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My parents are from India, but I was born and raised in the Netherlands (which is where I still live). I am in university and a friend keeps making jokes about the fact that I am of Indian descent. The problem is, the jokes are simply not funny. Although I am not offended by them, I don't know how to make him stop.

For example, when I was eating my sandwich and he asked whether I have ghee on my sandwich instead of butter or paneer instead of cheese, while he could clearly see that it was regular cheese (it was Gouda if I recall correctly). And another time he asked whether I knew some random Indian person he saw on the train. Now we get along quite well otherwise, but his jokes are really not funny. How do I make him stop?

EDIT: For the rest, we share a similar sense of humor, so other remarks are not as bad. I could indeed tell him to just stop, but I don't know how he will take it. He does a similar thing to another friend of his from Suriname, who thinks the same as I do. Would it be a good idea to confront him together or would this make the Dutch friend uncomfortable?

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    Do you ideally want to stay friends with this person after the issue is resolved? It's hard to tell if your friend is deliberately being insensitive or is simply not clever (or both). – user8671 Sep 17 '18 at 12:07
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    what was your reaction? What have you tried already? – Fildor Sep 17 '18 at 20:45
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    How old is your friend? Years ago, when just out of my teens, I (very mistakenly) believed that I could demonstrate that I was not racist by being comfortable enough to tell racist jokes to my minority friends. It took a slap in the face (very nearly literally) for me to understand just how stupid that was. – Michael J. Sep 17 '18 at 21:40
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    Are you sure is he trying to make jokes? – nl-x Sep 18 '18 at 8:15
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    What is your goal? Do you want him to stop, or do you want him to make funnier jokes? – stannius Sep 19 '18 at 21:00

10 Answers 10

127

Pretend like you didn't understand that it was a joke and take him seriously. It could go like this:

"Hey do you know that random Indian person I met on the train last weekend?"

Stare at him for ~5 seconds with poker face and then ask:

What?

or:

What do you mean?

or:

I don't think I understand.

or:

What makes you think I should know that person?

That should force him to explain his joke and hopefully he will realize it's not funny and will stop. If he will keep trying replying with a joke then just continue taking him seriously and make him explain his jokes.

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    Comments deleted. Please remember that comments are only for clarification and suggesting improvements. If instead you'd like to discuss this the pros and cons of this answer, please use Interpersonal Skills Chat. – Em C Sep 19 '18 at 1:03
49

As long as the jokes aren't offensive I think an indirect approach would work better than a straight confrontation as it would seem like you can't take a joke if you directly call him out on it.

If I was in your shoes I would respond to vaguely racial remarks by taking them a bit overboard. For example:

"Hey do you know the random Indian person I met on the train last weekend?"

A response could in the tone of:

"Ah that must be Lakshay from Mumbai. We are 1.2 billion people but everyone knows each other. It must have been weird for him to travel on the inside of the train cart"

Bonus points if you do it in exaggerated Indian accent. I believe it sends the message that ethnic jokes aren't funny quite clearly but in a more passive-aggressive way. Hopefully your friend will take the hint and just stop making jokes on this topic.

Though should he ever progress to jokes that are offensive you should just confront him immediately. There are a few posts on this site for how to handle inappropriate jokes. My favorite solution is to pretend you don't get the joke and ask them to explain it. Nobody likes explaining jokes and especially trying to explain an offensive joke would make anyone look very racist.

EDIT: There has been a lot of controversy around this answer and I want to hopefully clear some of it. I suggested this approach mainly because OP mentioned the jokes are coming from a friend and he isn't offended by them. It is definitely not the proper way to respond to racial jokes in general. I do believe that when a friend is doing something stupid but you don't want to confront them directly for whatever reason, mocking the stupid thing they are doing gets the message across and doesn't hurt the friendship, but a direct confrontation might. Please keep in mind that OP isn't facing issues with random strangers or coworkers but with a friend that he probably cares about enough to come here and ask what to do rather than just confront and distance himself from in the future.

