The news today that yet ANOTHER demolition in Bucharest approved by Bucharest mayor and demolition fiend oprescu (who says it's all peeeerfectly above board despite the fact that this particularly beautiful house on str. Cristian Tell is both a historic monument aaaand in a protected zone) is imminent and will probably be carried out over the weekend unless someone does something to stop it depressed me so much I needed to write something to cheer myself up (and you too, perhaps) - insensitive though that may seem.
I realised earlier on this afternoon that tho' I've written lots of funny posts since this blog began in 2007 (I have! Honest!), I've never written about Romanian Humour as a subject in itself. As it is so utterly suuuuuperb, here we go - oh, and since it's such a huge topic, this'll be done in two parts. Welcome to Part I!
No matter what history has dosed out, no matter how much hellish destruction (physical, mental or social) has been endured, no matter how much terror, cold, hunger has been suffered and no matter how much hope has been lost, one thing has always survived in Romania - and that's the humour. The Romanian joke is testimony to her political journey and the survival of her people.
(Image source) The earliest Romanian character found in anecdotes is Păcală. His name is derived from a (se) păcăli ('to fool oneself/somebody') and, since this word cannot be found in any other related language, we can safely assume that he's part of the pure Romanian humour. Păcală is known for his cleverness hidden under the mask of plain simplemindedness, and treats the authorities in his village (the priest, the nobleman, the policeman, the tax collector, the judge...) boldly, with deliciously sarcastic irony. He had a friend too, Tandală, who was the idiot of the pair.
- One night thieves broke into Păcală's house.
His wife, hearing the noise, woke him up.
"Păcală!!! There are thieves in our house."
"Shut up," yawned Păcală. "I'm so ashamed there's nothing to steal, and you.... Keep yelling!"
For The Story of Păcală, please click HERE. It's actually far sadder than it is funny. But on a lighter note, Păcală the film (watch it HERE) came out in 1974, directed by Geo Saizescu and was shot in the most stunning of landscapes - apparently, it was a huge hit and today remains a much loved piece of Romanian cinema. A follow-up Păcală's Return (or Păcală 2) hit the screens in 2006 also directed by Saizescu, but was harshly criticised.
Păcală has his place firmly cemented in Romanian folklore, with his many ingenious pranks penned for posterity by literary spinners of yarns Petre Dulfu ('The Adventures of Păcală'), Ioan Slavici ('Păcală's village') and dear Ion Creangă ('Păcală').
Păcală even has his own day - Ziua pacalelilor - April Fool's Day.
(Image source) The next character of Romanian humour came from the Ottoman influence which brought Anton Pann's Nastratin Hogea, a classic example of an urban tradesman.The real Nasreddin was a satirical Sufi believed to have lived and died during the 13th century in Akşehir, near Konya, a capital of the Seljuk Sultanate of Rum in today's Turkey. Since there are thousands of different Nasreddin stories, one can be found to fit almost any occasion. Strangely (or not) enough, 1996–1997 was declared International Nasreddin Year by UNESCO...
Nasreddin stories have a joke, followed by a moral with a nice scooping of wisdom to them. They can be taken on many levels -
- 'Some children saw Nasreddin coming from the vineyard with two basketfuls of grapes loaded on his donkey. They gathered around him and asked him to give them a taste.
- Nasreddin picked up a bunch of grapes and gave one to each child.
- "You have so much, but you gave us so little," the children whined.
- "There is no difference whether you have a basketful or a small piece. They all taste the same," Nasreddin answered, and continued on his way.' (Wikipedia)
- 'Once Nasreddin was invited to deliver a sermon. When he got on the pulpit, he asked, Do you know what I am going to say? The audience replied "no", so he announced, I have no desire to speak to people who don't even know what I will be talking about! and left.
- The people felt embarrassed and called him back again the next day. This time, when he asked the same question, the people replied yes. So Nasreddin said, Well, since you already know what I am going to say, I won't waste any more of your time! and left.
