In investigating International Humor, consider the following metaphor
Life is a Journey
There are many metaphors to explain life.
Life is a box of chocolates.
Life is a river.
Life is an uphill battle.
Life is a walk in the park.
Life is an automobile wreck.
The best metaphor is that “Life is a Journey.”
Physical Humor Translates Well
from Culture to Culture
This is one of the reasons that comedians in
America’s silent films had international
Charlie Chaplin Laurel and
The Three Stooges Buster
Helen Keller and Charley Chaplin
Political Cartoons also Cross International Boundaries
as when New York’s Boss Tweed was recognized by
customs agents in Spain and sent back to the U. S.
BECAUSE . . .
• Cartoons are caricatures in which the salient
features are exaggerated, so that people are
• The cartoons provide epiphanies, i.e. sudden
• The point is made quickly and succinctly,
much like the punch line of a joke.
Afghanistan at the Crossroads
Ghenghis Khan came to Afghanistan.
Marco Polo came to Afghanistan.
The Silk Route went through Afghanistan.
The British came to Afghanistan.
The Americans came to Afghanistan.
The Russians came to Afghanistan.
The Kuchis travel through Afghanistan; north in the summer,
south in the winter.
However, Afghanistan is like New York.
It’s a great place to visit, but nobody wants to live there.
Our Afghan Web Site: The Nilsen family lived in
Afghanistan from 1968-1969. Don taught
English at Kabul University, and Alleen taught at
the American International School in Kabul
Here is Alleen’s web site called
“Afghanistan for Kids”
Humorous Metaphors in Farsi
NOTE: In Farsi, these are dead metaphors and are
therefore not funny. But to an outsider learning
Farsi, they are amusing.
• Walking is “baa Xate yazdah” (going by bus line
number 11). The 11 stands for your two legs.
• Ladybird is “kafsh duzak” (little shoe-smith)
• Ostrich is “shotor-morgh” (camel-hen)
Metaphors in Dari (Afghan Persian)
• Popcorn is “chos e fil” (elephant’s fart)--
recently changed to “pof-e fil” = puff
• Turkey is “fil morgh” (elephant chicken)
• Turtle is “sang posht” (rock back)
• Walnut is “chahar maghs” (four brains)
Thanks to our Dari and Farsi consultants:
Sajida Kamal Grande of the University of Nebraska, Omaha
and Behrooz Mahmoodi-Bakhtiari, University of Tehran
Afghan Mullah Nasruddin Stories
NOTE: Each story about the Mullah teaches a
lesson in logic.
• Tying a balloon to his ankle.
• Looking for a valuable coin in the wrong place
• Stealing watermelons
• Lifting a heavy boulder
• Shooting a hole in his own shirt
• His donkey, the salt, and the wool carpet
• His three Friday sermons
Welsh Comedian and his lost luggage in Australia:
A yearly humor festival in Gabrovo, Bulgaria, attracts visitors from
around the world.
They have a museum called the “House of Humour and Satire”
with tanks and guns made out of soft cloth.
In front of the House of Humour and Satire is a statue of Don
Quixote and Sancho Panza.
They make fun of the fact that they are cheap. They erected a
statue of their humorous founder Racho Kabacho (Racho, the
blacksmith) in the middle of the river, because that was where
the land was cheap.
During the festival, dozens of people dress like Charlie Chaplin
with mustaches, top hats, tuxedos, oversized shoes and canes.
They walk in straight lines and make right-angle turns.
Bulgarian House of Humour
and Satire Icons:
German “Schadenfreud” Humor
Germany has “Der Struevelpater,” a dark
figure who burns up little children who
play with matches and cuts off the
fingers of little children who play with
This dark figure is designed to teach
children that there are serious
consequences for doing bad things.
Indian Humor: Trickster Tales,
Pourquoi Stories & Cautionary Tales
Most American Indian tribes, like many African
tribes, have trickster tales. The tales are
cautionary, and they are also explanatory.
African Anansi tales tell why mosqitoes buzz,
and why the elephant has a long trunk.
Indian Coyote stories and other trickster tales
tell how a person should act often by
demonstrating how not to act.
The Irish Rogue
The Irish Rogue is not a criminal, but he is bright,
charismatic, and subversive.
Eoin Colfer’s Artemis Fowl (written for young readers)
is a typical Irish Rogue, in the tradition of Christy
Mahon in John Synge’s Playboy of the Western
World, Mr. Boyle in Sean O’Casey’s Juno and the
Paycock, Finn MacCool in James Joyce’s Finnegans
Wake, and Sebastian Dangerfield in J. P. Donleavy’s
The Ginger Man.
Jonathan Swift was even being a bit roguish when he
wrote “A Modest Proposal.”
Rogues are revered in Ireland, because it was
the Rogues who fought back when the
English were taking over Ireland.
Rogues break rules and laws, but it is always
for the greater good.
Rogues are “entertaining and high spirited, and
they diffuse violence with their use of humor.
Although they are flirtatious, they seldom
form any lasting alliances with women.”
Many rogues are linked to an aristocratic
figure, usually an Irish rebel chief, for
whom they risk their lives.
The ‘rogue’ is articulate, good natured,
fun loving, and exhibits an irrepressible
Rogues tend to be imaginative and
resilient comic figures.
“Chanukah Song” by Adam Sandler:
“What time is it?”:
The Japanese are very serious during working
hours. They consider their bosses and their
fellow workers part of their family, and they
do their best to be productive and impress
their working companions.
But after working hours, they go to Karaoke
bars, drink saki, and make fun of their
bosses and their companions. Such humor
is usually slapstick and silly.
In contrast to Japanese humor, Navajo humor
is part of everyday life. It tends to be
physical, and it involves many practical
jokes. Navajos will often parody white men
by talking loudly, boasting, and interrupting
When a child is born into a Navajo family,
everybody tries to make the child laugh, and
the first person who is successful in doing
so becomes a part of the family. There is
even a formal ceremony to induct this laugh-
inducer into the child’s family.
In Native American cultures, “contraries” or “ritual
clowns” do things backwards, as demonstrations of
what not to do, e.g. they
• Ride their horses backwards.
• Wear little clothing in the winter and much clothing in
• Lift great weights with ease and have difficulty lifting
• Attack a powerful enemy, and cower at a lesser
• Say the opposite of the truth.
When a group of
Romanians came to our
ASU humor conference in
1986, they sent us this
news story about the
event published in their
home town newspaper.
All we recognized was
the sketch of Gammage
Auditorium on the right.
These men from the
Soviet Union came to
our 1986 humor
conference at ASU.
Our closing dinner
was at Rawhide and
they slipped away to
have their pictures
taken with an
• A world-wide telephone survey was conducted and
the only question asked was:
• "Would you please give your honest
opinion about possible solutions to the food
shortage in the rest of
• The survey appeared to fail because:
• In Eastern Europe there was no agreement on what "honest" meant.
• In Western Europe they didn't know what "shortage" meant.
• In some places in Africa they needed "food" before they answered.
• In China they didn't know what "opinion" meant.
• In the Middle East they didn't know what "solution" meant.
• In South America they questioned what "please" meant.
• In the USA they didn't know what "the rest of the world" meant.
• And in Australia, New Zealand, Canada and Great Britain . . . everyone
hung up when they heard the foreign accent.
Some Translation Problems in International Advertisements: