Informant was a 20 year old female who was born in Sweden and currently lives in the United States. She came to visit me.
Informant: There’s a lot of stereotypes of Swedish people. Everyone always says that we are blonde, skinny, tall, and have blue eyes, which is not true. It’s really not true. Most Swedish girls do highlights, which is why everyone thinks we are. Many people are blonde-ish but not like blonde blonde. Swedish girls are said to be like this, but this is only really in the big cities like Stockholm and Gothenburg. People just care more about appearances in bigger cities. In smaller cities, people do not look like the Swedish stereotype. They’re not like that. People are not as high class, people do not really care about being skinny or healthy. People think of these stereotypes because people only go to the big cities and they don’t visit the small cities only the bigger ones, so they see these people and generalize.
Collector: Has this stereotype ever affected you in any way?
Informant: I mean, it doesn’t affect me in a bad way, people think that Swedish people are really cool and pretty and Sweden is known. Everyone used to always ask me why aren’t you blonde? Why don’t you have blue eyes? But people always know that I’m Swedish, they can usually tell with my accent. Also there’s stereotypes of Sweden working well too, with the government and life being easy. Teachers are always asking me questions about Sweden. When they need a good country to compare another one to. I mean, it’s true it does work well, but there are a lot of downsides that people don’t really see, like the immigrants have so many rights, a lot of people are really worried about the amount of immigrants and how they affect our country. Sure, they are acceptive of immigrants, but it’s making Sweden less safe and taking away rights from the Swedes, but all that the outsiders see is that it works so well.
Collector: You sound like Donald Trump.
Informant: (Laughs) No, it can’t be compared. Like the size of the United States is too big compared to Sweden. Like we are very acceptive of immigrants, but it just needs to be regulated, like no one wants to kick them out.
I like that my friend told me about Swedish stereotypes because I have often been the target of Brazilian stereotypes. Not only did she talk about the stereotypes involving physical appearance, but she also mentioned how people perceive the country in general. I think what she said about immigrants is really enlightening because of the situation that is going on in the United States right now with the whole issue of immigration. I think that her perspective – not kicking out immigrants but just regulating it more – would be a great perspective for the United States to take on this issue. It’s really interesting how certain aspects of another person’s folklore and culture can be attributed to current problems in society today.
Context: My informant is a vegan. While we were conversing on Skype, we started talking about jokes vegans tell about non-vegans and ignorant comments vegans hear from non-vegans. These jokes were all told in quick succession and the conversation flows too naturally to make sense in parts, so they were included together.
Joke 1: What’s the best way to keep milk fresh? Leave it in the cow.
Joke 2: Can vegetarians eat animal crackers?
Joke 3: Isn’t it weird that we drink milk, stuff designed to nourish baby cows? How did that happen? Did some cattleman once say, “Oh man, I can’t wait till them calves are done so I can get me a hit of that stuff.”
Full Interview Transcription:
Me: What are some jokes that vegans tell?
Informant: Um, what’s the best way to keep milk fresh?
Informant: Leave it in the cow.
Me: That’s great. [Laughter] So um, who told you that?
Informant: I found it. Like I was scrolling on an Instagram post that had to do with veganism, and I like wrote it down immediately when I saw it because I was like, this is funny.
Me: Yeah. It’s great.
Informant: Um, and then, another one is: Can vegetarians eat animal crackers? And I get asked that all the time.
Me: Like, do people ask that seriously?
Informant: Seriously. Especially one of my band mates. They’re like, “Can they eat animal crackers? Or what about, like aren’t you hurting plants?”
Me: Oh my god… I don’t understand.
Informant: I don’t either! Okay… This one will probably… This one makes you think. Isn’t it weird that we drink milk, stuff designed to nourish baby cows? How did that happen? Did some cattleman once say, “Oh man, I can’t wait till them calves are done so I can get me a hit of that stuff.”
Me: Oh god… Where did you hear that one?
Informant: I found it on a website.
Me: Okay… So when do you usually tell these things? Among other vegans?
Informant: Among other vegans and among, like, meat eaters who are being judgmental of my veganism.
Informant: Just to make fun of them.
Me: That’s brilliant. What do you think the jokes are making fun of in particular?
Informant: I like to hope that it’s making fun of people’s ignorance towards different diet types. You know?
Informant: Not actually making fun of vegans.
Me: They’re funny. I like them. I can’t believe people ask the animal crackers one seriously.
Informant: Seriously all the time. And I also hear: “Why do you want to hurt plants? If you care so much about animals, what about the plants?”
