A plaque remaining from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem.

Above, a 1934 plaque from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem. Discarded as trash in 2006.

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Entry from January 22, 2017
“What’s ‘excuse me’?” (New Yorker joke)

A popular New Yorker or Israeli joke has a reporter ask several people, “Excuse me, what’s your opinion of the meat shortage?”

“What’s ‘opinion’?” asks the Soviet.
“What’s ‘meat’?” asks the Pole.
“What’s ‘Excuse me’?” asks the Israeli/New Yorker.


The joke was printed in the Jerusalem Post in July 1987, when it was described as a popular joke recently making the rounds. It was made into a New Yorker joke by at least 1990.


Wikipedia: Jewish humour
Israelis’ view of themselves:

An Israeli, a Brit, a Russian, a Vietnamese, and an American are sitting in a restaurant. A reporter comes by and asks, “Excuse me, but can I get your opinion on the recent grain shortage in the third world?”
The Brit asks: “What’s a ‘shortage’?”
The Vietnamese asks: “What’s ‘grain’?”
The Russian asks: “What’s an ‘opinion’?”
The American asks: “What’s the third world?”
The Israeli asks: “What’s ‘excuse me’?”

(As a note, this is not strictly an Israeli joke; the Israeli can be replaced by other stereotypically rude or overbearing people—for example, New Yorkers—or those used to being treated as second-rate citizens, with little effect on the joke.)

10 July 1987, Jerusalem (Israel) Post, “Just for Laughs” by Matt Nesvisky, pg. A5, col. 1:
HERE’S AN EXAMPLE that recently made the rounds from Dan to Beersheba. Since it’s so recent, you’ve no doubt heard it, so I won’t go through the whole routine.

The joke has to do with a pollster asking persons from a number of nationalities; “Excuse me, but what is your opinion of the meat shortage?” THe upshot is that the Russian doesn’t understand the term opinion; the Pole doesn’t understand what meat is; the American can’t comprehend the idea of a shortage; and the Israeli asks: “What’s Excuse me?”

Google Books
The Jokes of Oppression:
The Humor of Soviet Jews

By David A Harris and Izrail Rabinovich
Northvale, NJ: J. Aronson
1988
Pg. 217:
They sought out an American, an Israeli, a Pole, and a Soviet. “Excuse me, we’re conducting a poll on the shortage of meat in your country,” the pollster informed each of the four.
“What’s a ‘shortage’?” the American asked.
“What’s ‘excuse me’?” the Israeli asked.
“What’s ‘meat’?” the Pole asked.
“What’s ‘poll’?” the Soviet asked.

Google Groups: rec.humor
The results of the survey are
Henry Cate III
5/17/90
(...)
A pollster was taking a worldwide opinion poll.
Her question was, “Excuse me; what is your opinion on the meat shortage?”

In Texas, the answer was “What’s a shortage?”
In Poland, the answer was “What’s meat?”
In the Soviet Union, the answer was “What’s an opinion?”
In New York City, the answer was “What’s excuse me?”

Google Groups: alt.activism.d
The Utilitarian Vegetarian
John McCarthy
12/20/91
(...)
This reminds me of a joke.  A public opinion organization decides to ask the same question of passers by in different countries.  The interviewer is to say:

Excuse me, what is your opinion of meat rationing.

He gets the following replies in different countries.

America: Rationing? What’s rationing?
Poland: Meat?  What’s meat?
Soviet Union: Opinion?  What’s opinion?
Israel: Excuse me?  What’s Excuse me?

Google Groups: rec.humor
any ethnic jokes?
Robert Lewis
12/27/96
A Saudi Arabian, a Russian, a Chinese, and a New Yorker are walking down the street together when they’re approached by a man conducting a poll.

“Excuse me,” says the pollster, “But what is your opinion of the meat shortage?”

“Excuse me,” says the Saudi, “But what’s a ‘shortage’?”

“Excuse me,” says the Russian, “But what’s ‘meat’?”

“Excuse me,” says the Chinese, “But what’s an ‘opinion’?”

“Excuse me,” says the New Yorker, “But what’s ‘excuse me’?”

1 July 1999, Charleston (SC) Gazette, “Now where’s that bathroom” by Terry Marchal, pg. 1C:
Warren Hudson said a reporter, doing a person-on-the-street interview, approached a group of four guys on a New York street. The group included a Saudi Arabian, a Russian, a North Korean, and a New Yorker.

“Excuse me, what’s your opinion of the meat shortage?” the reporter asked.

“What’s a shortage?” asked the Saudi.

“What is meat?” asked the Russian.

“What is an opinion?” asked the Korean.

“What’s ‘excuse me’?” asked the New Yorker.

Reddit—Jokes
A Texan, A Russian and a New Yorker.
submitted January 21, 2017 by bll1723
A Texan, a Russian and a New Yorker go to a restaurant in London. The waiter tells them, “Excuse me—if you were going to order the steak, I’m afraid there’s a shortage due to the mad cow disease.” The Texan says, “What’s a shortage?” The Russian says, “What’s a steak?” The New Yorker says, “What’s ‘excuse me’?”

Posted by Barry Popik
New York CityNames/Phrases • Sunday, January 22, 2017 • Permalink