The Week in Pictures, April 23, 2010

April 13, 2010

Giant Insect Day Care Center. Yikes!

Visiting Brit dignitary, by way of California

Strange hair salon names, part 2

Shinobazu Pond, Ueno Park, Tokyo

Another view of Shinobazu Pond

And now for a few Manglish T-shirts:

Frog bodies, moving for the cheerful sound...

Care only down by the love home fireside...


chewchew, don't bite, Dawg...

English language lessons gone horribly wrong...


Why the Long Face?

April 13, 2010

Humor is a very different animal from place to place, or so it would seem. Certain brands of comedic endeavor transcend geographical boundaries, to be sure: Monty Python, Charlie Chaplin’s Little Tramp, Inspector Clouseau, to name a few. Some other varieties don’t easily bridge the culture/language gap. Case in point: there is an old chestnut about a horse who walks into a bar. The bartender looks up and goes, “Hey baby, why the long face?” Of course this will be a funny joke only in places where “long face” is synonymous with sadness, thus giving it a double meaning appealing to fans of wordplay. Years later this joke was famously revisited featuring modern-day celebrities sporting long faces, such as John Kerry, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Celine Dion. John Kerry walks into a bar, and the bartender goes, “Hey buddy, why the long face?”

So several years ago I tried this joke out on my Japanese friend, Saki, and she looked at me like I was the beyond-a-shadow-of-a-doubt unfunniest person on earth. “It’s funny?” she asked, incredulous. The humor is lost if you have to explain it, but she requested that I try nonetheless, as she is eager to pick up American nuance to complement her already reasonably good English grammar skills. So I gave it my best shot (long face = sadness, John Kerry has a lo-o-o-ng face), but it still didn’t elicit even the faintest blip on the laugh-o-meter.

Anyway, a couple of Christmases back, she and I were invited to visit my brother Thane and his wife Carol for the holidays, and I came up with what I thought was a hilarious suggestion for their first in-person meeting. (But first I must make a tiny digression to offer a bit of necessary background: neither my brother nor I have ever been accused of missing a meal, and of all the ways we might meet our respective ends, malnourishment would not likely find a place on the list; this seeming non sequitur will make all sorts of sense shortly. Now, back to the thread of the story.) On the train to Narita Airport I mentioned to Saki that if she wanted to impress Thane with her growing English skills she should try telling him a joke, and the one I immediately thought of was a variant on “long face.” John Kerry and Celine Dion walk into a bar, and the bartender goes, “Hey you two, why the long faces?”

“I’m not going to tell that joke,” she said dismissively.

“Why not? It’s really cute, a little bit of a variation from the norm, and it will really show off your English skills,” I replied.

“It’s stupid, that’s all. It’s not funny.”

“Trust me, it is. If you tell that joke to Thane, it will absolutely crack him up.”

“It’s not going to happen.”

“Oh, come on,” I wheedled.

“I have an idea,” she said. “I will tell him a different joke, but kind of the same. It will be funnier.”

“That sounds good; let’s hear it.”

“Okay. Bruce and Thane walk into a bar, and the bartender says, “Hey you two, why the big bellies?”

Game, set, match.