Some nations and ethnic groups are famous for their jokes all over the world (Who doesn’t know a good Jewish joke?). Other people’s humour is less prominent or inferior. In many cases the lack of visibility of a nation’s humour can be explained by the lack of attention towards it on behalf of the media, popular culture, and, of course, researchers.
When deciding on my PhD project, I thought I could fill in one of these gaps – and that’s how a thesis on Belarusian family humour was born.
Jokes highlight the Belarusians’ patience
Belarus is an Eastern European country with a population of around 9.4 million. Up until recently Belarus and its people rarely made it to the international news and thus remained very much a “thing-in-itself”, as Kant would have put it.
A stereotypical image of a true Belarusian existed only in Belarusians’ minds, and jokes about Belarusians can be mostly heard and understood within the country itself. Belarusians’ submissiveness and passiveness are among the popular targets of such jokes. Consider the following joke, which exists in many variations in oral and online communication:
A Russian was seated on a bench which had a nail pointing out of it. The Russian sprang up from the bench, crushed it, cursed everyone, and left. A Ukrainian sat [on the same kind of bench]. The Ukrainian stood up, pulled out a nail, took it, and left. A Belarusian sat there too. The Belarusian was sitting and sitting, ouching and ouching, and then said: “But maybe it ought to be this way?” (See the current variant of the joke in Belarusian; you can also find some other jokes on similar topics in this thread).
Such self-deprecating jokes sometimes compare Belarusians with other nations (as in the example above) and emphasize that Belarusians are usually the victims rather than the aggressors. The focus on Belarusians’ tolerance and patience in jokes creates an ambiguous image of the nation. On the one hand, such character traits prevent Belarusians from pursuing their own agenda and defending their rights. On the other hand, they can also be interpreted in a positive light and depict Belarusians as a nation who would choose peaceful means over open conflict.
Family humour solves problems
While jokes with punchlines (called анекдоты in Russian and Belarusian and anekdoodid in Estonian) are rather uniform in the ways they depict Belarusians, family humour is much more diverse. Most of it consists of conversational jokes, funny remarks and nicknames, humorous stories that occurred with family members in the past. Much of this humour is situational and one of a kind: it is quickly forgotten. But some of the jokes and stories stay in the family members’ memory for a long time and are remembered when the context is appropriate.Continue reading