I’m coming to grips with a fact of my Swiss life. I’m just not funny.
It started dawning on me when, in trying to win friends and charm neighbours here in Switzerland, the nice-to-meet-you joke I found so clever was met instead with silence.
“Heidi?” they say. “A Heidi in Switzerland!”
“Yeah, it’s kind of like a Swiss being named Elvis in the U.S.”
Not that I have some particular gift that puts people in stitches back in my former life, but c’mon! That’s witty!
Perhaps the Swiss are less likely than Americans to feel obliged to smile at bad jokes.
People sometimes say, unfairly, that the Swiss don’t have a sense of humor. That’s not true.
It’s just that my attempts to be funny fall flat. Which is a bummer when you’re new and feel like that dorky kid with acne and braces.
At times, “funny” things surely miss the mark for cultural reasons.
Like a T-shirt I heard about. It says “Sick Pow on the Mao,” with a picture of a skier ripping through deep powder with Mao Tse-tung looking on. That gave me a good chuckle.
But I suppose the audience - skiers like me, American, younger than 40 - is too narrow of a target to make a clean transatlantic leap.
Other times, things I find downright hysterical may even give offense.
During the race for the White House between McCain-Palin and Obama-Biden last fall, the American comedy program “Saturday Night Live” aired a skit with Will Ferrell acting as a bumbling George W. Bush.
The whole thing was a riot, but one “Bush” line killed me: “Well, it looks like the race is down to the hot chick and the Tiger Woods guy.”
Yes, the line has sexist and racist overtones so loud they’d surely violate Switzerland’s anti-noise laws.
But those overtones were exactly the point. And although I have no academic knowledge, I would explain that the culture I come from finds skewering human foibles a comedic sport.
It’s so wrong it turns the bend and becomes … well, farce.
Over lunch with long-time British expats recently, I asked about the Swiss sense of humor, trying to glean when it’s appropriate to crack a joke and what they might find funny. “Slapstick,” a pal replied.
Ahhh. I get it. I suppose I could start slipping on banana peels. Then again, maybe I should go for earnest instead of funny.