- Now the people were really perplexed. They decided to try one more time and once again invited the Mulla to speak the following week. Once again he asked the same question – Do you know what I am going to say? Now the people were prepared and so half of them answered "yes" while the other half replied "no". So Nasreddin said Let the half who know what I am going to say, tell it to the half who don't, and left.' (Wikipedia)
- Here is Florin Pittis reciting the poetry of Pann's 'Nastratin Hogea' and HERE is another wonderful youtube link with Ion Lucian, Tamara Buciuceanu Botez, Grigore Vasiliu Birlic, Nineta Gusti, George Trestian, Nae Roman and many more...
As Jewish settlers arrived in many regions across the country, two other characters joined Romanian humour: Iţic and Ştrul, a pair of cunning Jews, mainly seen as ingenious, but avaricious shopkeepers. Personally, I don't think anyone can tell Jewish jokes better than Jews themselves, so imagine Woody Allen telling these:
- Iţic and Ştrul were the best of friends. But... one day, Ştrul dies. Iţic goes to the local newspaper to place an obituary. Thinking about it carefully, he decided to keep it simple: "Ştrul died" he wrote, thinking that two words really wouldn't cost much. "We charge for a minimum of 5 words!" said the clerk. Iţic thought again and then added "Car for sale!"
- Iţic şi Ştrul se prezintă în faţa rabinului. Iţic îi spune:
- Rabbi, am o dispută cu Ştrul. Lămureşte-ne. Spune-mi, negru e culoare?
Se uită rabinul în Talmud şi îi spune:
- E culoare. În Talmud scrie că trebuie să te îmbraci în negru cînd moare cineva.
- Dar albul e culoare?
- Da, în Talmud zice că mireasa se îmbracă în alb.
Iţic, adresîndu-se lui Ştrul:
- Ai văzut că televizorul pe care ţi l-am vîndut era color?
- Într-o seară, Iţic îl invită pe Ştrul la el acasă să vizioneze împreună un meci de fotbal şi să bea o bere. După ce se termină meciul, Ştrul dă să plece acasă, însă afara începuse să plouă torenţial, aşa că Iţic îl opreşte:
- Poţi să ramâi aici peste noapte dacă vrei, zise Iţic. Uite, mă duc să-ţi pregătesc patul dincolo.
Când se întoarse Iţic, îl găsi pe Ştrul ud până la piele:
- Ce naiba ţi s-a întâmplat, Ştrul?! întrebă el.
- Am fost până acasă, să-mi aduc pijamalele – răspunse Strul.
(Photo source) We cannot possibly leave out the infamously daft anecdotes of Hungarian Graf Bobby (Count Bobby in English) and his best friend Baron Rudi, immensely popular in Bucharest during WW2 and the early 1950's. Here are a few fabulously idiotic side-splitters soooo remeniscent of our Paddy cracks :
A Night At The Opera
Count Bobby and Baron Rudi have gone to the opera to see the ballet. They are both very fond of ballerinas. During intermission, Bobby looks around with his opera glasses and then tells Rudi "You know who is here? Thesi Esterhazy is in the second box over there." Rudi says "Impossible! Thesi Esterhazy died last year." Bobby looks again and says "Oh really? Well, I would have sworn I saw her move just now..."
When Bobby was still better off financially, he had a manservant. One day he sent his manservant down to the Drogerie to get some insect repellant powder to fight the bedbugs. As his man is about to leave on the errand, Bobby calls him back and says "No, wait a minute, Johann. You can't just get bedbug powder. They know us at the Drogerie and they'll think we have bedbugs. We have to do this in a different way. You know what? Ask them to gift wrap it."
The Weight Of Time
Count Bobby is walking past the Imperial Hotel on the Ringstrasse when he sees Rudi struggling to carry a large pendulum wall clock. Feeling helpful, Bobby taps Rudi on the shoulder, points to his own wristwatch and says "Rudi, why didn't you buy one of these? Much more sensible."
