You know sometimes you have this great idea, you just can’t help yourself. You have to go with it and anyone around you who is in the firing line gets roped in. And in these moments, you don’t really think about what you do or don’t understand about a nation or humour, far too macro altogether when all you are doing is having a small little good idea.
And so it was one morning going to the barnehage in summer this year. My fabulous teenage niece was here from Ireland and the 2 of us and the 2 kids were doing drop-off to barnehage first with my daughter and then on to school to drop-off my son. We knew it was someone’s birthday at the barnehage that day as the Norwegian flag was proudly flying outside.
As we got closer, we could see from the sign on the wall that it was a teacher’s birthday, one of the young guys in his twenties. Now both my son and daughter have great affection for this teacher, they see him as cool and great fun. So we stopped and I said, ” I know, let’s sing Happy Birthday To You but not the normal one, let’s sing the other one, you know, the one about the monkey”. This teacher has a sense of humour, he is young, it will make him laugh, was my thinking. So we practised it a bit outside, my son was a bit dubious but I persuaded him that this was a great idea. My niece went with it, trusting that I knew what I was doing and that I was being my usual cool aunty self…
In we went and we found said teacher hanging out in a kitchen area with another teacher. And on my cue we started to sing, nice and slowly.
“Happy Birthday to you, you live in a zoo, you look like a monkey and you act like one too”.
Now I had company singing up until the zoo line, then I was all on my own. I carried on regardless, belting it out. We had the obligatory clap at the end which, with hindsight, was also just me clapping. But neither teacher was smiling and it all felt a bit awkward. The kids were both silent and my niece looked like she wanted the ground to swallow her up, fast.
Other kids and parents were arriving so we just moved on, said goodbye to my daughter and left to go to school. The conversation as we walked away, went something like this:
Me: That was a bit weird, wasn’t it
Son: That was embarrassing Mom
Me: They went a bit quiet alright. They didn’t seem to think it was funny, did they?
Niece: Ahhh no, they definitely weren’t laughing
Me: They did look a bit stunned. Oh God, did we just offend him?
Niece: You were the only one singing, do you mean you…
Son: That was really embarrassing Mom
Me: Oh my God, he has just grown a long beard and we sang a song comparing him to a monkey.
Niece: Yep, you did.
And so I learned that my good ideas are not always great ideas. And you have to tread very carefully when you are comparing people to animals in another culture as there is a distinct possibility that they may not like it. And blood is thicker than water but even that only goes so far.
I made a mental note to apologise to him afterwards but we never really got the chance that week and if honest, it was too embarrassing to EVER bring it up again. I decided I would chalk it down to an acute lesson in integration and the non-existent pros and sizeable cons of impulsive singing with family members.