At whom are we laughing? At ourselves, indeed…
Anecdotes – Russian short funny stories – are being told by everyone. There is no better way of communication, it is great to fill in a pause, entertain friends or illustrate something with wit. But only some of us think about the deeper meaning hidden behind those few funny words.
Meanwhile, anecdotes as a product of folklore give rich material for scientific and quasi-scientific research.
Some scholars argue that anecdotes fill in the space once occupied by proverbs and sayings of old. They have taken their function of describing and analyzing of everyday experience, and finally turn to gems of the folk's wisdom.
Why anecdotes and not something else? Some scholars claim that independent and free people of post-industrial society can not stand order-like teachings, but the need to transfer experiences is still present. A funny form of anecdote leaves a choice to support a moral contained in it, or not.
So, we understand the world from anecdotes, and certainly begin with the human being:
European family. A question: what's a difference between English and Sicilian insurance agencies? Answer: In England they will give you statistical estimates of deaths for the coming year. In Sicily they will list you the names.
Anecdotes about particular nations usually are not funny, neither they have a great informational value, as they are based on stereotypes about hose nations. They are also inert, hence outdated: it has been long time since Sicilian mafia lost its widespread influence, despite of the anecdote above. But the point of an anecdote is not to tell about others but to tell about one self.
We often see in others what we lack ourselves. In anecdotes all Englishmen are noble, French are lovers with taste ("hungry for sex" are Georgians), Germans are pedants, Americans are down-to-earth entrepreneurs… And if there were no Russians besides them, there would have been nothing to laugh at!
Once scientists conducted experiment to describe various nations' mentality. Put heaps of balls of all colors and sizes into a room with glass walls, and invited people one by one. First was an American. He tried to weight-lift them, threw them, rolled… Scientists wrote down: "Americans are into sports, health-concerned, etc". Then entered a German. He counted the balls, sorted by color and by size. They wrote: "Germans. Pedantic, like order, scientifically minded, etc" Came in an Italian. He carefully looked the balls all over, tried to make sounds with them, put them into figures… Scientists ruled: "Italians have a taste for aesthetics, love arts, so on". Finally they let a Russian in. He came in, walked back and forth, yearned… Suddenly the scientists see that there's only half of the balls left in the room! Everyone's in panic, the experiment is stopped; the Russian is taken out and asked what has he done with the balls? He replies: "Hell knows… Wasted on something!"
There is not too many anecdotes without a Russian as the main character. Only a few nations deserved their own exclusive anecdotes. Chuckchi, Georgians, Jews, Estonians and Ukrainians (called "Khokhly" in slang). Absence of anecdotes about Gypsies is remarkable: they do not give a reason for laughter.
The same primitivism is seen in descriptions of neighboring nations. Only one aspect is being highlighted and made fun of: sexuality of Georgians, cunning of Jews, slowness of Estonians, stupidity of Chuchkas, greed of Khokhli.
The difference between "European" and "local" anecdotes is clear. In the former, positive qualities are demonstrated which the Russian lacks and the fun is made of him, in the latter the head is over heals: fun is made of negative qualities of other nations, which the Russian seems not to have.
Geologist asks a Chuckcha shepherd:
- Father, how much horns do you collect from your dears in a year?
- From the black ones or the white ones?
- Hm… let's say the black ones.
- The blacks? The blacks two kilos they give, aha.
- And how about the whites?
- And the whites the same.
- Father, and how much do they eat a day?
- The black ones or the white ones?
- Well, the black ones.
- The black ones one kilo!
- So how about the whites then?, cant stop the geologist.
- And the whites one kilo too.
The geologist becomes crazy:
- Why then you ask me blacks or whites, if they all the same?!
- Well… the blacks ones are mine, you see…
- Okay then… and the whites?
- And the whites too.
A new MacDonald's advertising campaign: "Russian weeks in MacDonald's! Now you can drink alcohol, smoke and swear!"
A totally positive image of Russians is created after such a comparison with other nations. But the real image is a bit different. We collected about 60 anecdotes, which can be called "national", and where a Russian is the main character. They have demonstrated together or one by one 11 aspects of truly national image.
Of them, the rare ones were untidiness and theft (probably because both are not thought as a big problem)
Then comes swearing and stupidity. The former is important, as it is used in about a half of all anecdotes, but never seen to be a problem, and the latter is usually attributed only to the officials, directors etc.
Next comes sloppiness (mixed with laziness and greed).
Qualities which can be called dominant: physical stamina and roughness (to women and pets), poorness; and the main ones: drunkenness and wit. Here laughter sounds proud.
Overall, anecdotes give a relatively complete picture of a Russian. All typical aspects of character are there, and organically interact. A Russian drinks much, but it makes him strong. He is poor, but that increases his wit.
What is even more important: there is no shade of self-pity in anecdotes. Drunk, poor and rough, a Russian is totally satisfied with himself.
After sending their first astronauts, NASA found out that normal pens do not work because of gravity. They had spent 10 years and US$12bln. They invented a special pen, which can work in gravity, upside down, under water, at degrees from 300 Celsius below zero; writes on every surface, including glass… Russians always used pencils.
A German says: "Every evening I drink three cans of beer"
Russian replies: "Wow! It’s the whole nine litres!!!"