Back in 1994 I won a trip to Europe on a game show. The whirlwind tour took us through seven countries: England, Holland, Germany, Austria, Italy, Switzerland, and France.
The tour was put on by a company called Contiki Holidays. The drill: get on a bus (euphemism: “coach”) with about fifty other young people, a driver, and a chaperon, and hit the road for about two weeks. Among the fifty or so people were Americans, Brits, South Africans, and a group of about twenty people from Japan who didn’t speak much English.
If I were to pick one highlight from that trip to tell you about, the one that sticks in my mind like no other, it wouldn’t be the coffee house menus in Amsterdam, or the white water rafting in Austria, or the time wasted looking for a decent piece of pizza in Venice, or falling asleep to the distant sound of cowbells in an open-windowed chalet at the top of Mount Pilatus in Switzerland, or tripping out in the Haunted Mansion at Euro-Disney outside of Paris, or looking for ice in London. Better. It happened on the bus.
By the final leg of the tour leaving France, people had begun to loosen up and mingle with the rest of the tour group. It became conventional for many to swap seats after every stop, where they’d spend that leg socializing with somebody new. After one particular pit stop, we found ourselves sitting behind two people in the two seats immediately in front of us. These two people were a Japanese girl and a tightly conservative guy from Great Britain. The girl had just purchased a Beavis and Butt-Head comic book.
Now, to this day, I’m a big fan of Mike Judge. His dry humor and unbelievably accurate take on the human condition completely kills me; he’s one of the few artists that can dance on that fine line separating satire and reality. His cult classic film Office Space is probably the epitome of this, and is considered by many to be his crowning achievement.
Back to 1994, five years before Office Space. Judge’s animated series on MTV, Beavis and Butt-Head, was literally reflecting and shaping culture at the same time. While to many people the show was nothing more than crude adolescent humor, there was an underlying smartness to it that could only be truly appreciated by a certain sector of society, namely American males who grew up in the seventies and eighties.
OK, so back to that day on the bus. Sitting behind a Japanese girl and the tight Brit. These two people were both disconnected from the culture that could ever truly understand the humor of Beavis and Butt-Head, both socially and geographically. But this didn’t stop the Japanese girl from purchasing the Beavis and Butt-Head comic book, as she had been collecting comic books the entire trip. This was simply another one for the collection.
Her problem today on the bus, after purchasing the comic book, was that she wasn’t completely understanding it. Humor aside, the language and use of unfamiliar American slang was completely beyond her. Fortunately for her (and perhaps moreso for my own entertainment), the English-speaking British guy was there to help out any way he could.
Are you laughing yet? It gets better.
With the Beavis and Butt-Head comic book opened in her lap, the Japanese girl was pointing to each line, attempting to pronounce it, with a puzzled look on her face. The Brit, while he didn’t necessarily understand the humor himself, was still sensible enough to not only pronounce the words for her, but to loosely interpret the meaning of the lines.
From what I remember, a portion of the conversation went something like this:
Japanese Girl (pointing): “What is… shut up… Beavis…?”
British Guy (do the ultra-proper British accent): “Yes, he’s asking him to be quiet.”
Japanese Girl (pointing): “What is… chicks… rule…?”
British Guy (do the accent): “Yes, it seems he’s fond of the ladies.”
Japanese Girl (pointing, puzzled): “And what is… ass… wipe…?”
British Guy (pauses, studying the comic): “Yes, well, I suppose it’s a bloke you don’t fancy too well.”
I laughed so hard I almost coughed up a lung. OMG.