The expression “hollow laughter” translates into French as “rire jaune” (“yellow laughter”). I imagine a dirty, mustardy Dijon yellow – a tarnished version of what once was golden yellow happiness. I flip-flop between preferring the descriptive associations of the French expression with the accuracy of the English version: lately, when I hear myself laugh, it certainly lacks conviction.
N.B. I have translated the block quotes into English at the end of the post. I haven’t figured out how to elegantly present these translations for my non-French speaking readers. Suggestions are most welcome!
Mustard laugh 1: dinner commentary
I recently attended a supper hosted by a former co-worker; all guests were aged within +/- 2 years of me, and every guest was in a long-term relationship, except for myself and another attendee. Some guests had opted to attend without their significant others, but all discussion and exchange was centered around the satisfying and fulfilling lives each couple was building together.
The husband of one acquaintance kindly asked after me, in an avuncular tone, despite being several months’ my junior:
Pis, comment ça va? Es-tu toujours célibataire? Oui?! Mais, comment ça? Me semble que ça fait dont bien longtemps! (*)
Like sheep in a herd, everyone nearby turned to look my way, and stare down pityingly at my single state, from their lovey-dovey perch.
Cue a hollow laugh, matched soon afterwards by his own rire jaune, as he became sheepishly aware of what he’d just said.
Mustard laugh 2: everyday casual discrimination
Recently, I asked another manager (French-Canadian, slightly older than me) at work to give me the name of the person responsible for a very specific business process; when I stumbled over the name, a name I’d never heard before, the manager kindly told me:
Oh, mais ne t’inquiètes pas! Il est super fin, le gars, même s’il a un nom un peu bizarre. (**)
My laughter was genuine, because I assumed he’d been joking when implying there was normally an inverse correlation between niceness and difficulty in name pronunciation. His blank stare prompted me to explain my amusement.
My explanation did alleviate his blank look. Hollow laugh, an attempt at politeness, and then we both scuttled off in opposition directions.
Looking back, I am not sure if he genuinely thought I needed that warning, in which case I seriously need to revamp the image I give off at work, or whether his warning was a reflection of his actual belief in the link between complicated names and personality.
Mustard laugh 3: the definition of a good wife
My father is heavily involved in his parish, whose parishioners are primarily Russian and Eastern European. Last weekend, in a sister parish, the priest received an award from the bishop; his wife’s absence prompted speculation amongst parishioners. It hadn’t been the first time she’d missed a similar occasion, always with the excuse of a prior work commitment; perhaps she missing these occasions voluntarily? My father’s opinion, however, having met this woman several times was that “she’s a good wife, she’s supportive of her husband.”
Hollow chuckle. Har har. Pa, you didn’t just say that the goodness or worthiness of a wife is determined by her willingness to support her husband’s activities or vocation?
Yes, yes he had. There was zero laughter in the ensuing dead-end argument.
In time for the holidays, my wish list is…
I miss the good old days of happy laughter. Chortles, chuckles, giggles and belly laughs, please come back!!
I don’t even like mustard.
(*) “So, how’s it going? Are you still single? Yes? Jeez, how come? Seems like its been awhile!”
(**) “Oh, don’t worry! He’s a really nice guy even if his name is a little weird.”