“WHAT THE FUCK are you smiling at?” Nicolas screamed when he noticed me laughing along with the others at the joke. “YOU DON’T EVEN UNDERSTAND ENGLISH”. That second part I understood perfectly well. I understood because everyone stopped laughing and just stood there staring at me. Even though I did not understand what the joke was about, I was perfectly capable at detecting the infectious laughter that everyone was experiencing and I laughed with them like a deaf boy would laugh with their peers.
I felt my smile freeze, then fades into a frown.
That sums up my dilemna with humour. After the incident, I stopped trying to pretend that I understand their jokes and resorted to stating the fact outright when people ask why I was being so serious. Simply put, I did not experience the same childhood that the locals did. I did not watch the same cartoons, listen to the same radio stations nor participated in the same activities as a native born north american.
Things like a “Kramer moment” or references to “The Simpsons” are usually completely missed by me, thus leading to the subsequent misunderstanding of all jokes that followed. To not feel out of place or destroy the group dynamic, I usually laugh along with people while storing away another reference to “Google” when I get my hands on a computer. This is probably why I am so good at faking genuine emotions on my face when Asian guys are known for their stern faces.
I hope people can understand that it is not because I am too serious or are trying to put them down when I don’t even pretend. It’s usually because I completely missed the fact that it was supposed to be a joke. I want to fit in really, but I also understand that those 16 years is half a life of difference in experience. I can’t expect myself to realistically be a 10/10 on all three languages. If anything, I can only say that I wish I could get to know you in Mandarin. But you don’t know that language and I just happen to know yours.
I’ve lived in a Western world for half of my life and the other half in Asia. Even though I’ve successfully integrated myself and speaks the language fluently, I still find myself in these awkward moments of silence. It leads to revelations of our differences in culture. I am a guy who’s half way in between and I wish to show you the realities of why we sometimes behave the way we do.