Lost in translation: Chinese New Year’s Humor

Out with the Mouse!!

The Year of the Rat is almost at an end. February 11, Thursday at midnight, the mousies are out; the oxen are in.

In with the Ox

Yes, it’s the start of Spring Festival, what we westerners refer to as Chinese New Year.

February 12 begins a new year, new beginnings and new hope in China. All across the country, families will be hunkering down to watch TV gala shows, eat “good luck” dishes and get ready for 16 days of celebrations. (7 days are public holidays but schools won’t be starting up until after January 26). Many will spend hours upon hours on WeChat (China’s equivalent of Facebook) to send out festive greetings, post holiday New Year’s vimeos and bestow virtual lucky money on friends, colleagues and relatives.

I’m certain that my own students and Chinese besties will be filling up my cell phone with messages of good wishes. I’m 14 hours behind Luzhou so I expect the posting flood will begin Thursday morning and continue onward for the following 16 days.

A Foreigner’s Confusion

Among the WeChat banter will be one conundrum I can never wrap my head around: Chinese New Year’s jokes. I’m sure in China, they hit the mark but once translated into English, and applied to my personal culture, the laugh remains an enigma.

As examples of this, here are the Top 8 funnies which I found on the Internet. Do you get the humor in these? I certainly don’t!

1. Let’s celebrate Chinese New Year by comparing our adult children’s careers, income levels and marital statuses.

2. I’m opting for Chinese New Year resolutions, since my American New Year resolutions were an epic failure.

3. If you celebrated Chinese New Year in America, do you celebrate American New Year in China? (Actually, yes, Chinese do: January 1st is 元旦 , or yuandan, a 1-day holiday, so celebrating “American” New Year is somewhat accurate.)

4. Remember, the Chinese word for opportunity is the same as the Chinese word for crisis. What does this mean? It means the Chinese are lazy. Happy New Year!

5. Happy Chinese New Year to you and the Chinese government official also reading this.

6. Chinese New Year, Mardi Gras and Valentines Day are too close…I don’t know what to paint on my nails.

7. I’d like to wish you a Happy Chinese New Year, but I don’t want to interrupt you until you’ve finished assembling my I-phone.

8. Let’s celebrate Chinese New Year by rigidly conforming to the strictly enforced suggestions for celebrating.

OK. So . . . . where’s the comical wit?

Now That’s Funny!

While the above totally missed the mark on my funny bone, these below puns certainly gave me a hearty, roll-your-eyes, deeply embedded chuckle.

1) I went to a Chinese food buffet for the new year. It was called “All You Can Eat and Dim Sum.”

2). The Year of the Ox is bound to be bad. I went out to eat at our local Chinese restaurant and when I opened my cookie, it was empty. When I complained to the server, she replied, “Ah! That’s unfortunate”.

3). I don’t like these Chinese New Year celebrations. They tend to drag-on.

4). Want to make the Year of the Ox a success? Just think outside the Ox.

5). What do you call an Ox with a big butt? Buttocks

6). Why couldn’t the Mackaw and the Ox never produce an offspring? It would have created a parrot-ox.

Would my English-speaking Chinese students, friends and colleagues “get it”? I’ll be posting these among my WeChat groups during the next few days. Let’s see what reactions I get and I’ll let you know.

Until then, here’s wishing you 平安 Ping An (Peace) for your day, with a last parting giggle before the the plague-ridden Year of the Rodents leaves us far, far behind:

Q: What do you call an educated ox without an education?

A: An oxymoron.

Groan away, folks! Groan away.

About connieinchina

I have been in the Asia region for 30 years as an English language teacher. 28 of those have been spent with the Amity Foundation, a Chinese NGO that works in all areas of development for the Chinese people. Amity teachers are placed at small colleges throughout China as instructors of English language majors in the education field. In other words, my students will one day be English teachers themselves in their small villages or towns once they graduate. Currently, this is my 13th year in Luzhou Vocational and Technical College. The college is located in Luzhou city (loo-joe), Sichuan Province, a metropolis of 5 million people located next to the Yangtze River .
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2 Responses to Lost in translation: Chinese New Year’s Humor

  1. Teresa Shaw says:

    Connie, these comments made me laugh ! My family and I are doing well as I hope you are.

  2. Kate says:

    Especially, like the last pun! Regarding the nail polish joke….I found the inclusion of Mardi Gras most interesting….surprised it’s even known by most. Are you making dinner or doing take-out?

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