What makes the Polish laugh?

We Brits take our sense of humour very seriously. At home, we all seem to appreciate telling jokes and having a laugh; I suppose we expect this is the case everywhere. It is only when we leave our small island that we start to realise how much this is taken for granted.

No doubt you will come across a Pole who speaks English to an advanced level that you may naturally want to share a joke with. The chances are, you will do this without the slightest doubt of whether they will understand it. Don't be surprised if you are met with polite, mock laughter and eyes looking in every direction except at you. Fully understanding a joke involves fully understanding a way of life and this takes time. Understatement and absurdity are not commonplace in Polish banter.

Mastering a joke is a very serious thing because it allows you to penetrate the culture you are in; can improve opinion, create acceptance, help win favour, lighten the atmosphere and generally make a good impression – of course if you say the right joke at the right time to the right people, etc…

But, is Polish humour similar to British humour? Well, to some extent it is. Instead of Englishman, Irishman, Scotsman jokes they have a Pole, a Russian and a German jokes. There are the common victim jokes about blondes, people from Poznań (Scotland) and many situational gags generally about life in communism or politicians. However, where things differ greatly is on the subject of word -play. English is incredibly rich in puns and ambiguity which is often the basis of a joke and the reason why it is hard to understand this humour for an outsider. Polish humour doesn't make extensive use of this and is comparatively easy to understand, once you have mastered the language to a conversational level. Here are three fairly safe jokes that you can positively impress your Polish friends with:

What do you call a young man who goes out with an older woman?

Antykwariat (an antique shop) wait for the confused look. She is an Antyk (antique), he is a Wariat! (Crazy person). This might sound strange to you, but it should get a laugh.

What is the fastest land animal?

A gepard (A cheetah) – most people should know this. And what is the fastest bird? (deny all answers and gesture in the punch line) The bird of the gepard! Hard to laugh at this one if you are British. In English, a bird is a slang term for a woman; in Polish it is a slang term for male genitalia.

A Polish ex-president was talking to an American ex-president a few years back…

So tell me, how much money does the average American earn per month?

About 2000 dollars.

Oh, and how does he spend it? Well, around 400 for his house, 200 on food, 300 on bills and 100 on his car.

And what does he do with the rest of his money?

The USA is a free democratic county. We don't like to ask such questions.

Oh, I see.

And how much money does the average Pole earn per month?

About 2000 złoty.

And how does he spend it?

Well, around 600 on his car, 1200 for his flat, 500 for bills, 600 for food and 300 for his mobile telephone. But that's a lot more than 2000 złoty. Where does he get the rest of the money? Well, Poland is a free democratic country. We don't like to ask such questions!

This is a situation that many Poles have faced, but also reflects the natural resourcefulness of the Polish nation.

Finally, I need to point out that there are some funny people (funny meaning 'strange' and not funny 'ha, ha') who really do not appreciate a British sense of humour and/or simply lack a sense of humour altogether. If you happen to meet one, advise them to lighten up for 2012!


Terry Clark-Ward

Terry has lived in Wroclaw since 2000 and has written and contributed to many published books as well as being the host and creator of Radio RAM’s English language show ‘Sunday Lunch’. He also works as a voice over artist and Television presenter of ‘5 o’ Clark’ on national TV channel ‘ATM Rozrywka’. His real passion, however, is writing for Wroclawuncut!

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