I've traveled extensively through Eastern Europe, and I've noticed that the people there are really eager to share their customs with outsiders. Whether it's the proper way to take a shot of the local liquor without going blind, the etiquette of bribing a local police officer to get your wallet back, or the cheapest way to transport your new and lovely bride back to America (cargo ship), the charming local people of Eastern Europe are only too happy to help.
But this kindness extends to more than just basics like alcohol, police corruption and the flesh trade. If there's one thing I've learned, it's that Eastern Europeans will go out of their way to explain a joke to complete strangers - even, as luck would have it, if that stranger is wearing a fanny pack and a "These Colors Don't Run" t-shirt. Eastern Europeans have a strange sense of humor, but they're usually more than willing to let you in on the joke.
For example, one time I was in Estonia and decided to go see some live theater. During the play, a small boy walked out onto the stage, and all the other thespians (full-grown men) crowded around him and started poking him with long staffs while giggling like little schoolchildren. Baffled, I turned to a woman next to me and asked her what it was all about. As luck would have it, she spoke English.
"The boy," she explained, "represents Estonia, and the men around him represent the encroaching influence of Russian culture." That made sense so I left it at that. Then I left during intermission and vowed to never go see theater in Estonia again.
Another time I was in a small town in the Prekmurje region of Slovenia, and there was a crowd gathered around a man performing in the town square. Draped in chainmail and furs, he sang an upbeat song and danced around a bit. Then he asked for a volunteer from the crowd, and a young boy stepped forward to applause. The man went on singing his song and dancing about, and then he put his hand down the boy's pants and the entire crowd burst into laughter.
Horrified, I turned to an older woman next to me and asked, "What's the joke there?"
As luck would have it, the woman spoke English (what are the odds in Prekmurje?!). "The man represents the Ostrogoths who once pillaged our land."
"And the boy?!" I asked. "What does he represent?"
"The land," she said.
I guess the moral of the story is "Eastern Europeans like political humor."