I witnessed/participated in a really funny conversation yesterday that I though provided some insight into the Lao culture and thought I should share with the rest of the world.
It began when the ladies told me that the dress I was wearing was very beautiful, and I told them that I had made it. Then they pointed out that my shoes and my earrings also matched (yes, I did that on purpose.). Around this time the director wandered over, and started talking about how his outfit matched too; his shoes, his pants, his belt, and his hair were all black! Then some of the ladies said “What about your underwear?”, and suddenly everyone was trying to guess what color underwear the director was wearing. He tried to change the subject by asking Mrs. Bounsalome what color underwear she was wearing, to which she replied “No underwear!”.
I thought this was really funny considering the fact that Laos scores quite high on the “power distance index” according to Dutch Sociologist Geert Hofstede; meaning that normally there is a very well defined hierarchy of authority which people tend to respect, and have very high expectations of “professional behaviour”, and are generally quite reserved and reluctant to talk about sex or other topics in a direct way. But they also usually have a good sense of humor and like to tell dirty jokes!
One of the young guys I work with (Vay) was telling me about some other Lao jokes. He told me that a lot of Lao jokes are about how all men don’t get along with their father-in-laws. Kind of like the mother-in-law jokes in the rest of the world, right? Anyway, he went on to to tell me this really long joke that was actually quite funny.
An old man visits a medicine man and buys some kind of spell that will make him invisible. So, he goes back home, takes off all his clothes, and does the spell, and then comes out of his house and sees his son-in-law. He says “Son in law! I have a magic spell that has made me invisible. Can you see me?” Of course, the magic did not work and the son in law and clearly see the naked old man. But he says “Wow! It’s amazing! I can’t see you! You really are invisible.” Then the son-in-law says “Father, since you are invisible, you should go to the market and everyone will be very impressed.” So, the father in law decides this is a good idea, and walks to the main road and then to the market, where everyone sees him naked and makes fun of him.
Anyway, I didn’t tell it as good as Vay, but hopefully you get the gist of the joke. It involved being naked and being mean.
He also told me this strangely sexy joke about how to spell the word “error” in English. At first I didn’t understand. “E-R-R-O-R” I said. And then he said “Eeeeeeeee, ahhhhr, ohhh ohh, ahhhhhhhhhr.”
I don’t know if that’s appropriate for a workplace but I feel quite comfortable and enjoy the occasional bawdy conversation.