Not that it necessarily has to be so. Here is an example of what I would consider an acceptable frape: I leave my facebook open in a public location, and a stranger walking by leaves a funny note on my status. This not only has the potential to be genuinely funny, but it also sends a nice message: a) there are nice strangers in the world who won’t take advantage of your inattention, and b) it’s a nice way to remind me to be more attentive in the future.
Seriously, Internet: fraping is old. It is not funny. Cut it out.
I could spend paragraphs talking about that, but actually there is something else which has my ire up. A friend of mine shared a link on Facebook today of a message from the Consulate General of the Czech Republic in New York. The relevant bit is this:
“The Czech Republic and Chechnya are two very different entities – the Czech Republic is a Central European country; Chechnya is a part of the Russian Federation.”
This is not a joke, but it is funny. It is both amusing and understandable that people get these two mixed up: their names sound similar, after all. It reminds me of when the Russia-Georgia war of 2008 broke out while I was in Germany. Not being in America at the time, I was originally under the impression that Russia was somehow invading the States. I remember thinking to myself that I must surely have something confused, because if there were armed tanks preparing to roll down the streets of Atlanta, I would surely be hearing more about it on Facebook.
Is the mistake funny? Yes. The incongruity of these juxtaposed Georgias tickles the mind. It is also understandable. We can all look back at stupid things we used to think. Then we learn better, and hopefully we have the honesty to acknowledge this before we start mocking another person’s ignorance. We learn everything we know at some point or another, and sometimes we learn it just a little earlier or later than other people.
So here’s what’s not funny: Chechnya. No one is making jokes about Chechnya as far as I know; it’s far too tragic. The same holds true for its nearby cousin, Armenia. When most of us think about Armenia, we think of the genocide of the early 20th century. Not really what most would consider rife with amusement.
Yet, for some reason, almost any country ending in -stan is an inherent joke. The really baffling thing is, they only seem funny because we don’t know anything about them (the obvious exceptions are Afghanistan and Pakistan: we are too well-informed). Azerbaijan is funny, though! Admit it: we all giggled when they won Eurovision last year. I mean, where the heck even is Azerbaijan? Is it even part of Europe? And how about Kyrgyzstan! Man, who can even spell that one, let alone tell you where it is!
Don’t believe me? What about Kazakhstan? Chances are, if you even know of Kazakhstan at all, you know of it because you watched Borat, and even then you may be under the impression that it’s a made-up country. Still, it’s funny, right? I mean, whatever happens there?
One of the students I am teaching English to is from Kazakhstan. She is Ethnically Russian, but her family moved there during the time of the Soviet Union. After the fall of the U.S.S.R., they stayed in Kazakhstan for a few years. She learned Kazakh in school, but was never very good at it. Over 60% of Kazakhs speak Russian, and it is a popular holiday destination for many Russians. Some of you may recall my post about persimmons: they were imported from Kazakhstan. All in all, it sounds like a rather beautiful place.
In spite of all this, there are many ethnic tensions between Russians and Kazakhs. I had a group of 17-year-old Russian students tell me one day that Kazakhs are like monkeys, that they come over the border to work a lot, but don’t get paid much, and that they are dangerous and I shouldn’t mess with them. Meanwhile, my student tells me that an uncle of her’s emigrated to Canada. He no longer tells anyone he’s from Kazakhstan, because everyone makes Borat jokes. Instead, he says he is from Russia.
Azerbaijan isn’t funny either, actually. It’s part of the Caucasus, a mountainous region between the Black and Caspian seas which was long held in dispute between the Russian, Persian, and Ottoman empires. The region has been the subject of some of Russia’s greatest writers, including Pushkin, Lermontov, and Tolstoy. It has been much romanticized, but it is just as well known for its violent, bloody history. I think it would not be unfair to compare the Caucasus to America’s Wild West, in much the same way that we could draw strong parallels between Russian-Kazakh relations and those of America to Mexico.