Reede, 27 Juuli 2018 19:00
Laas Leivat - Estonian Life No. 30 2018
The previous two installments on the current theme perhaps indicated to some that perceptible trends in joking about other nationalities are not a haphazard phenomenon but the result of socio/cultural realities.
It’s said that one particular genre of Latvian jokes about Estonians centres on the “fact” that Estonians do everything slowly. Why this particular condescending approach? It’s been suggested that Latvians are envious of Estonia’s rapid success in emerging out of a stagnant Soviet system. This could be a plausible explanation because international ratings early on identified Estonia as topping many lists of advances in democracy, economy, etc.
Some literature on ethnic humour says that jokes could be a form of disparaging expression, an attempt to amuse through the denigration of an ethnic or social group. Arguments here are paradoxical, somewhat contradictory. On one hand the message could be deliberately hostile or prejudiced, disguised as fun or frivolity. On the other hand, it’s said, the implicit intention is not hostility because, “for Pete’s sakes, it’s only a joke”, it’s harmless and trivial.
Aleksey Smelyev and Elena Smelyeva, specialsts in Russian humour, see Russian-generated jokes about Estonians (although I have earlier said that origins of jokes are practically impossible to determine) as focused on the “supernatural deliberateness” with which /Estonians speak and with which they approach all issues. They also say that despite Estonia’s recognized independence, the anecdotes still infer that Estonians (a well as Ukrainians) are within Russia rather than people living in a foreign country.
Russian: An Estonian goes to Moscow for a job interview. The employer asks, “Where are you from?” “I’m from Tallinn”, the Estonian answers. “Estonians are supposed to be lazy,” says the Russian. “No. Latvians are lazy. We’re supposed to be stupid.”
Literature on humour has also suggested that in some cases jokes may have a subversive intent. That is, they might have the potential to expose the absurdity of stereotypes and prejudices. However analysts say that the audience of the humour must understand and appreciate that intention.
Scholarly work on humour has approached the topic from many different perspectives. Some acknowledge that disparagement humour can actually foster discrimination against a targeted group. This may imply that jokes conveying negative stereotypes may reinforce pre-existing prejudices, that such anecdotes “tell it as it really is”.
Any credibility to this? Do cultural or national stereotypes influence the way people see themselves and others? Yes, but they’re not reliable. The possibility cultural stereotypes might be somewhat based on real life experiences of people interacting means that those stereotypes would accurate reflect the average personality of members of that community.
Research conducted in 50 different countries concluded that such an assumption was false. Taking this into account, it’s been suggested that stereotypes may reflect national values, perhaps derived from historical events or historical conflicts. Stereotypes might also persist in spite of the total cultural change over centuries. We might also have a rigid disposition psychologically towards certain stereotypes and not notice or remember information that contradicts prevailing notions about cultures and nationalities.
It has also been suggested that ethnic humour can an acceptable and tolerated form of aggression towards another a particular nationality. This observation, if valid, may be of particular interest for peoples of countries bordering on Russia who constantly hear of aggressive remarks from Russian politicians and officials. “Let ‘em shoot blanks at us. They’re not real bullets.”
It’s probably unlikely that research conclusions about humour and jokes can be empirically “the last word” on the topic. It’s impossible to obtain a valid sample of an “ethnic” joke for it’s unfeasible to compile the total universe of existing jokes on a specific theme. An exhaustive search would not yield all of those jokes. In addition, as has been mentioned, in collecting anecdotes for this short series, jokes that had been attributed to Russians focussing on Estonians could be found in collections of jokes by Latvians about Estonians or in some other combination. Research about jokes aimed at certain ethnic groups that may be nasty in intent, outrageous in their absurdity or even innocently funny, is interesting but cannot be taken as totally definitive.
In conclusion, a joke from Estonians about Estonians (I think): An elderly had been in his bed weeks and his family was expecting his passing at any time. One day the man is somewhat revitalized and is discovered by his wife using the last bit of energy he had left to crawl painstakingly downstairs gripping both handrails. Downstairs, making it to the kitchen door and leaning against the doorframe he was able to confirm that which gave him the super-human surge he needed to get out of bed – the aroma of perogies (pirukad) being cooked. He slowly dragged himself to the table, where hundreds of them had been placed on plates. This surely was one final loving act from his long-suffering wife, a genuinely affectionate gesture to ensure that he passes on happy and content. Overwhelmed he reached for the table but crumbled onto the floor at the table’s side. He slowly lifted his hand over the table’s edge to pick a perogie which the taste of which was so real in his mouth. Suddenly he was smacked on the hand with a wooden spoon by his wife. “Keep your hands of them! They’re meant for the funeral!”
Häid hapukurgi päevi. Laas Leivat