A cult comedy came out in France last year called Camping. It's about a snotty Parisian driving through the south of France, whose Porsche breaks down, forcing him to wait for a mechanic on a campsite surrounded by vacationing blue collar folks. I thought it was funny. All my French friends thought it was HIL.A.RI.OUS. A year after seeing the film, they still repeat its lines and everyone roars with laughter as though it's the first time they hear it. They keep repeating "Bah, il n'y a plus de Benco" though I found it as unfunny the 20th time as the first time I heard it.
They say humor is the hardest thing to translate and the Camping example is just one of many that prove this true. And what's so frustrating about it is that joking around is supposed to be about having fun, not holding your head in your hands trying to understand this crowd who calls their actors comédiens and their comedians humouristes.
It would be saddening to count how many times I've had a good laugh at something only to turn and see the blank expression on Husband's face. Or how many times we've unsuccessfully watched French stand up comedians together (a humor totally lost on me). While Husband, or even worse, Husband and a few friends are rolling on the floor laughing with tears in their eyes, I sit in the middle of it all trying to remember if I need to do laundry this weekend or not.
If I've run out of hair product and complain that I look like Roseanne Roseannadanna, it falls on (practically) deaf ears. We know a family who's last name is Le Hech, but I don't even get a smile when I refer to them as the What Le Hech's. Monsieur! What Le Hech!
My sister-in-law and her husband live nearby so we have dinner with them once or twice a week. Too often, I have tried to toss out a sly, witty remark that I'm sure will make someone smile, just to have the three of them look at me blankly and cock their heads to the side. Crickets. This is usually followed by a quick phone call to the US where an American is reached to appreciate the humour, thus ensuring the joke does not die in vain.
Here, they love to joke about Belgians and mock the accents of Quebeckers, but are good enough sports to ask me what jokes Americans make about them, putting me in a difficult spot. Uh... how do I explain that there are those who joke about Frenchmen as stuck up womanizers with body odor, but that those are usually people who've never ventured out of the US, let alone met a Frenchman...?
In a counter movement, I attempted to coin a joke in French. So French it's almost impossible to translate:
Pourquoi a-t-on cedé de trouver une sosie pour le president du FN? (Why did they give up the search to find a lookalike for Jean Marie Le Pen, presidential candidate for the Front National party)
Parce que c'était pas le pen! (Because it wasn't Le Pen, which also translates to it wasn't worth it. A play on words... I warned you it doesn't translate.)
But guess what? They thought it was funny. Voilà, laughter!