By SARAH MELAMED
When I evolved from a student and tourist in Israel to a citizen, I integrated into all facets of Israeli life. Except for one thing — the humor.
What a culture finds funny takes longer to translate.
For many years I did not get it, sitting awkwardly as those around me laughed. I was teased for being “an American with no sense of humor.”
If I tried New York-style sarcasm, or self-deprecation, exaggerations, deadpan or word play, they were taken at face value. Instead of displaying camaraderie and wit, my attempts to be amusing made me seem eccentric, and slow. Rather than connect me, humor amplified the very differences I wanted to reduce.
Even though the history of Jewish humor is long and nuanced, an entire comedy subculture of early Israeli movies and radio programs is built on wooden stereotyped characters from the common denominators of Israeli life: immigrant interactions, especially between European Jews and those from the Arab countries. The army — which I was never part of.
Not only has my perception of humor changed since I arrived at Ben Gurion University in the early ’90s, the country’s whimsy has also changed. Israel has become less introspective and more of a global country. Its humor has switched from being about insider jokes to the quirkiness of the human experience, a language everybody understands.
In the digital age cross-cultural connections develop into a shared sense of humor. But globalization won’t erase regional humor, and I’ll bet the English will still think the Germans have no sense of humor, the Americans will be offended by the French, and those Newfoundlanders will find everything funny.
Sarah Melamed is an American food blogger from Israel, interested in ethnic food, culture and history.