Thematic Sheet

Facetious tales

Laughs best who laughs last !
Hitar Pétar

Jokes, funny stories or facetious tales: these laughable words are part of oral transmission and have a large number of variations. Humour and laughter are powerful antidotes to life’s difficulties!

Funny words

Facetious tales make fun of human flaws. The most numerous are tales with satire of ridicule, for example: The stupid man, The stupid son-in-law, The stupid landlord, Wild things in the world and others.

Stupidity is associated with other faults, such as laziness (for example Motovila’s Villa), stubbornness or evil (for example The Evil Woman).

The stories of Hitar Petar (Peter the Cunning), a typical Bulgarian and Macedonian hero, are among the best known humorous folk tales in Bulgaria. Hitar Petar is a funny and clever man, who plays tricks or gives good lessons to powerful, rich and naive characters like a rich landowner or a priest. Laughing challenges hierarchies and powers.

Here are some of Hitar Petar’s stories: Hitar Petar at the fair, A slap in the face for the wine, Hitar Petar and the priest, Hitar Petar and his wife, etc.

Characteristics of humorous stories

  • They take place in reality.
  • They stage social relationships.
  • In these tales, some are opposed to others (stupid or ignorant versus cunning, greedy versus clever, intelligent or clever versus unfaithful…).
  • These humorous tales describe one of the oldest forms of social life, named since the ancient Greeks the mètis: it’s the ability to invent tricks and lies, making a mean for the weak and the poor to defeat the strong, the powerful and the rich.
  • Facetious tales make people laugh and think.
  • The stories are relatively short.
  • The speech is direct: the characters’ dialogues are linked to actions and events.
  • The characters are human.

Some of the most famous facetious tale heroes :

  • Hitar Peter in Bulgaria
  • Nasr Eddin Hodja in Turkey and in Muslim Culture
  • J’Ha or Joha in the Maghreb
  • Herschel among the Yiddish
  • Tiel the Playful in Germany
  • Jean le Sot in France

Their words turn situations upside down, reverse roles, denounce abuses: they enable us to resist injustice and to see the world in a new light.
In facetious tales, humour invites us to a form of wisdom and makes us laugh together despite our differences.

And since a good story is better than a long speech, here are three of them.

Hitar Petar

Hitar Petar goes to a lunch dressed in old clothes with holes and tears in them. No one comes to welcome him. He thinks about it, goes home, exchanges his old rags for nice clothes and comes back.
This time, his hosts welcome him and invite him to join the table. They serve him a coffee:

  • Voilà, Pétar, welcome!
    Hitar Pétar takes the cup and starts to pour the coffee on his beautiful clothes.
  • But why are you doing this, Pétar?!
  • I pour the coffee on my clothes, because it’s them that you have honoured, not me.

Nasr Eddin

Nasr Eddin travels on the high seas and the ship begins to sink. Everyone starts bailing out, but he draws water from the sea to fill the boat.

  • Are you crazy, do you want to perish?, say his fellow sufferers, alarmed.
  • My mother taught me that in case of danger, you have to side with the strongest! Nasr Eddin answers them.


One day Joha’s neighbour caught him throwing salt around his house.

  • Why are you doing this? he asks him.
  • It’s to keep the tigers away…
  • But there have never been any tigers around here!
  • Well you see,” Joha answers, “it’s really efficient !


  • Organise a funny story workshop.
  • Tell the stories to several people (role-playing)
  • Post a facetious story or joke in the classroom every day. Those who want to tell it…