Case Study: International Sense of Humour
Lewis claims that “humour crosses national boundaries with difficulty, especially when heading east”. Different nations generally laugh at different jokes, and with great resistance perceive anecdotes of their nation funny. It is accepted that in an unknown, multinational environment jokes about religion, underprivileged minorities or sex are not told. Similarly, “black” or “sick” humour is forbidden. However, it is proven that a phenomenon like international humour also exists. The funniest stories are usually those that really happened in organizational life.
Humour in a multinational company
The story took place in a multinational corporation operating all over the world. The company’s main business aim is to provide information, news, or data analysis to its clients. One clerk, called Tom, came back to his office in the company’s headquarters in New York after the holidays. He noticed that while he was having fun far away from everyday duties, somebody had taken his desk lamp and had not brought it back. Therefore, he sent an e-mail entitled ‘Where is my lamp?’, complaining about the whole situation. The person who was supposed to receive it was the building administrator. However, the person who really got it was the Chief Executive Officer (CEO), the second most important person in their huge international company. The clerk did not realize the mistake at that time, because he had just unconsciously dropped one letter in the e-mail address. The CEO replied that he knew nothing about the lamp and did not know how to help him either. In his next e-mail, Tom suggested the receiver could ask people about the lamp, look for it, and generally, do anything to find it! Then the CEO, staying calm and polite as he was, sent an e-mail to the building global administrator, asking for solving this problem. And then… the correspondence between the CEO and the clerk was sent further… During the next few hours the whole company, all over the world, was laughing at the story. All the co-workers wanted to help to find the lamp somehow. Some psychical support groups were created, at one of the biggest social network portals a post appeared ‘Where is my lamp?’ and during one day a few thousands of people clicked the ‘like it’ button. Finally, the clerk discovered his mistake. Being very, very sorry in his last e-mail to the CEO did not make the corporation’s employees stop laughing at least for a week. All the meetings and training that took place during that week in all the international subsidiaries started with the ‘Where is my lamp?’ story. It was difficult to forget it.
Questions to the case study:
1. Why was the story so funny for the employees of the corporation?
2. The CEO seemed to have a good sense of humour. What would have happened if the boss had had a different sense of humour or no sense of humour at all?
3. What would you have done if you were the boss?
4. Refer to the cultural dimensions. How such a situation could have been perceived by members of a different cultural group?
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