I hear the cannons roar”, you’re late. Sit down here.” And she applies the makeup. “Now quick, get down to the stage, you’re about to go on.”

He dashes down to the stage. “Who the hell are you?” asks the stage manager. “I’m “hark, I hear the cannons roar.”” “You’re “hark, I hear the cannons roar?” Get out there, the curtain’s about to go up.”

He tears onto the stage. The curtains rise, the house is full. Suddenly there is an almighty bang behind him, and the actor shouts “WHAT THE FUCK WAS THAT?”

Or there was this one.


A NORWEGIAN applied for a job at the Chicago police department. He was given test after test, but could pass none of them. Desiring to have a Norwegian in the department, as a member of a minority, the Police captain decided to try one more test . . . this one with only one question, “Who shot Lincoln?”

The Norwegian answered, “I don’t know.”

“Look,” said the Captain, “take this question home and study it. Maybe when you come back tomorrow you’ll know the answer.”

That night, the Norwegian’s friends asked him how is job interview went.

“Really well,” replied the Norwegian, “They’ve got me working on a murder case already.”

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