Joking in German

Fanrui Shao with friends

Fanrui Shao, 3rd from left, with friends in Germany.

Fanrui Shao '19, Student

Major: English  

As an international student, I have always been wary of telling or fabricating jokes in non-native languages. For instance, I never dare to tell a joke or just to say something funny in any of my class at MoHo, because I have witnessed many awkward moments caused by bad jokes made by my classmates, regardless of whether they are native speakers or not. In my experience at TU Chemnitz and Uni Leipzig, I have found that German students also prefer a serious academic atmosphere during class.

However, one day in my exchange year, I suddenly found a quite salient smiling face on the margin of my commented paper drawn by a professor. It was that moment that I found that I made a joke in German! And the professor did find it funny! Then I recalled all of my experiences of making jokes in German, and surprisingly found them quite successful.

It is difficult to explain how a joke works. I would say, there is always a "twist" in the joke I am making: the first part of the sentence would be plain when read alone, and the second part would be kind of shocking. However, when they are connected, the joke is there. I guess it is similar to the application of separable verb in German, the habitual delay of the understanding of the whole sentence until the last "ab"/"weg"/"an" or the verb in subsentence in perfect form. I am quite happy that I am able to joke in German. For English, however, I think I am going to be silent on the matter of jokes for a few more years.