With modernisation, urbanisation and especially under the Communist regime, Romanians needed a new character, different from the traditional Păcală, and he was found in Bulă, the tragicomic absolute idiot. In 2006, Bulă was voted the 59th greatest Romanian, so close is he to Romanian hearts.
The name, among other meanings, is a one-letter deformation of the Romanian slang for... er... well, go on, guess.
Silvian Cenţiu, commenting on his show, A Transylvanian in Silicon Valley, wrote: "When in San Francisco and New York I mentioned Bula, the omnipresent character in Romanian jokes, I was delighted to hear audience members laugh before I'd even finished – I knew they were Romanians." Romanians or not, Bulă is one of my personal favourites.
One day before the beginning of the school year, the form teacher and some pupils were working hard to clean and arrange their classroom for the first school day. The teacher instructed Bula (our national ‘hero’) where to hang Ceausescu’s portrait. Picture, hammer and some nails in hand, Bula climbed a chair and attempted to nail the portrait up but he couldn’t. One by one the nails bent. Very upset with not accomplishing the task, Bula went back to his form teacher and said: “I’m sorry, teacher, but this one can’t be hung, he’s got to be shot!”
[Just a detail: in Romanian, there is no it pronoun to distinguish between human or object in the third person singular, which explains the necessity for the he in “he’s got to be shot”.]
- "What do your parents do?" asked the teacher
"My father's an engineer," said Gheorghe
"Mine's a mechanic," said Ionel
"Mine's a boss," said Bula
"What do you mean, Bula?" asked the teacher surprised
"He has 500 people under him," replied Bula
"What's his job?" asked the teacher
"He cuts the grass at the cemetery," answered Bula (thank you to Nicole for this one)
(Image source) Communism perhaps gave rise to some of the most brilliant (and courageous) jokes I have ever heard - normal, considering their unconscious purpose was to exorcise the brutality and madness of such a cruel dictatorship. In particular, they mocked the Conducator or the "Genius of the Carpathians", the Communist Party, the shortages that had a vice grip on life, and the excesses of a regime that cut the country off from the world and reality. In a repressive political system every joke is a "tiny revolution" wrote George Orwell in his novel '1984'. They were a means of criticising and outmanoeuvring the system, but they were also something else: they were a secret language of resistence between citizens despite the absence of free speech, against the atrocities under which they were forced to live:
- Ceausescu’s helicopter touches down in Maramures. He meets the village elders and talks to them about the latest directives designed to reverse the declining birthrate. He tells them: 'Elena, the mother of all Romanians, wants your children to be her children. She wants to build the nation with you.' The villagers listen, and when Ceausescu has finished he asks if there are any questions. An old man pipes up: 'We understand you perfectly and we are ready to serve our country, but I have one question: do we go down to Bucharest or will she come up here?’
-Ceausescu and his wife are in a helicopter:
Elena: Those are the rivers…
Ceausescu: No, those are the roads!
The pilot: No, those are the queues!…
- One day, Ceausescu went to the USA to tell the American Government that he had succeeded in sending a spaceship to the sun and landing it, too. After laughing good-naturedly, they asked him: "But how did you manage to land the spaceship? It is thousands of degrees celsius on the Sun’s surface." Ceausescu nodded and replied knowledgeably: "I sent it at night."
- Ceausescu came home to Scornicesti, to his parents, and while there, he found the TV broken. He asked his father: "Why is the television broken? Why didn’t you call someone to repair it?" "I call all the time, but it keeps conking out”. Ceausescu asked surprised: "How come?" And his father calmly replied: “When you were a child and you said something stupid, I used to punch you. Now it's a habit."
- Discussion between two neighbours:
“How come you're in prison?”
“I dared look at Nicolae Ceausescu.”
“But we all look at Nicolae Ceausescu.”
“Yeah, but I looked at him through a sniper rifle.”
