Arts and Culture

Why Germans Don’t Joke

By Luise Werner

Source of puzzle picture Between the UK and Germany

You might say Germans just don’t have any humour. I’m saying we draw an invisible, hard-to-define line where funny stops and offensive begins. But it only took three years to teach me that such a line is far beyond anything I would consider reasonable in the English world of banter. 

Matthew Bevis in his book, Comedy, A Very Short Introduction, states that “a shared joke is a shared world”, I state that a joke you do not share can sometimes have severe consequences. 

Let me explain what I mean. One joke I have heard repeatedly during the summer was “Two World Wars – One World Cup” after England’s win in the European Cup game against Germany. (Before I go any further, I have to agree that England did deserve that win and Germany certainly did not play well – there, I said it). But whilst almost everyone in England viewed this as “good banter”, I did not. The main reason for that is Germany’s unique position when it comes to World War Two jokes. This, in short, is because we do not do them. The weight of our history is too much to joke about. The best example is the simple fact that the first time the German flag was put out across the population confidently and comfortably was in 2006 when Germany hosted the World Cup. 2006 – over 60 years after the war ended. This is partly because the idea of being patriotic was – and somehow still is – connected to the idea of having a right-wing political orientation. A joke about World Wars is what I would put over the line black humour category. Or the “no” to the “oh come on, relax, it’s a joke”. 

Another main humour difference, particularly in the modern day and age, is swearing. “Cunt”, “nob”, “prick”, “dick”, or even “wanker” are just a few examples of endearments I would not be calling my friends at home. Simply because it would be viewed as offensive. So, even if I did dare to call them “Wichser”, or similar, this would be followed by an apology. That which is viewed as offensive you tend not to joke about. This is also likely where the idea of the humourless German originates. 

However, just because we tend not to insult our friends relentlessly does not mean that we don’t swear. It is the complete opposite actually, words like “shit” and “fuck” are as common in our everyday life. You drop something at the dinner table at home, you swear: Scheiße. As most of you, all too familiar with English culture, will know, this might not be your first choice of response. Hearing it will most likely surprise you. Similarly, having heard English people address each other offensively or joke about World Wars is what has and still does surprise me. So, if you don’t see someone laughing, maybe stop for a moment and reconsider who you are talking to. Maybe they just don’t understand English culture. Or maybe it’s just a bad joke.