01. 26. 2014. 11:03

The Gypsy is silent

In circles where the knowledge and repetition of certain Jewish jokes and the strict tabooing of others means a ritual reinforcing of community, irrespective of the participants’ identity, you can in effect tell any kind of Gypsy jokes without the risk of scandalizing anyone.

The dupe is standing by the roadside, it’s raining, he is getting cold and soaked, he holds out his thumb. A car stops, the driver pulls down the window. Would you give me a ride? Of course I would, there’s only a tiny problem. What is it? You see, during the journey you should be holding a tennis ball in your mouth. The dupe stands silent, his incredulous eyes wide open. The driver shrugs and drives off. He comes again three or four more times so as to delay the punchline, defying the logic of road traffic; by the end of the joke the dupe is freezing, so he gives up of course. He holds out his thumb again, otherwise there could be no punchline. The car stops, the driver pulls down the window, smiling.

Where is that tennis ball, the hitch-hiker asks, all subdued.

When such a sentence is heard, a gap opens in time, a very short one, yet one that can accommodate quite a lot in its silence. On the face of whoever is telling the joke there appears the promise of something hysterical to come, something so hilarious you will all shit your pants, a true punchline that will easily and by far surpass your worst nightmares, the cleverest and funniest and meanest things you can imagine.

Ignorance is a black hole. You pack your nightmares in it. Suspense works on precisely the same basis as the teller stops for a moment with an eye to the punchline; this gap sucks in the unconscious at an astonishing pace which could perhaps only be represented adequately in a cartoon.

‘I’ve been sitting on the riverbank for half an hour already when the string becomes taut, well fuck me for a racket, it’s a goldfish, I pull it in to get it off the hook, have mercy on me it says, I promise I’ll make three wishes of yours come true, I feel sorry for it, all right fishie, there you go, I throw it back into the water and lo and behold, it rises to the surface, and what should you wish, kind fisherman, well I says, ten million forints, you’ll have the money in no time, says the goldfish, what about your second wish, a great big house I says, you’ll have it in no time, says the goldfish, what about your third wish, I’d like a beauty of a wife with great big boobs like Pamela Anderson, just go home, kind fisherman, and there you’ll find all these, and indeed as I get home, there’s Pamela Anderson counting the ten million forints on the kitchen table in my great big house, I run back in one breath, fishie, fishie, you can’t imagine how happy I am, how could I show you my gratitude, do you really want to show me your gratitude, the goldfish asks, well I say, I wouldn’t say it if I didn’t mean it, well then fuck me good and proper, will you, ooooops, says I to myself, but what to do, I have already promised, haven’t I, so there I go fucking the goldfish and surprise-surprise, what does it do but turn into my neighbour’s eight-year-old daughter Piroska! and I swear I’m telling the truth Your Honour, I swear to God above!’

Of course, the story has to be told with that unmistakable accent and intonation pattern that non-Gypsies can immediately identify as Gypsy lingo; the stress, together with the dramaturgy of the traditional goldfish jokes combine in creating the suspense, they trigger the expectation that by the end of the joke the money-grabbing, idle and moronic Gypsy will get fucked good and proper, this is the way it works, but not now, because it is only at the very end of the joke that its true, long-delayed message is revealed, which the goldfish dramaturgy so ingeniously concealed: the joke is not reiterating what it considers obvious and therefore fatuous, that the Gypsy is idle, money-grabbing, moronic and a liar, no, the principal message is that he will respect no-one and nothing, that he will not refrain from anything, that he is not even human, but merely a sex-driven animal that will not shrink from anything. And as a special bonus, at the end of the story he is standing before his mercilessly righteous judges who have an overview of the whole process―that is, before us, the non-Gypsy listeners to the joke; justice will be meted out immediately, we will publicly execute him with our side-splitting laughter.

‘Hey Gazsi, I heard your house burnt down, I bet you’re hard up now!’ ‘Sure I’m hard man, but what’s it got to do with the house?’

He can’t watch over his house so it burns down, thank heaven, because we’ve set it on fire in a subclause, and what is more, he doesn’t even have decent Hungarian, all he cares about is his erect prick, even in the greatest trouble, and on top of all he is so incredibly moronic he can’t have an overview of the whole.

How much such a joke can accommodate.

What is the politically correct name for Gypsy? Metal detector.

What does the Gypsy kid get for Christmas? Your bicycle!


It was long before I met a live Gypsy that I heard of them. There is my granny sitting in Lábdihegy, we are sitting together in the pressing house more than fifty years ago, by the petroleum lamp and the small metallic oven in which she stuffs vine, the only room is twelve square meters, the pressing house is about as tall as me, it hardly sticks out of the ground. There we are sitting in the garden that remains of the one-time estate or, to be more precise, that was given by the state “in exchange” for the remains of the remains of the one-time etcetera; for the last seventeen acres 2400 square meters were given and even half of those were sold immediately, there remain 1200 square meters and the pressing house, the remains of the remains of the remains, a bit of vine, some almond trees, the odd bed of vegetables, potatoes, pumpkins, sour cherries: for me, the universe. My Sunshine granny is telling stories, seated in the middle of the universe she is telling me what life is like; these stories sometimes take the form of sauntering jokes, in one of them for instance the Catholic village priest has three dogs called Gypsy, Donthide, and Iseeyouse, this is how she pronounces it, with a final s so she doesn’t give the secret away, and there comes Gazsi, to steal apples of course, there he goes up the tree picking apples in the lapel of his shirt and in that moment the curate comes out from the parsonage, unaware of what’s going on, and he calls his dogs, Donthide, Gypsy, Iseeyouse! And when he hears this, Gazsi is scared out of his wits, he falls from the tree and starts running, and keeps running on and on, running out of the world. In another joke probably the selfsame curate sends a letter and a flock of ten geese to the priest in the next village, with the selfsame Gazsi – at least they are the same to me, as I know no priests and no Gypsies in real life. Gazsi shepherds the geese, but it suddenly occurs to him that his household could do with one of them, so he makes a little detour and gives one to his wife to roast for dinner. And when he finally arrives in the next village, the curate reads the letter and counts the geese. Look, Gazsi, there are only nine geese here. Impossible, reverend, all ten must be there. We’ll see, Gazsi, says the curate and calls over ten children and orders them to catch a goose each. And the tenth child is standing there, empty-handed. You can see now, Gazsi, the tenth has no goose. You little dolty, Gazsi yells at the kid in despair, why didn’t youse catch one while they were around?

