Laughing around the world

Laughing! I laugh often, and I find humor an extremely useful tool in cross-cultural situations. It builds trust and intimacy, and sharing a joke is the best way to break down barriers. Laughter is universal we say, BUT if your joke falls flat on its face, either for being inappropriate, or just not funny, newly forged business relationships could be doomed to failure. So where to use humor? Such a difficult question. Let's explore it briefly! Enjoy!

In your own culture, when addressing a group, business partner, firends etc. in your own language, humor can be an ideal way of getting the attention, although always take into consideration the possible outcome of your joke, especially in business set-ups. Who could it offend? Is it racist, sexist? Disrespectful? Will you, or anybody else, lose face?


However, in other cultures you might be careful when expressing yourselves to a cross-cultural audience.. An eloquent speech or a clever argument are one thing, but most audiences, wherever you are in the world, don't have a stand-up routine. Dignity and professionalism are better. Tell jokes in a presentation and you may be regarded as amateurish, or lightweight. A play on words is one thing in your own language, but the chances are, it will be lost in translation. And while a speaker native to the country you're in may make jokes at the expense of the neighbors - Uruguayans poking fun at Argentinians for their vanity, and Americans telling Canadian jokes, French telling Belgian jokes and so on, it is not the place of a foreigner to do this. In China, Japan and other Asian countries, people love slapstick comedy, but using this kind of self-deprecating humor yourself, playing the clown, could cause you to lose face; your colleagues will wonder why you are laughing at your own expense, unless you know one another particularly well. 


Laughing at situations in which nobody is singled out or humiliated is safer. Russians, on the other hand, will laugh at themselves, their sense of melancholy, their enjoyment of drink and the state of their country. Australians, too, are not afraid to mock themselves, and others.

Arabs can have a fine sense of self-deprecating humor, while Indians love satirical jokes about family and society. Join in the laughter in any of these countries, and possibly throw in a quip or two about your own nationality, but never theirs. Mexican culture is well-known for laughing at everything including death.

Life is better when you are laughing, but remember the old saying: If in doubt, leave it out.

Used source: Sue Bryant