- Rumour has it that when God created the world, he emptied his bag of wonders on an area now called Romania. Amazed and stunned by his master's excessive kindness towards it, an angel asked him: "What are you doing, Mighty Creator? You're giving them far too much beauty!"
God replied: "Just wait till you see the leaders I'm gonna give them!" (Thank you to Cata Ivancov!)
- In a bar, two men were talking:
“What do you think about Ceausescu?”
“I can’t tell you here, there are too many people. Let’s go outside.”
They went outside.
“Well…now nobody can hear us, so I can tell you: I really like the guy.”
- What is colder in a Romanian winter than cold water? Hot water.
The communist joke in Romania is a fabulous legacy of the political experimentation in Russia and Eastern Europe which stretched over 80 years. Any act of non-conformity, down to a simple turn of phrase, could have been seen and twisted into a form of criticism with catastrophic consequences for the utterer under the powerful and socially restrictive regime. Humour from these times is a glimpse through a keyhole into what it was like to live in such a society, and it's also proof that spirit cannot be broken - those terrible times turned joke-telling into an art form.
There was once a clerk from the Bucharest transport system, Calin Bogdan Stefanescu, who spent the last ten years of Ceausescu’s regime collecting political jokes and analysing over 900 of them statistically - where he had heard them, who had said them, what the political situation was at the time... The story of Stefanescu, the statistician of jokes, was ironically funnier than the jokes themselves for it captured the stark reality of a little man struggling against the communist universe.
For more on communist humour, please see THIS excellent article by Ben Lewis along with his book and also, download Hammer and Tickle (2006), a marvellous and deeply insightful documentary on how jokes became the real battleground between state and people under communism.
(Image source) With the fall of communism in 1989 and now facing capitalism, a new kind of joke became popular: that of Alinuţa, a sadistic and stupid 10-year old girl.
- Alinuţa: "Mama, I don't like grandma." Mama: "Shut up, we eat what we have!"
- Alinuța ajunge veselă acasă.
- Ei, cum a fost la gradiniță? întreabă maică-sa.
- Foarte bine! M-am jucat cu colegul de bancă de-a ginecologul și pacienta...
- Aoleu!!! zice mama Alinuței, albă la față... Ce ți-a făcut???
- M-a pus să aștept 30 de minute la ușă, până s-a terminat programul. După aia, a telefonat la Casa de Asigurări, ca să le ceară decontul pentru consultație...
- Astazi am murit de rusine la scoala, mama - se plange Alinuța.
- De ce, draga mea?
- Pai, s-a vorbit despre bebelusi...
- Nu e nimic rusinos in asta!
- Pai, sa vezi, unii colegi au zis ca bebelusii se aduc de la spital, altii, ca se cumpara din strainatate, altii, ca de la orfelinat... Numai noi suntem asa de saraci ca trebuie sa ii faca mama cu tata!
Little by little, Romanians began to rediscover prosperity in a country where economic growth levelled off at around 7% per year. With the arrival of a new culture of consumerism, the jokes were somewhat forgotten. It was time to buy the latest car and drive home from the supermarket (speeding, of course) with a boot-load of shopping...
And then - the financial crisis hit. Austerity measures and the tightening of belts gave way to another new wave of jokes (hurrah!), this time targetting runaway capitalism:
- An American passes by a Romanian who is sitting by a lake taking in the view. “What are you doing?” asks the American. “Nothing, just looking at the lake,” comes the reply. “Well you could at least get yourself a rod and do some fishing,” says the American. “Why would I do that?" asks the Romanian. "You could eat some of the fish and sell the rest. You’d make a bit of cash.” “But why would I do that?" insists the Romanian. "With the money, you could buy a boat and catch even more fish.” “Yes, but why would I do that?” “You’re too much.” The American is exasperated. ”With the money you could buy a boat, and then you could employ people to catch fish. You wouldn’t have to do anything. You could just sit there watching the lake.” “But that is exactly what I’m doing."
- Why will Romanians survive the end of the world? Because it's 50 years behind everyone else.
Part II coming soon...