Me: Are there any other things people say to you like that?
Informant: Um… Hmm… I hear about vitamins a lot. As soon as you become a vegan, everyone’s concerned about your vitamin levels. Not before you become a vegan. Like as soon as you become one. “Are you getting enough calcium? What about this? What about that?” And you’re like, “What if I wasn’t drinking milk before I was vegan?” You know?
Me: Yeah, good question.
Informant: Did you not care before?
Me: Yeah… Assumptions.
Informant: I’ve also noticed that people around me, when they’re with me, they’ll purposely… overly non-vegan-ify their food. Like completely. Like “I’ll take a steak, and some eggs, and put butter on that, with some bacon.” Just to be able to eat it in front of me.
Informant: I’m just like, you’re just clogging your arteries. It’s not bothering me.
Comments: This conversation informed me about some of the hurtful comments non-vegans say to vegans to try to delegitimize their lifestyle. The jokes the informant told me are also an example of a misunderstood group using humor to deflect ignorant remarks from outsiders.
About the Interviewed: Spencer is a former student of the George Washington University, now graduated and teaching English overseas. He describes his ethnic background as “Potpourri”, with his family having a mixture of Scottish-Polish origins with some Irish thrown in the mix. His family has lived in North America for generations, so he prefers to identify ethnically as just that. He is 22 years of age.
Spencer, my friend from the George Washington University gave me a talk about a sub-culture of individuals known in America as “Hipsters”.
Spencer: “Hipsters are a stereotype. But they’re a funny stereotype. (laughs) They’re like, people who don’t ever want to be mainstream. They do everything outside of the ‘norm because that’s what’s cool.”
I ask him what he means by things that aren’t “mainstream”.
Spencer: “Well, a ‘Hipster’ is probably not somebody who listens to [music] that’s popular or anything upbeat. They like things that are old, things that are vintage. There’s this video of someone taking notes on a typewriter. Stuff like that. It’s sort of a label. I mean, they’re a kind of subculture. Hipsters don’t identify as hipsters. It’s kind of an insult, really.”
I asked him why he believed that being labeled a Hipster represented an insult.
Spencer: “Well, It’s sort of a joke. (he laughs) Though some people probably take it seriously”, he continues. “It’s like if you have a friend, and you want to watch a movie together, like Star Wars, but he doesn’t want to see it because it’s too mainstream.” He makes a gesture here with his hands in a faux-suave kind of way. “You’d be all like – Man, you’re such a Hipster!”
He stops to laugh again.
Spencer: “People just think that they’re arrogant. That’s kind of what the word means.”
I asked him to describe what he thinks a hipster would look like.
Spencer: (laughs) “Oh man. Well the real hipsters dress funny. I’d picture dudes wearing leggings, loafers with no socks, handlebar mustaches, things like that. Girls would be kind-of the same, just more irregular.”
Spencer: “I mean, I live in [Washington] DC, and you see them all the time, or people who look like them [hipsters], I’m not judging. I mean, they’re sort of cool in a retro kind-of way. I like anyone who can do things without caring too much about what other people think of them. (laughs)”
“Hipsters” are a subculture of individuals who live organically and distance themselves from the “mainstream” or “popular” world. As the idea of a Hipster has become something a stereotype, the term is seen by some as derogatory.
Personally, I find the concept of Hipsters to be very interesting. They’re sort of postmodern: rejecting our concept of modernity to substitute their own. Hipsters live an organic lifestyle, though some would argue that it’s mainly reactionary. The word “Hipster” embodies both a label, and a definition. Though many people adjust to the subculture, Spencer and I both agreed that the term has become somewhat patronizing in recent years.
“Este es un chiste sobre los catalanes que dice la gente de Madrid:
Este es un Catalan que va conduciendo su coche y tiene un acidente. Entonces le gente se para para ayudarle y llaman a un ambulancia. Entonces viene la ambulancia y el esta mal errido como aturdido. Entonces sale el camillero y le dice a sus companeros de la ambulancia, “rapido trae me una mascara” y el tio medio sangrao, aturdido dice “la mas cara no, por favor. la mas varata.”
Hay el estereotipo que los catalanes son unos agarados con el dinero. ”
This is a joke about the Catalan that people from Madrid say:
“There is a Catalonian man that is driving along in his car and has an accident. So then the people stop to help him and call an ambulance. Then the ambulance comes and he is badly hurt and dazed. Then the paramedic steps out and says to his co-workers, “Quick bring me a mask.” And the guy, half-bleeding and dazed says, “Not the most expensive one, the cheapest one.”
