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Russian Humor Explained

Every culture possesses a different understanding of what humor is, what humor means to people and how they respond to it.

"Humor usually concerns aspects of culture and depends on the historical and current development of the country’s culture.”

In order to understand the humor in the joke, especially if a joke is too closely linked to a specific characteristic of a country, one has to get  familiar with that culture.

A most common form of Russian humor that you will hear is a short fictional story or dialogue with a punch line. In Russian it is called an anecdote [анекдот]. However, anecdotes are not just jokes because their purpose is not only to make somebody laugh, but also to reveal a more general truth. The most popular joke topics include politics, sex and mothers-in-law.

​Hofstede determined four value dimensions along which countries varied: Power Distance (PDI), Individualism versus Collectivism (IDV), Masculinity versus Femininity (MAS), and Uncertainty Avoidance (UAI). Subsequent research on 23 countries yielded a fifth dimension: Confucian Dynamism (LTO). In both studies, countries were scored on a scale ranging from zero to just over 100.According to the Hofstede’s indices, Russia scores very high in the Power distance dimension, underlining the fact that “the power is distributed unequally”. The power discrepancy is also one of the topics of Russian anecdotes. Politicians, people, who hold the most power in Russia, are often depicted in a negative, sarcastic and even cynical light. The low score on the Indulgency dimension reflects the fact that Russians tend to be pessimistic and cynical. Having a good sense of humor helps Russians to look at the difficulties in life through the prism of jokes. Humor is being used as an “antidepressant” by Russian people. The use of profanity in Russian jokes is also worth mentioning. It’s common to use strong obscene words. It can enhance the humorous effect of a joke by its emotional impact but such an effect could be difficult to render into other languages. You can find many jokes about politics, drinking and sex in Russian humor. Even though most of the jokes are related to everyday things, Russians are proud of the daring social content of their humor and also diverse range of knowledge which their jokes contain. Here are some of the Russian jokes you can introduce in your class:

Power distance

What happens if our officials will be obligated to commute only by subway? The dispatcher is going to stop other trains in order to let move the official`s trains first, and we will hear a lot of this: " WE ARE DELAYED BECAUSE OF TRAIN TRAFFIC AHEAD OF US".

Individualism

A family decided to hang new wallpaper, but they don't know how many rolls to buy. The wife suggested to ask the neighbors from the second floor because their apartments are of the same size and she knew they have hung new wallpaper recently. So, the husband goes to the neighbors: HUSBAND: How many rolls of wallpaper did you buy? NEIGHBOURS: 16 rolls So the husband bought 16 rolls, hung them and it appeared that there were extra 6 rolls left. He goes to the neighbors again: HUSBAND: What's wrong with you, guys?! There are 6 rolls left! NEIGHBOURS: Yes, we had 6 rolls left as well

Masculinity

Young beautiful girl comes to a job interview. - What can you do? – they ask her. - Nothing – she answer. - Sorry, but these positions are already taken.

Uncertainty Avoidance

A Russian and an American are sentenced to Hell. The Devil summons them and says: "Guys, you have 2 options: an American or Russian hell. In the American one you can do what you want, but you'll have to eat a bucket of shit every morning. The Russian one is the same, but it's 2 buckets." The Yankee quickly makes up his mind and goes to American Hell, while the Russian eventually chooses the Russian one. In a week or so they meet. The Russian asks: "So, what's it like out there?"/ "Exactly what the devil said, the Hell itself is OK, but eating a bucket of shit is killing me. And you?" / "Ah, it feels just like home - either the shit doesn't get delivered or there aren't enough buckets for everyone!"

Pragmatism

At a meeting in a factory, a lecturer from the district Party committee tells the workers about their bright future in the USSR. "See, comrades, after this five-year plan is completed, every family will have a separate apartment. After the next five-year plan is completed, every worker will have a car! And after one more five-year plan is completed, every family will own an airplane!" From the audience, somebody asks, "What the hell one may need an airplane for?" "Don't you see comrades? Let's say, there are shortages in potatoes supplies in your city. No problem! You take your own plane, fly to Moscow and buy potatoes!"

Indulgence

A man died and was sent to the paradise. After a while, he became bored with the paradise, with the eternal quiet, abundance of flowers, absence of worries. So he requested to let him visit the hell as a tourist. God consented. In the hell, he saw people playing cards, drinking wine, and making love. He liked it very much and upon return to the paradise applied for a transfer to hell for good. God consented. As soon a he appeared at the hell's gate, demons grabbed him and pushed him into a barrel with hot tar. "Stop it! I was here with a visit and saw the people drinking vodka, playing cards, making love." "Don't confuse the area designated for tourists and sustained by the Propaganda Department, with this area which is for residents."

Russian Humor in the Classroom

The difference between Russian jokes and those of other countires is an interesting way to teach language and culture. Jokes could be used in teaching Russian as a Foreign Language, not only to have fun in the classroom, but also to help students get an insight into the values and habits of the society different from their own. When studying a foreign language, one is learning the culture as well. If a student doesn’t know much about the culture, he is not going to understand the humor in the joke.

It’s important for the teacher to prepare students to understand the joke. By introducing jokes into the classroom, teachers can increase motivation for learning and rapport with and among students. Humor can help students enjoy the classes more and promote a desire to learn. By bringing jokes into the classroom, teachers can create a good atmosphere, teach a social aspect of the language in a fun way, open the door for a better communication, invite to look into the cultural attitudes and behavior. Cultural awareness and language teaching can reinforce each other in the classroom.

By Irina Andreeva Adapted by Anna Watt

Category: Russian Holidays |
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