First Published in Zeitgeist, September 1st 2006

Three World Cups and a Pope

Published: Autumn 2006 in Zeitgeist, the magazine of the British-German Association

Being the German Comedy Ambassador in the United Kingdom is not the easiest of jobs. The British always say we Germans don’t have a sense of humour. Well, I don’t find that funny.

Performing in comedy clubs up and down the UK made me familiar with most regional stereotypes. Geordies don’t wear coats, Scousers steal the milk out your tea, Welsh love sheep, Scots are skinflints, Cornish have six fingers on a hand and so on and so forth.

Some of the most clearly defined stereotypes are reserved for us Germans though. In the cold light of day presumably nobody really believes that people in Germany goosestep up and down the Hauptstrasse in Lederhosen, singing David Hasselhoff’s latest hits whilst munching on Bratwursts.
But it is such an entertaining thought to have, why adjust it? Never let the truth stand in the way of a good story as the old saying goes. I therefore doubt very much that the positive experiences that English football fans sampled on their trips to the World Cup 2006 will change the stereotypes about Germany in the long term. All it takes for normality to prevail will be a few more reruns of Allo Allo and Dad’s Army.

What makes me chuckle is that it is perfectly acceptable to take the piss out of Germans, or French or ginger people for that matter, whilst society gets its knickers in a twist trying not to offend ethnic minorities. I read the other day that the BBC wants to vet old Only Fools and Horses episodes and cut out remarks which could be considered derogatory to people from Asian or African background. I am all against discrimination but I think the biggest insult is to be deemed too inferior to be mocked.
What would happen to ‘Allo ‘Allo if BBC would decide to cut out all elements that might be deemed insensitive towards Germans? Listen very carefully – as there will not be many words left.

It must be said that in the five years I have been here I have not once felt threatened or offended by any comments as they were all good natured. It just becomes tedious. “Does meine Führer fancy eine pint?” is funny only the first 8,000 times.

As outdated as the British perception of Germany might be, it is equally difficult to characterise the British society because of its incoherence. On the one hand, I see lovely countryside, castles, Natives and Colonial motto parties (Harry, next time you must take me along!) and jam making competitions. On the other hand, I see chair-hurling tattooed yobs singing Rule Britannia and scantily-clad girls lying drunk in the gutter.

What all British classes have in common is an astonishing arrogance in all questions concerning humour. Contrary to the usual trademark modesty and understatement no Brit will get tired of letting the world know about his or her great sense of humour, which all other nations, in particular Germans, lack. You will be shocked to learn that there are not many differences between British and German humour.
Someone falling over or getting a cake in the face is funny everywhere. Also, two fat blokes, a cannibal or a vicar guarantee a good pub joke in any country.

As a rule of thumb, I think the British are perceived by the Germans as what they are: a funny bunch who love a laugh and are useless at playing football and running trains.

Posted by Henning Wehn on Friday, September 1st, 2006.
Filed Under: Writing


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