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    Can you explain why you think mimicking their joking would make it clear that you dislike it? What if the friend takes that to mean you are going along with the joke? – Em C Sep 17 '18 at 16:18
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    @EmC You've missed that the joke isn't being mimicked, it's being mocked. – Fund Monica's Lawsuit Sep 17 '18 at 16:43
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    @NicHartley If people can misinterpret this answer, it might not be the best approach. – Harris Sep 17 '18 at 18:09
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    @Harris It's a lot harder to tell tone through text than through speech. I do think this answer could use clarification, though -- that is, specifying the tone. "You could sarcastically respond", or something like that. Also, literally any answer can be misinterpreted; does that mean there are no valid answers? Yes, even a perfectly unambiguous statement (if there is such a thing in natural language), because those can be misheard. In this case, the tone -- which isn't in the text -- should make it as close to unambiguous as possible. – Fund Monica's Lawsuit Sep 17 '18 at 18:13
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    It's certainly an option but I don't think it will make him stop. While joking about his jokes may make his jokes more bearable/enjoyable for the OP it won't stop him from making them, it'll just make him think the OP is playing along and finds it fun. – colmde Sep 24 '18 at 8:07
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Communication is key here -- I don't think he actually realises that you are annoyed by his remarks. Just sit down with him and tell him how you feel and take it from there. Or rag on him jokingly for not having any other material besides your ethnicity.

EDIT: I have personally taken to using more blunt techniques in both personal and professional communications rather than being roundabout how I feel, and it has worked for me; people are often daft and do not realize that other people react differently than they themselves would in similar situations. For example, if I feel that a remark is hurtful, I would let them know why I react negatively. I live in Sweden which also has very subtle social rules, i.e. not being blunt, which often takes people by surprise, but it has also been appreciated in the cases where I have been blunt.

22

I too am from the Netherlands and have made (jokey) comments about a friend's origin in the past. Others thought it was really funny, but he didn't like it at all.

One day he told me:

Can you stop making jokes about my origin? I don't think it's funny.

I said I'm sorry and I didn't mean to hurt or disrespect him in any way. I've never made a joke about it again.

This works especially well in the Netherlands. Because we tend to be very direct; If you don't like something, just say it how it is. Dutch people will generally respect that, especially friends.

18

Many of the responses you got so far seem to be quite tone deaf in regards to your question...

Since it seems like both of you are fine with making fun of each other, I would suggest a couple of approaches. Mirror or modify his jokes, make fun of his inability to make funny jokes or simply show disappointment.

If you mirror his joke with an even worse joke about him being Dutch, preferably in a stupid sounding voice. "Do you know that Windmill over there?", "Is there 'something Dutch, maybe Tulips?' in your sandwich?". You could also modify them to something like "Do you know that guy over there? I guess not. He's called humor btw.", "Is there humor in your sandwich? Doesn't seem like it."

Point out the unfunniness in his jokes. "This is the lamest joke I've heard all month.", "Which dumpster have you pulled that joke out of?".

Lastly, stop, close your eyes, face-palm a bit, shake your head, sigh and ignore what he just said, it doesn't warrant a response anyway. Only do this if it comes naturally to you though.

All of these shut down his joke, show that you don't think it's funny and hopefully make him think a bit. It might take a couple of tries to get him to stop.

If he's making jokes like that, he should be able to take this without being too offended.

  • Just on your first point there, remember that the OP is Dutch also! – colmde Sep 24 '18 at 8:11
13

Be Direct

I don't think this situation requires a particularly careful response. The next time your friend makes an unfunny joke about your ethnicity (while you two are alone!), simply respond with something like:

Hey, man, your Indian jokes are never funny, could you {just stop with them / work on them}*? I'm not really offended, they're just not funny to me.

If you two have a fairly close friendship and you have never communicated this, he might even appreciate your opinion, and hopefully will understand your feelings regardless.

Explain Further

If there is any awkwardness you want to dispel, or you'd like to be a bit more clear, you could pull out your phone and show him a video clip of an Indian joke that you find particularly funny. If he seems open to feedback, you could try explaining why the joke you just showed was funny, but his jokes aren't.

Using your examples:

For example, when I was eating my sandwich and he asked whether I have ghee on my sandwich instead of butter or paneer instead of cheese, while he could clearly see that it was regular cheese (it was Gouda if I recall correctly).

There may have been a potential for a stereotype joke if you were actually using ghee or paneer, especially in an otherwise normal sandwich.

And another time he asked whether I knew some random Indian person he saw on the train.

There might have been potential for a joke if you had run into an Indian person on the train and you knew him, and pointed this out to your friend, "I know this guy!"

