[lit-ideas] Re: Poles

  • From: Ursula Stange <Ursula@xxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Fri, 10 Dec 2004 20:44:36 -0500

I grew up in Chicago and Polack jokes were everywhere.   I was German 
and German jokes were no where (although my brothers were on the 
receiving end of some festering anti-German anger in the fifties (if 
only my parents hadn't given us such obviously German names... 
Gunther.... Gerhard.... Harald.... Ingrid.... Ursula....).  

When I moved to Canada in 1968, I discovered the same jokes, only aimed 
at Newfies.   I didn't realize that Polack jokes had a larger venue than 
Chicago.   I always assumed that it had something to do with their 
relative social status in Chicago, but if the Polack joke is more 
widespread, then that's not likely the sole answer.  

Now, I'm guessing that none of this answers your question, David.   The 
general observation is that every culture identifies its 'out' group. 
 But I guess you're asking how the Poles got to be that out group for so 
much of the States.   Were Polack jokes told in Atlanta?   In Seattle?   
In Memphis?   In Truth or Consequences?   I don't know.   But those 
answers surely inform the main answer.

in Canada, where all the jokes are Newfie jokes (but told lovingly, 
don't you know....)

David Ritchie wrote:

>In my history of humor class yesterday, a guy with Polish ancestry did a
>presentation on Polish humor.  He explained that there is a genre of
>American humor, the Polack joke, which he never understands.  So, he said,
>he looked for a book on Polish humor.  But he couldn't find one.  So he
>wasn't sure he'd have much to say.  In a book of Jewish jokes, he found one
>or two hints about how Poles coped with the Second World War--Hitler to
>Mussolini on the final scaffold, "I told you the war would end in the
>air"--but well... all in all he couldn't say why Poles are supposed to be
>uncomprehending and...  This was the climax of a good many weeks of
>My Department chair is a Pole.  I found her in the faculty garret during a
>break and asked if she would like to come and give us ten minutes on Polish
>humor.  She was delighted, telling three jokes in Polish and then
>translating them.  The one I recall was about a seminary.  One guy shins up
>a tree and calls in a deep voice to his dim comrade,
>"John, John..."
>"Who is it?"
>"It is the Lord and I have instructions for you."
>He instructs John to take all his clothes off and to go over to the Master's
>house and take a pee in the bushes.  Then everyone rushes out and finds him.
>Who-ee, those Poles.
>Another student, also of Polish descent, said that her father regularly
>tells Polack jokes.  She remembered this one:
>Three guys are in a car that breaks down in the desert.  The American takes
>water from the trunk and sets off.  The Frenchman takes food from the trunk
>and follows in his footsteps.  The Pole delays long enough to get a door off
>the car and then sets off, carrying the door.  The others turn and ask what
>the heck he thinks he's doing.  "Well," he says, "when it gets hot, I can
>wind the window down."
>All of which is a long introduction to a question: why do you suppose that
>Polish immigrants to America were the butt of such jokes?  They arrived at
>about the same time as Germans.  Like Germans, they have a magnificent
>history of achievement in Mathematics, Music, Poetry...  Where are the Kraut
>I asked my department chair and her answer was this.  In Polish drama, the
>stupid grandmother is a stock character.  When the recruiting sergeant or
>the taxman or some other government official comes to the door, the only
>person home is the deaf and daft grandmother who, of course, is neither deaf
>nor daft.  Her thought was that for Polish immigrants, playing dumb was an
>almost instinctive folk strategy.  What think you of the theory?
>David Ritchie
>Portland, Oregon
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