The joke is found in the play on words between ‘mascara’ (mask) and ‘mas cara’ (the most expensive). They both sound the same in Spanish but have, obviously very different meanings. The injured man thinks the paramedic is saying to bring out the most expensive, when really the paramedic is saying to bring out a respiratory mask. In response the injured man requests the cheapest one despite being severely injured. The joke plays off the stereotype that the Catalonian people are very cheap. This joke is similar to jokes in the United States about Jewish people being frugal with money. Also, there is lots of cultural tension between the Catalan people and the rest of Spain due to a political movement on the part of the Catalonians trying to declare independence from the rest of Spain. This joke is a means of putting down the Catalonians therefore making it easier to separate themselves from them.
Context: The informant is a college-age male whose parents are both originally from Pakistan. He has lived in Southern California all his life, with frequent trips to Pakistan to visit extended family. He attended a private Islamic elementary school and a public middle and high school in the South Bay area. He relates the following story told to him by one of his friends, a young man whose parents are originally from Tehran, Iran.
Inf.: So when [friend]‘s family went back to Iran to visit you know, like his grandparents and his cousins and stuff…but they live in Tehran, and supposedly–there’s a stereotype that people from Tehran are generous but like people from this other city–I think it was [...] Isfahan, right? Isfahan is the place where they’re supposedly really stingy.
Me: Is that what he told you? Like I mean does he believe that or is it like a stereotype in his family…?
Inf.: No, i mean i guess everyone believes it. Like if you’re from Tehran, you think people from Isfahan are crooks. Like how if you’re from Pakistan you think Pathans are really stupid and people from Lahore are really rude and stuck up.
Me: Ok, ok. So then what?
Inf.: So then…so he–his family went to Isfahan and his dad went into the store, and he’s like, ok i’ll talk with an Isfahani accent so the guy won’t make me pay extra–like you know how people will charge tourists three times whatever it actually costs because they’re tourists? [I nod] Like that. So if he talks with the accent the shopkeeper would think he’s from Isfahan and tell him the actual price. So…ok, for some reason bananas were really expensive at the time,ok? So he goes up to the shopkeeper and he asks, How much are those bananas? And the shopkeeper goes, You’re not from Isfahan. And the dad goes, how do you know? And the shopkeeper said, If you were from Isfahan, you wouldn’t even bother asking how much they cost.
Analysis: The informant says he enjoyed the joke because it was very similar to and illustrative of the kinds of stereotypes that exist not just among Americans/Europeans/Westerners about other races, cultures, and ethnicities; but also among non-whites about other ethnicities. He mentioned the fact that many Pakistanis tell Pathan jokes with the punchline being that somehow that particular ethnic group is stupid and only they could do something like whatever is told in the joke. The fact that the joke is predicated on the stereotypes between cities, a much smaller demographic than an entire ethnic group, is interesting; because while ethnic/racial stereotypes might seem plausible because of the supposed “biological connection” (i.e. DNA) shared by all members of a race; any possible connection between members of a city is much less obvious, unless the population of that city is mainly composed of a single ethnic group and that is what the stereotype is (covertly) referencing. This joke, in order to be funny, relies on the audience knowing two pieces of information: the stereotype of Isfahanis as stingy people, and the fact that bananas were for some reason very expensive at the time. This is an example of requiring an emic point of view in order to understand the humor, or at least to fully appreciate the cultural context within which the joke/anecdote is situated.
“In India, it is not uncommon – actually, scratch that, it is incredibly common to make tongue-in-cheek jokes against members of other cultures. They are not meant to be offended, because everyone makes such jokes against others. This is one of them. Pay close attention: Three men – a Hindu, a Christian, and a Muslim – are in a boat, and it is starting to sink because the boat is too heavy to stay afloat. In order to keep the boat from sinking, the three men all decide to make compromises and throw something overboard to lighten the load. The Hindu says, ‘I’m going to throw my Rolex overboard. I’ve got two or three more watches like this at home.’ And so he does. The Christian takes off his impressive top-hat and antique walking cane and promptly throws them over, saying, ‘I’ve got several more of these at home as well.’ The Muslim, to the shock of the other two men, picks up his wife and deposits her unceremoniously into the ocean, proclaiming, ‘I’m throwing my wife overboard. I’ve got several more wives like this at home!'”
