Jokes that, nowadays, need explaining

In my experience, you’re much more likely to receive a French-only menu in France, not the U.S. And if you are in a French restaurant in France, the server’s tip is already included in the prices, so there tends to be less kowtowing to the patrons than in the U.S., plus that fact that you’re likely a tourist that they will never see again—leading to them not particularly caring what you order. Also, most people in Europe are multilingual, and there may be some condescension involved for an American who only speaks English.

I ran into this once not in France, but in Germany. I speak a little German, but was having trouble with a German-only menu once. This was before cell phones, and I didn’t have a pocket dictionary, so I ended up ordering a cauliflower entree. It was OK, but was not what I was expecting. As soon as it arrived, I could have kicked myself, because it was obvious in retrospect that Blumenkohl meant cauliflower. (Blumen means flower, and kohl is a pretty obvious cognate.)

I think this was more of an issue in past decades, though. On our last visit to Paris, we thought the service was generally very good, and I don’t speak any French at all. (I did make an effort to greet people and thank them in French.)

I’ve mentioned this one before.

There’s a scene in The Rocky Horror Picture Show where Frank asks Brad if he has any tattoos and Brad says no. Frank then turns to Janet and asks her the same question.

The movie was made in 1975. Back then, the question was a joke because the idea of a woman having a tattoo was so absurd.

I first saw this in 1986, and the joke still worked. I knew a couple of girls who got tiny tattoos (in areas normally hidden by clothing) over the next couple of years while in college, and this was still fairly noteworthy and unusual in my social group.

Watching reruns of older TV shows (50s and 60s) I often notice some reference to popular culture of the time that I don’t get. When googling, it often turns out to be about another TV show contemporary to it. I don’t remember them in general, but one comes to mind: in an episode of The Andy Griffith Show (The Mayberry Band) Andy is telling someone to attempt to hide his goatee by squeezing his chin against his chest. But he explains by telling him to “Gump up” his chin. Googling showed me that it referenced a past comic strip character I had never heard of.

(Also, tonight an episode of The Munsters Herman made a joke about “the new math”–I guess it has been new for a long time now.)

What’s a telephone, Daddy?

What’s a book, Daddy?

In the year 6565: What’s a Daddy?

“…if Man is still alive”

Are there any opposite cases? That is: Jokes that work today, but if anyone had said them 40, 50, 60, 70 years ago, nobody would have understood?

All of those jokes about Windows.

Any joke with a current cultural reference.

Lots of cartoons of the 40s had pop culture references that are lost today. Jerry Colonna was referred to a lot and the reference was already dated when I saw them in the 60s. Warner Brothers cartoons often referred to Greta Garbo’s big feet and lots of people today only have the vaguest idea about who she was. There were also many Hugh Herbert references.

ISTM Bugs Bunny cartoons also commonly poked fun at an orchestra conductor named “Leopold”.

That would be Leopold Stokowski, conductor of the Philadelphia Orchestra, who also conducted Disney’s Fantasia.

And the crowd shouts, “Show him the battleship, Janet!”

Married with Children when Peggy said something like ‘women that Bob Packwood wouldn’t grope’. most people won’t get that reference now.

Chin is primarily a Chinese surname, but also Korean with multiple different characters, meanings and pronunciations, with none sounding like the English word Chin. Chin (Chinn) is also an English surname.

And some early Japanese [correction: Okinawan*] immigrants named Chinen had their name changed to Chin by the immigration officers because of a lack of understanding that they weren’t Chinese or for simplicity. Growing up in Hawaii, I knew some Chins who were Japanese [Okinawan].

*Chinen is an Okinawan name, not Japanese.,spell%20as%20Chin%20(%EC%B9%9C).

Also, correct that most Japanese surnames aren’t monosyllabic.

Not really a joke, but a line from Catch-22

“That’s some catch, that Catch-22! It’s the best there is!”

An oldie that probably goes over the head of anyone younger than 30. “What’s black and white and re[a]d all over?” A newspaper!

I remember so many times in the 80s and 90s the idea of anchovies on pizzas was the worst thing ever and the constant threat of your pizza boy giving you the wrong order and handing you a pie with anchovies.

Apparently pizza with anchovies was a major thing in the 80s? I found reference to even chains like Domino’s stocking anchovies as a topping back then but even today at the higher end mom and pop pizza places I never see anchovies as an available topping for a custom pie.

I’m assuming today you would just make the joke a Hawaiian Pizza since I know people who adamantly hate hawaiian pizzas in real life and wouldn’t even dignify eating one if they took the pineapple off themselves.

I seem to recall a cartoon (might have been a New Yorker cartoon, but if not, it was similar to New Yorker cartoons), which took place in a French restaurant. The waiter politely informs the diner that, “I appreciate you trying to order in French, sir, but you have just ordered an oven-baked tractor.”

I’ve never been “intimidated into ordering” anything in a restaurant, in France or elsewhere. Not convinced that is a joke or a trope- how would that even work? (Except for the one about the “all-you-can-eat” restaurant.) Mangling a foreign language order, like in the cartoon, makes more sense, though that hardly needs to be explained.

I’m sure I am not the only one who has found themselves trying to order food somewhere where you have zero languages in common with any of the restaurant staff, or the menu, and pantomime only gets you so far. Maybe a joke could be written about that.

By the way, there is an edition of Lewis Carroll which helpfully includes annotations like the text of the original Victorian poems he is parodying. Indeed, any joke referencing some ephemeral, especially foreign, pop culture probably needs explanation; not everybody devoured lots of Egyptian pulp fiction in the 1950s, or whatever.

I gave two examples of it.

I recall this as well. It was strange because I started looking for anchovies on pizza menus. It didn’t seem common enough for so many people to agree they hated them. And, I wondered as a kid, if everyone was so sure they were terrible and refusing to order them, how were people experiencing them?

Anchovies on pizza used to be surprisingly common. This Shakey’s Pizza menu (which I remember from the 70s) testifies to that.