A month spent in the wilderness of Siberia taught me much about Russian mentality. The most important aspect of Russian culture a foreigner must grasp to feel welcomed and comfortable amongst their Russian hosts is that of Russian humor.
When I arrived in north Baikal to start my volunteer work with the Great Baikal Trail, the first thing our team leader said was, “Put tents up fast; snow in four hours.”
All the foreigners were unsure what this meant. I’m from Canada. I know these types of jokes. I tell them all the time about Canadian weather. You know summers in Montreal are so cold that I can still ice fish in my backyard. Some people would believe anything you tell them if it fits the stereotype.
Russians are also aware of this. It’s more than simply a joke, it’s a test of gullibility – a quick glimpse into the thought process of an individual.
And if you fall for it than maybe you can learn from it. Our team leader had another joke in disguise for some of his students of a previous camping trip. I don’t know them personally but I can guarantee that those students who ate the wild chocolate nuts will never pop little turd looking nuggets in their mouths again.
Sometimes people have to learn the hard way in order to learn anything at all.
But Russian humor isn’t simply about testing people. It’s mostly about taking life a little easier, making it lighter. Is sugar still white? Than life can’t be that bad.
I was told that Russian humor isn’t even funny, it’s black humor. It happens in your life every day, and people have to deal with it so they make fun of it.
Russians proudly declare that they like intelligent humor, not fart jokes like Americans. “What about masturbation jokes?” I was kidding. I hit a grey zone with that one.
So quite often there is a play on words. I don’t speak Russian so I can’t give examples of their jokes in native tongue. Like any translations some things will get lost. Still they poke fun at many English expressions. Are you alright, or all left?
My personal favorite about corrupt politicians: I was asked, “Is your prime minister like ours? You know, Vladimir Putin Pocket.”