The issue seems to be that your friend recognizes what could be a potentially funny situation (if one finds ethnicity based jokes funny), but that situation doesn't actually exist.


*: Your request to him depends on your desired outcome. Would you be okay if the jokes were actually funny and don't mind helping him improve his comedy, or would you prefer they stop outright?

**: This answer assumes that you yourself find ethnicity and race based humor to be funny when done correctly. If you do not, simply being direct, as in the first part of the answer, is enough. Your uncomfortableness is more than enough justification for your friend to stop making these jokes.

7

I'm Dutch, so perhaps I have some cultural sensitivity on the other side of this question.

This guy is obviously not racist in the hard sense: he doesn't mind you being Indian (or the other guy being from Suriname) enough to stay away from you. Instead you are friends.

As you suggest yourself, I think that you should team up with your friend from Suriname and explain to this guy - who probably just honestly thinks he's funny - that he is not just not amusing you. He's actively annoying you and coming across as racist. Tell him that. Being in a minority (in that 3-some) should do him some good.

All the indirect stuff in the other answers may just come across as more banter. I tried that recently with someone and they just upped the ante. [Though, since I'm a woman, which also changes the dynamic]

Of course if - after some straight talk - he continues the jokes, I don't know if you should stay friends with him.

=== edit === The OP obviously wants to remain friends with this guy. The only way I would personally consider that is by trying to talk about it. This scenario is a 'strength in numbers' attempt that should make it an easier conversation. But no, I have not tried this solution. As a white woman, I have not been in this situation.

I would not personally want to stay - or become - friends with someone like this, but to each their own. I can hardly stand it when people make this sort of joke in the office. I would not want to be around this stuff in my free time.

However, I do think that in some cases this type of conversation is a good idea. After all - if people don't talk to each other about what bothers them, then what is the quality of the friendship anyhow? And if someone grows up in a circumstance of cultural insensitivity, the only way they will change is if people tell them that there is a problem.

6

What I would do in your case is say, with a smile,

When you make jokes about my Indian heritage, I feel kind of hurt and irritated. I was born in this country and I'm just as Dutch as you are. I need you to respect that. Please don't make that kind of joke around me again.

If he continues to make those remarks you can repeat the above a couple of times and then after that every time he makes an ethnic joke, look at him expressionessly and say with a flat voice,

That's not funny.

If that doesn't work, then he's not really your friend.

The other alternative is to act as Alex L suggests and pretend that what he says is not a joke until he feels how ridiculous he is.

4

I think you are being much too nice about this.

While I am not a minority per se, I am an Australian who lives in North America and tend to get asked idiotic questions or have stupid jokes/questions/accents.

After being polite the first year or so I got fed up and I'll make it obvious the person asked an idiotic question or made a stupid joke that isn't funny, or sounds like an idiot when they try and impersonate Steve Irwin.

So now I will be overly passive aggressive or sarcastic to someone who frequently does it.

You need to call people out who behave like this and put them in their place quickly, but you also need to understand the difference between genuine curiousity and someone being stupid.

I.e. when they say CRIKEY MATE in a terrible impersonation, I'll immediately say, You sound like a f**king idiot and you're embarrassing yourself, don't do it again because you look like an utter tool.

When they ask idiotic questions like, OH DO YOU RIDE KANGAROOS TO WORK. I will usually say as sarcastically as possible, YES OF COURSE WE DO, IT'S A CITY THE SIZE OF CHICAGO AND WE DON'T HAVE CARS EVERYONE RIDES KANGAROOS.

Usually people don't want to be further embarrassed and will remember not to ask me idiotic questions.

1

In America "I don't appreciate making bad jokes about my ethnicity" followed by some explanation would suffice. Typically you want to follow this up with some explanation that focuses on how it makes you feel about an otherwise valuable and appreciated friendship rather than astronomical degree of garbage your friend's jokes are. Making sure the focus is on how it makes you feel about the jokes rather than your friend's inability to make good ethnic jokes will help the conversation stay on topic and increase the likelihood of the problem getting solved by helping prevent your friend from making it about him.

This is a bit more confrontational so I don't know how it would work in the Netherlands.

One more thing, this approach requires you to sort out and articulate your feelings in a way that doesn't make your friend feel like complete trash. That's why you don't see this sort of thing happening all the time.

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