Mr. Brit has learn a new word in Italian. Two words actually. Both completely useless – or at least as useless as the only other word he knows, Ciambella. I’m not even sure how this came about, but i think we were both in bed, completely tired and exhausted after a marathon of work, and I think we heard a noise and he must have said, in his pre-sleeping comatose state: “it’s a ghost!” I immediately thought and said “yeah, right. It must be the Cheese Ghost” – which in Italy is also known as “Fantasma Formaggino,” whom name is usually mentioned in a sarcastic way whenever somebody gets all scared for nothing.
Fantasma Formaggino, in fact, goes back to an old joke that is usually used to make little kids laugh. And when I say laugh, I mean that every kid in Italy laughs their heads off as soon as they hear the short funny story – and actually the story is so funny in a nonsense kind of way that would make every adult that once was a kid laugh uncontrollably too.
You are probably now mentally begging for me to tell the joke. Ok, ok, I’ll do it! The joke goes like this (translated into English, obviously)
“There’s an Englishman, a Frenchman and and Italian in an abandoned castle in the middle of nowhere. The castle is haunted. During the night, the ghost goes into the Englishman’s room, and says: “I’m the Cheese Ghost!” And the Englishman runs away all scared. Then the ghost goes into the Frenchman room and says: “I’m the Cheese Ghost!” And the Frenchman runs away all scared. The ghost then goes into the Italian’s room and says: “I’m the Cheese Ghost!” And the Italian guy replies: “Cheese Ghost? Come here and I’ll spread you on a slice of bread!”
So, now, the joke is clearly not as funny in English, since in Italian “formaggino” and “panino” (bread) rhyme. But you get the gist. And you also get why, in a twisted, convoluted and probably sickish way, it’s a funny joke for an Italian: because everybody else comes across as a silly coward. Yes, we do tend to rejoice whenever people from other nationalities “lose the battle” – whatever the battle might be.
The funniest part of all of this, though, is the fact that while doing some research on the origins of the Fantasma Formaggino reference, I bumped into a couple of articles describing those types of jokes (the close to nonsense Italian jokes that includes a “there’s an Englishman, a Frenchman and an Italian…” and obviously climaxes to a gran finale where the Italian is the only smart of the trio) as an Italian literary genre that was born in the ’70s thanks to a Florentine barber who turned his shop into a sort of literary and artistic meeting point, where men of all ages would gather and come up with nonsense jokes and would laugh their heads off for the whole afternoon.
So basically, while teaching Mr.Brit a new word, I did teach something to myself as well – and about my own culture.
I have to admit. I’m quite amazed.
PS As a side note I would like to add that Mr.Brit commented that the joke is complete nonsense. “The Englishman” he explained “would have composedly packed up his stuff and said ‘Sir, I’m leaving, as I paid for a room for one and I don’t want extra guests in while I sleep.'”