Tag Archives: gypsy

Derogatory Joke About Romani People

Main Piece:

Subject: This is more of just like a classic- I think- Old man folklore. My Grandfather was basically like, “Yeah you know, you can’t trust gypsies.” He’s from Alabama. But he said, “You can’t trust gypsies. One time when I was little, we had a gypsy neighbor go around and ask for sugar and what not. So every time he came to my house my mom would give him some sugar. And what he would do is he would take the cup of sugar, he would walk out to the yard and stick his thumb in it so there would be a dent in it. Then he would come back to the house and say, ‘Oh you didn’t fill it all the way.’” And he was like, “Yeah that’s what gypsies will do, you know. They’ll put their thumb in the sugar and take twice.” And I was like, “Huh?”

Interviewer: Huh. Um… Where do you think he picked that up from?

Subject: It was like a joke basically. Definitely from his family members. Like just whatever they talk about or whatever.

Interviewer: Okay and like… How does that.. How does hearing this make you feel? How do you react to hearing this?

Subject: I mean… I took this one time and… actually the original twenty pages of my Senior Thesis that I wrote was a short story about this, that I didn’t end up leaving in the thesis. But that story influenced what I wrote and like… and it was like… as a character…

Interviewer: So you used it in a short story?

Subject: Like this folklore was kind of incorporated into it. I took the story and gave it to another character. So I guess you could say it was intriguing. I obviously understood the implications but I was like, “Okay… Who comes up with this? Why do you tell this?” It’s a joke I get it but… I don’t know. Clever I suppose but I don’t know.

Context: The subject is a 20-year-old African American male in his sophomore year at Columbia University studying creative writing. The subject and I were best friends in high school, and we are both currently quarantined in our homes in Charleston. I asked the subject if he would like to meet up for a six feet apart walk one evening, and asked him if he had heard any folklore he could share with me, and he told me this offensive joke his grandfather used to say.

Interpretation: I am pretty familiar with the use of the derogatory term of “gypsy” against Romani people, as well as the stereotype that they are thieves and swindlers. It was not long ago that I learned the origin of that the expression of getting “gypped”, meaning getting cheated or swindled, is derived from the word gypsy. I was actually hesitant about treating this derogatory joke as folklore, but I think it is significant to acknowledge these stereotypes are still around and still being passed down and taught to younger generations. I think of how antiziganism (Romani discrimination) compares to how antisemitism is viewed. For one, both people groups suffered devastating population death percentages during the Holocaust. But antizagnism is far more widely accepted in society. Just in 2017, a TV show called “Gypsy” was released by Netflix about a white woman’s path of becoming a cheater, manipulator, seductress, etc. She took on all of the horrid stereotypes and assumptions of the word. The term gypsy has only just started to be challenged as a derogatory slur. I think the prejudice, oppression, and discrimination against Romani people has generally been pushed to the side in American public education. People still dress up as “gypsies” for Halloween, the term “gypped” is still extremely common. There does not seem to be much reckoning with the discrimination against this particular group.

Furthermore, I found it interesting how detached the subject seemed to be from his grandfather’s telling of the joke. The way he imitated him was a sort of rambling that pretty clearly revealed his personal attitude towards the joke, this being that he was not a fan. He seemed generally both accustomed and fed up by this rhetoric from his grandfather.

See more at: https://www.bitchmedia.org/article/gypsy-slur-netlflix

Lebanese Donkey Joke

My informant heard this joke from her father.

So there is this gypsy that used to go around and buy donkeys. You know the gypsies are seen as kind of tricky. He bought this donkey from this man. He goes… uh… to another village to the bazaar. The gypsy was selling the donkey over there and he sold it. So this man so now he needs a donkey. So he went to the bazaar to buy a new donkey. So he found this donkey and oh my god he liked its color; it was blue and red. He said “I’m gonna buy this donkey.” He bought it for five times more than the donkey he sold. So he bought the donkey and was riding on it home. And you know the donkey knows it’s way to the house. This donkey was going without even directions, without gps. Just going right, left, right, woooo! So this guy came down and find out his pants are all red and blue. So he looked at the back of the donkey. And it was raining when he was riding. So what happened is the gypsy painted the donkey and sold it for more. Hahaha! He bought the same donkey!

My informant is from a Lebanese family. She is a college student at the California State University Northridge. She is very close with her father, often helping him run the family store. We sat down at a coffee shop to talk about folklore from her family.

The Lebanese culture has a lot of donkey jokes. It was interesting to see how the stereotype of gypsy gets passed down into this story. Gypsy are for the most part seen as subhuman. Another interesting thing is the simplicity of the joke.


The Little Piccolo Player

“Prišel je tsiganček

sajast kako vranček;

Igral je na piščalko

Milo in pelo

Kakor malo kdo.”


“There came a little gypsy boy

Black with soot/dirtlike a crow; [Dark as a crow]

He played on the piccolo

gently and beautifully

like very few could.”

This  is a traditional Slovenian nursery rhyme, one that I was raised listening to as my mother sang it to me as a child. She said that it was a song generally sung with many children who held hands and danced in circles. The rhyme itself imbibes a deeply racist sentiment towards the Romani people, who are widely refered to across Europe as “tsiganci” or “gypsies. ” The second line, “sajast kako vranček,” works two fold: 1) “sajast” means sooty or dirty, implying that the boy is unclean or uninterested in being washed. 2) the line likens the boy’s skin color to that of a dark crow, calling special attention to his non-aryan complexion.

However, the informant and I both have affectionate relationships with this rhyme, as it is sung with a gleeful, youthful tone, thereby removing much of the willful malice of its inherent bigotry. In fact, it was only when the informant and I revisited the rhyme did she and I truly grasp how deeply the racial sentiment was pronounced. The informant is unclear as to where in particular it originated, though when she was growing up in the late 60s, it was a very popular children’s rhyme in the Slovenske Konjice, a region of northeastern Slovenia.

The Gypsy Rover

The Gypsy Rover

A lullaby that the informant’s  grandmother would sing to her mom:


“The gypsy rover came over the hill,

down the through the valley so shady.

whistled and he sand, ‘till the green wood sprang,

and he won the heart of a lady.

“And then it’s like:

“Ah-di-do, ah-di-do-da-day,


whistled and he sang, ‘till the green wood sprang,

and he won the heart of a lady.

“And then it’d be like, it, like, there’s a bunch of, um, different parts, but it would be like, the main one of them, was like, this girl falls in love with the gypsy person, and um, her father doesn’t like it, but she’s, but the part that I remember at least:

“He is no gypsy, my father, she said,

the lord of the valley’s all over.

And I shall stay ‘till my dying day,

With the whistling gypsy rover.

“So it’s just, like, a long ballad thing that my mom would sing to me as a lullaby. I can just totally see this being a 70’s ballad now that I think about it, but I always thought it was like, some special song that she knew from somewhere, that was handed down through the generations.”


The informant’s mother sang it if she couldn’t get to sleep beginning maybe when she was two or three (her mother had been singing it as long as she could remember). It was her “go-to” lullaby. She is unaware of the origins of the song, but she liked it because it wasn’t a typical lullaby and nobody else had heard it. She also liked it because it is a long saga, and she says she’ll have to write it down so she can sing it to her children at some point.

The tune of this song is easy to follow because it repeats for each stanza throughout the duration of the song (even for the part where words are replaced by sounds). This may be what makes it enjoyable and easy to pass on; however, the length of it (the informant only knew parts of it) may be a hindrance to spreading by those who do not have great memory skills (the informant said she’d have to write it down). The combination of enjoyable easiness and that challenge in the length seem to make it more precious.