Such were the jokes then, fifty years ago.


You learn the concept of the moronic thief together with the concept of the Gypsy, even before you have seen a single live Gypsy. And as a bonus you get acquainted with the Catholic mindframe: that you must  incorporate the struggle with evil in the very language you use, so don’t fret, should you fall asleep, the word will be watching over your sleep, ever on the guard: it will see to it that the apple tree escapes unharmed. And still, there was something in these patently racist jokes that my Granny used to tell me in her warm, loving voice, there was some trace of commiseration; as I listened to the joke I felt sorry for Gazsi for falling off the tree, sorry for him as he was yelling despairingly at that peasant kiddo, rather than driven to laugh at him for his bottomless idiocy.

The presentable Jewish jokes invented by non-Jews usually circulate even among Jews, for reasons not too complicated to understand, since the presentable Jewish jokes invented by non-Jews are ultimately the expression of a detached and at the same time jealous recognition, the object of which is mostly the crooked astuteness and gumption of the Jews; this is in fact true even when the butt of the joke is the greed held to be a general and inexorable, genetically pre-programmed trait of Jewish character.

Gypsies probably do not tell each other presentable Gypsy jokes invented by non-Gypsies, on the one hand because there are simply no Gypsy jokes invented by non-Gypsies that could be pronounced presentable, for there is no trace of understanding in Gypsy jokes, they acknowledge nothing as positive traits of character, they covet nothing that Gypsies have, simply and straightforwardly because they know Gypsies to be paupers and the experience of the destitution of Gypsies is projected directly onto the so-called sum of positive traits of character. The only possible exception from this is the Gypsies’ boundless sexual promiscuity and potency that non-Gypsies frequently refer to, trying to suppress their jealousy, not having a clue that the Gypsies’ sexual mores are incomparably more strict and conservative than their own, so it is the presupposed Gypsy promiscuity and certainly the coveted Gypsy potency that is revenged in the pervasiveness of surmised incest in Gypsy jokes or even more, as in the joke I brought up as example, in the libelous rumour of pedophile rape. On the other hand, it is of course highly unlikely for Gypsies to tell each other Gypsy jokes invented by non-Gypsies, as they cannot possibly know any such, it cannot occur that a non-Gypsy tells a Gypsy a Gypsy joke, since the mere fact of telling a joke presupposes some basic human relationship which is rendered impossible, among other things, precisely by such jokes.

In circles where the knowledge and repetition of certain Jewish jokes and the strict tabooing of others means a ritual reinforcing of community, irrespective of the participants’ identity, you can in effect tell any kind of Gypsy jokes without the risk of scandalizing anyone. Even the joke with the goldfish, if you have prepared the ground rhetorically.

I know because I have done it several times.

Let me repeat this phrase.

I know because I have done it several times.


A similarly brutal Jewish joke could under no circumstances be told among enlightened intellectuals who believe in liberal democracy and consider themselves Europeans, because the experience of the Holocaust, considered our shared experience in such circles, has made it untellable. The Porrajmos and Tatárszentgyörgy, however, did not make the brutal Gypsy joke untellable, simply because there is no experience of the Porrajmos and of Tatárszentgyörgy shared by non-Gypsies, that is, no experience with at least the pretence of being common; to put it bluntly, the non-Gypsy society is unwilling to create any real sense of community with the Gypsy, even in the issue of the sacrosanct value of human life. Or, to be precise, it is willing to do so only in the form of a ritual―donations, and orations like mine, at charitable events like the one we are participating in today. Sympathy with the Gypsy is easiest when we do not have to actually be with them. When we do not have to be with them at our workplace, in the family, on the street, in the marketplace, on the bus, in the cinema, in the maternity ward and in the cemetery. When being together is for some reason unavoidable, like tonight, it is maddeningly fake: in five minutes we are ducking beneath our noncommittal smiles that protect us from them more efficiently than any police shield.

I am not any bit more well-bred than the next man, but let’s pretend so for the moment: with all respect where respect is due, all in all I know perhaps two people who are exceptions in this sense, and I happen to be neither of them.

Where is the tennis ball I am supposed to hold in my mouth, the hitch-hiker asks, crestfallen, at the end of the joke.

The tennis ball? Why, it’s in the back, on the car towing hitch, the driver answers, certainly not to the dupe in general but to the Gypsy in particular, for it is in reality the Gypsy who is getting cold and soaked in the joke, it is only me who duped him. After this, the story doesn’t go on, and why should it indeed, this was the punchline.

The Gypsy is silent, we do not learn what he replied. Not for the moment in any case.

Translated by: Erika Mihálycsa

Tags: Gábor Németh