The informant related his experience with this joke: “It was actually my brother-in-law who had come up with this joke after he’d had a little too much to…well, you know. He told me the joke at a party some sixty years ago, but I didn’t find it as funny as he did, perhaps because I was slightly more sober than he was. But only slightly. However, I must confess that did steal the joke from him, obviously because I’m the better joke-teller. Don’t look at me like that, I’m not making it up! I actually modified it a little and then told it at a dinner. It got many more laughs than when he told it. See?”
As the informant said, in India, it is very common to make jokes about other cultures, religions, and ethnic subgroups, poking fun at things that are stereotypical to their particular community. In this particular blason populaire, there are stereotypes of more than one group. In India, there are three distinct images – the Hindu man dressed in a very Spartan manner, with cotton everything except for his expensive gold watch; the Christian man with his tailored suit, felt top-hat, and wooden walking cane; and the Muslim man with his train of wives. Out of all of the three stereotypes, this joke exploits, in particular, the image of the polygamous Muslim, a depiction that has particular popularity among the socially and sexually conservative Hindu community. These two communities have been at odds with each other since the Partition in 1947, and therefore, many ethnic jokes have sprung up from this division in both communities, exploiting stereotypes on either side of the great divide.
“You know this is my favorite joke ever. Because it’s hilarious. And also because I’ve probably told it to you a million times. So this young guy, who comes from a minority population and speaks pretty limited English, starts working at a donut joint. At this point, he’s told to say ‘Donuts, donuts, donuts!’ to customers with questions. So the first day of work, this customer comes in and asks ‘what do you sell here?’ The guy who works there does as he’s told and says, ‘Donuts, donuts, donuts!’ But he says that to every other question he’s asked, which are ‘How much to they cost?’, ‘Are they fresh?’, and ‘Should I buy them?’. Supremely confused, the customer leaves. So the manager tells the kid to say ‘Twenty five cents’ when asked how much they cost. Then another customer comes in with the same questions – ‘What do you sell here?’, ‘Donuts, donuts, donuts!’, ‘How much do they cost?’ ‘Twenty five cents.’, ‘Are they fresh?’, ‘Twenty five cents.’, ‘Should I buy them?’ ‘Twenty five cents.’ The manager, an understanding guy, tells the kid to say ‘Very, very fresh’ when he’s asked if the donuts are fresh. And so, naturally, in walks a third customer. The same suite of questions is asked, and instead of answering ‘Yes!’ to ‘Should I buy them?’, the poor kid answers, ‘Very, very fresh!’. Obviously because he doesn’t know any better. Now starting to get fed up, the manager tells him to respond, ‘Do it before somebody else does!’ to the question ‘Should I buy them?’.
And so, now that the kid’s finally got everything down, guess who comes in next? A guy dressed in black who’s obviously robbing the joint. The exchange goes like this:
Burglar – Whaddaya sell here?!
Kid – Donuts, donuts, donuts!
Burglar – How much you got in the register?
Kid – Twenty five cents.
Burglar – Are you acting fresh with me?!?!
Kid – Very, very fresh.
Burglar – That’s it! I’m gonna shoot you!
Kid – Do it before somebody else does!
And so, you can probably guess how the story ends.”
I was reminded that I already knew the context of this story, but I asked the informant to relate it anyway. “This is our family’s favorite joke. Ever,” he said. “You know because I’ve been telling it since we were kids. It shows you how a nice guy with a limitation in his knowledge of the English language, of which he is benignly unaware, gets in trouble because of his blissful ignorance.”
This joke takes on more than one form. It can be seen as a blason populaire against non English-speaking minorities, a darkly comedic cautionary tale against the disadvantages of not knowing the English language, and gallows humor. It is made apparent at the very beginning by the performer that the kid in the story is unfamiliar with English, and this is what ultimately ends up getting him shot by a burglar. In a rapidly globalizing society, the importance of the lingua franca is highlighted at the end of the sordidly humorous tale. Confused and dissatisfied customers might not be that big of a deal, but angry, armed pastry bandits? Nuh-uh.
“Two gentlemen are at a museum of modern art, one Indian and one American, and they are both looking at a very strange and indeterminate painting, trying to figure out what it is all about. You know, what people do with art, especially with modern art. So the first man proclaims his opinion on the work – ‘This painting is very vayg-yoo.’ The second man, although agreeing completely, is supremely annoyed at the first man’s butchering of the word ‘vague’. He attempts to clarify – ‘Look here, sir, in English, we do not pronounce the ue at the end.’ The first man nods, understanding, and benignly responds – ‘All right, all right, friend. Let us not arg.'”
