Rebuilding Foundations

An exploration of international development work in Africa

Sarcasm, or Lack Of

Last night I was looking through one of my old journals and came across my notes from a telephone conversation I had with the previous MHA intern before I moved to Jozi.

“They didn’t understand sarcasm.”

I should’ve re-read my notes a month after I arrived.  It would’ve saved me a lot of trouble!

One of my friends here is from Ethiopia, but he went to university in Canada and picked up some Canadian sarcasm.  Here’s a story to illustrate how our humour doesn’t quite fit in this country:

A South African girl asked him how he did laundry in Ethiopia.

“That’s why we all have six-packs,” he replied.


He mimed washing laundry on his stomach.

“Oh…” she said, amused but uncertain.

Afterwards he said, “I couldn’t tell if she was extra sarcastic, or didn’t understand the joke at all.”

Trying to be as diplomatic as possible, I told him, “I’ve noticed that subtle sarcasm isn’t part of the culture here.  The humour tends to be much more… overt.”

“I was being pretty outrageous.”

Throwing diplomacy to hell, I said, “Maybe she was just dumb.”

Canadians try super hard to be nice, but we can only go so far.

Or maybe I’ve lived in South Africa too long and turned callous.

Uh oh – how am I going to integrate back into Canadian society?  Forget about getting used to stopping at red lights again… how am I going to relearn sarcasm?



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