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Cultural Differences

A Walking Joke
by Zarghoona; April 5, 2009


“ “What are you laughing at?” my classmates would ask me sometimes. I tried to show my teeth whenever I saw them smiling or laughing as I did not understand their jokes and sarcasm at all.

I was new to the culture and to the community in Russia during my first year of college. Coming from an Asian country, communication with my snobby classmates was really challenging for me because of the cultural differences.

Sometimes I would understand their jokes, but there was still the problem of timing. I was late. Always late. Because of my delayed reaction, I became a “walking joke.”

There was also the biggest of all communication problems—idioms. We were supposed to volunteer for disabled elders to help them with their grocery shopping. One of the elders asked my classmates to clean the toilet in her house.

While students were exchanging their experiences the next day, I overheard the unusual request of the elder. I asked, “Did you clean it?” the answer came in a disappointed voice, “Three times!”

To hear some rude girls can volunteer to clean toilets…?

“You cleaned it three times?” was my surprised question.

What do you think was the postponed reaction of the group? After exchanging looks, “Ha ha ha ha…” everyone started laughing at me.

I was the “Walking Joke” again.

I learnt later that the expression “three times” meant NEVER.

The other thing I learnt was to be frank in expressing your ideas and thoughts with other Russians. It does not work in Canada, however. You have to be more diplomatic here.

I am in trouble because I am new all over again.