FaceTiming With Mom. #1: The Roman Joke

My 75-year-old mother just LOVES to FaceTime. It is, as she describes it, “really a miracle.” It is not a technology I use often, but when I do it’s with her. I know it means a lot to her, seeing as she never really expected her baby—and youngest daughter—to fly so far away from her coop (I live several hours away and it’s been that way for many years).

She rarely guilt trips me about it anymore, and has learned to accept my absence with a few grains of salt and the comfort of knowing that she can see me whenever she likes and for free. It is a delicate dance, because I’m not a FaceTime fan, but I try to give her the pleasure of my 2D company for awhile each week.

My mom is a Croatian immigrant, with a thick accent that her over 50 years of living in the U.S. never erased. I must give her credit, though: She speaks and reads English quite well and never has a problem being understood.

But to her own admission, she still THINKS in Croatian and it will always be her strongest way to communicate, and at times that can make her unintentionally funny in the most adorable way. Being born and raised in a WWII-era village—then jumping immediately into the insulating business of stay-at-home procreation and grandmotherhood—has also made her a little unaware of some popular cultural ways of communicating, which manifests the same effect.

Today was a day, like many days before it, when those two facts about her converged in the most charming way.

I wanted to spice up our usual conversation, so I decided to teach her a joke…


Me: “Hey Ma…would you like to hear a joke?”

Mom: (says with enthusiasm) “Yeah, OK!”

Me: “What did the Roman say when he walked into the bar?”

Mom: “A what?”

Me: “A Roman.”

Mom: “OK…a ROMAN in a BAR…OK” (laughs)

Me: “What did the Roman say when he walked into the bar?”

Mom: “You already said that.”

Me: “Yes, I know, but with jokes it’s often a good idea to start over if it gets interrupted. In comedy, timing is everything, Ma.”

Mom: “Oh OK. Are you starting over now?”

Me: “Yes, I am. You ready? What did the Roman say when he walked into the bar?”

Mom: (says thoughtfully, quietly and with concentration) “What…did the ROMAN say….when he was at the BAR……hmmmmmmm.”

Me: “Ma, I don’t really want you to think about it. It’s a rhetorical question; it’s a joke.”

Mom: “Oh OK I thought maybe I’d guess it (laughs). What did he say?”

Me: (holds up 2 fingers into the camera) “5 beers, please.”

Mom: (laughs) “5 beers, please!!” (laughs again, then says earnestly) “So he made the peace sign, so why did he do that?”

~Editorial Note: My mom thinks I’m a hilarious genius no matter what, hence the laughter despite obvious confusion.~

Me: “It’s not a peace sign, Ma. It’s 2 fingers, but he wants 5 beers. And he’s a Roman, so he is making a V, like a Roman numeral 5.”

Mom: (looks at the kitchen clock for reference, which has Roman numeral face) “Oh yeah! 5!!!!!!” (doubles over in laughter)

Me: “Isn’t that cute? Do you want to practice telling it to me so you can use it if you want?”

Mom: “OK.”

Me: “OK, go!”

Mom: “What does a Roman like to say when he goes into bars?”

Me: “It’s important you say ‘What did the Roman say when he walked into the bar?‘, Ma. ‘Walking into the bar’ jokes are common, and people are used to hearing it said that way. OK?”

Mom: “OK.”

Me: “OK, go again!”

Mom: “What did the Roman say when he walked into the bar?”

Me: “What?”

Mom: (holds up 2 fingers, then starts laughing and smiling triumphantly)

Me: “Ma, you need to give me the punchline, remember?! I need the fingers AND the punchline in order to get this joke.”

Mom: “Oh, yeah yeah right! (holds up 2 fingers, then says with confidence)  5!!!….What was it, beer?”

Me: *sigh*

She eventually got it right. Happy Joketelling, Ma.