The informant actually came up with this joke due to his fascination with the English language and its janky mechanics – “I came up with this joke after watching the film Chupke Chupke, which is, essentially, a questioning of the jhameli (ruckus) that is the English language. In the film, there is a line that perfectly sums up my fascination and confusion with this language – ‘Agar T-O “too” hai, aur D-O “doo”, toh phir G-O “go” kaise hua?’ (If T-O is pronounced ‘too” and D-O is pronounced “doo”, then how does G-O become “go”?) And so various other confusions came to my mind, namely the selective silencing of certain syllables. I thought this little anecdote was in perfect conjunction with this question from the film.”
English is a very weird language. It takes elements of every language by which it has been influenced and scrambles them up into an interesting but utterly confusing potpourri. The informant’s joke is, therefore, the perfect exploration and depiction of the non-native English speaker’s constant battle with the odd language. In India, especially, where Hindi is the most widely-spoken language, every syllable of every word is pronounced exactly as it is written in the native scripts. Therefore, when confronted with a word like “vague”, one can understand the confusion of the Indian man at the silencing of the last part of the word. Also, in a country where the rules of languages are fairly constant, one can also sympathize when the man does not understand that the rule of dropping the “ue” does not extend to every single word, and is instead a case-by-case situation. Interestingly, this joke gently pokes fun at the strange formulations of the English language while also not sparing the Indian man’s ignorance of pronunciation.
“Uh… an American, a Russian, and a Mexican are in a plane… and umm… the plane is about to crash or something that’s the joke.”
“So the… the Russian jumps… jumps out and says ‘for my country! And… the American jumps out and says ‘for my flag!’ And then… the Mexican jumps out, and says, ‘for my sandalsss!!!!”
My friend is an animation major at the University of Southern California. She has some Irish relatives and Mexican relatives.
My friend remembers a joke her father told her in Spanish, but since I didn’t understand Spanish she told it to me in English and told the joke as best as she could. The joke is supposed to make fun of some stereotypes that Mexicans are aware of. The “sandals” referred to in the joke are “chancla,” which, as my friend described it, are sandals that Mexican women wear. Chancla are also associated with the image of angry Mexican mothers with chanclas in their hands, possibly beating children who upset them.
I find it interesting that this motif of introducing nationality as a primary piece of exposition finds its way into Mexican humor. I remember a joke that begins with “An Irishman, a Japanese, and an American were all in a hot air balloon” that proceeds to operate off of stereotypes as well. It never occurred to me to think that that particular motif would be in other cultures’ jokes. Since my friend heard this from her father, I’m guessing that more often than not this is a joke Mexicans would tell other Mexicans, since they’d understand why “chancla” are so iconic and so humorous in this context. The stereotyping of the Russian and American also seem to go off of Mexican perceptions of those two nationalities and their fervent nationalism. Since I heard this joke in English and had to have my friend explain the punchline for me, I believe this joke would be far better for someone who understood Spanish and understood Mexican culture. “Sandals” still evoke a pretty silly image, but “chancla” have a particular significance for Mexicans.
This piece of folklore falls under a general stereotype and is potentially offensive to some people. When I was talking with my informant, he informed me that he drove a Subaru Outback. He paused for a second, seemingly waiting for my response. When I said nothing, he told me that many people say that
“Only Lesbians Drive Subarus”
When I asked my informant more about this, he began to tell me that he gets comments like that on a regular basis. People are always, jokingly, asking if he is a lesbian because he drives that car. My informant is from Washington and says that “even though there are a lot of outdoorsy women that drive Subarus, I still don’t fully understand how they got such a bad wrap”.
Subarus are a much more common car in the Pacific Northwest, but he says the he’s heard the stereotype everywhere. “It’s just a good all-purpose car. It can get me to the mountains, off-roading, and everywhere else adventurous that I want to go” he says. He said that it’s probably not a good thing for marketing the car, considering lesbians likely only make up a small percent of America’s total population. “Maybe they should do some new marketing or make a new name for it” to grow it’s market a little bit.
When I asked why he had the car in the first place, he said, “my dad said it was the only car I could get. I’m not mad about it, I still think it’s pretty cool”.
I think that the car may have gotten this stereotype because of advertisements, or because many pacific northwest women are more outdoor types, which is typically connected to a ‘lesbian personality’ in popular culture for some reason. I don’t think that there are more lesbians driving Subarus than any other brand of car out there, just that it tends to be more rugged women that drive them. It seems as though the stereotype has caught on, however, as I have heard people say that even living here in Los Angeles.