Residence: Torrance, CA
Date of Performance/Collection: 2/16/14
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s): Urdu
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.