Jokes and Humor in Middle East Culture


jokes and humor from middle east
Making a joke, photo by Denis De Mesmaeker.

Jokes and humor have generally existed in almost every culture around the globe.

Each kind of culture has several forms of joking and humoring. The purpose of each joke and humor depends on that specific kind of culture. For instance, a specific kind of speech or action might be funny in one specific culture or society, however, it might not have the same meaning in another one. The only thing that all jokes and humor across culture have is the goal of it.

Across the globe and in all cultures, the main goal of jokes and humor is to reduce life pressures.

Jokes are regarded as a way of soothing and reducing the pressure of daily life and working. Jokes and humor are ways of socializing and interacting so people can have some sort of relaxing from the pressures of life. In this short writing, I will share with you my story with jokes first when we came to the United States of America in 2012.

In most part of the Middle East, especially Iraq and Kurdistan, talking about weight is not regarded as an insult to people. When people talk to each other, they can easily express their opinion about the weight or body shape of others. For example, if someone is overweight, others can say to him “you are really fat” or “you are really like a horse”.

People in that culture can tell jokes about overweight people even in front of him or her.

This is not regarded as an insult to that specific kind of people. It is just a way of socializing and making fun of each other without feeling any kind of insult. I remember many times my mom, when she was talking to her overweight friends or neighbor, she was saying “hey, you are really fat, you are really like a bear”. Her friends were reacting positively and even happily. This is exactly opposite to what we see in the USA. To tell a person you are fat or you are like a bear is kind of inappropriate way of talking or socializing.

Another kind of joke and humor in my culture is having a lot of baby girls in one family.

If a person, especially a father, has lots of girls without boys, he would be the butt of jokes in that area or the village or the tribe. For example, if a person has three or more babies, children or kids and all of them are girls, his friends and relatives sarcastically will call him ‘ The father of girls” or ‘ The Poor Father” since he has no boys.

This is a joke and humor to everyone in the community but not insult. This joke or humor makes the person sweating and will be embarrassed if told in front of others. It might reach the degree of insulting if someone angrily told him that. In general, it is just a kind of making fun of that person. In my experience in the USA since 2012, I never see this kind of stuff.

Also, another kind of joke and humor in Middle East culture is the relation between man and woman. In most Middle Eastern Cultures, helping wife by her husband is something rare. Due to some cultural and tribal values as well as the classic role of women in society, rarely you can find husband do the kitchen works or bath duties at home.

Most kitchen works, like cooking, doing dishes or bath works, like washing clothes, are assigned to women. If people find a husband, helping her wife doing that kind of works, he would be a real joke for them. I remember one of my uncles was helping his wife in my village in doing dishes and cooking stuff. He became the bottom of jokes in the village.

People used to call him “Womanish man” if the word is true.

It means someone who likes women work not men’s work. It was a joke and humor at the same time. Helping wife in the USA is not a joke. I saw many of my American friends changing diapers for the babies and it was normal.

Visit the RCO’s page on communication to learn more about American humor.

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About Naser Y.
Naser is a refugee from Iraq.