Inspired by a post on a similar topic over at Dr. Sanity.
The joke runs that In Heaven…
All the Comedians are English,
All the Cooks are French,
All the Lovers are Italian,
All the Mechanics are German,
And All the Service is Swiss.
All the Comedians are German
All the Cooks are English
All the Lovers are Swiss
All the Mechanics are Italian
And all the Service is French
Europeans find this funny when they tell it to each other. Everyone knows these are stereotypes and exaggerations. There are some good English cooks. There are some bad German mechanics. The cost of getting to poke fun at someone else is to endure a mild insult oneself. It is an honor to be mentioned at all. Luxembourg and Portugal don’t figure in the equation, for example. It seems a little less funny to them when an outsider tells it, but they can still appreciate the humor.
I told the joke to a Romanian and asked if a similar joke could be constructed with Romania, Hungary, Poland, etc in it. He didn’t think so. He couldn’t put his finger on humorous stereotypes – all of them still had bite and meanness in them. He allowed that Romanians could tell jokes about themselves somewhat, but nationality jokes were still mainly elevations of Romanians at the expense of others. Only recently, he thought, were double-edged jokes told by others beginning to be accepted.
This would seem to be a step forward. It takes a certain largeness of character to laugh at oneself, both as an individual and as a nation. The inability of radical Muslims to endure even a mild insult bespeaks a brittleness and touchiness common to children.
When Chris and John-Adrian came to America at 16 and 14, they had less defensiveness and brittleness about them than I had feared, but more than I as father would hope for. It was quite natural on their part, of course, coming from abuse, rejection, and the insecurity of institutional living. But we started a campaign early to acclimate them to affectionate teasing. My two older sons had an exquisitely fine sense of how and when to push the envelope with their new brothers. John-Adrian’s small group Bible study also sensed the need to banter him up to bring him into full fellowship. They are both well up on the bell curve of giving and taking affectionate abuse now – as I would expect for a Wyman male.
I really like your European joke and what it says about the Europeans' ability to mock themselves and each other. Even being able to tell such a joke shows underlying goodwill. I wonder if there are comparable jokes where the various sects of Islam make fun of each other--or if they are too busy killing each other to come up with jokes?
The one about the German comedian is well justified. Of the humor from different countries I have been exposed to, I find German humor to be the least funny to my ear.
Here are some others I have heard.
Heaven is :
Hell is :
Regarding national stereotypes, my mother had some encounters with Dutch customs agents which caused her to conclude that "The Dutch are more German than the Germans."
I wonder if part of being able to mock oneself (and actually be funny, as opposed to embarrassingly self-flagellating in public) includes basic humility. This may be why so many Americans, especially young ones now, can't do it, and indeed take themselves as seriously as ISIS scum do. Tho fortunately with less lethal results.
What I'm thinking is that if one grows up considering oneself Last Emperor special, unique, gifted, etc. and entitled to the best of everything, it's hard to have a sense of one's own sins, weaknesses and foibles. SO, how to make fun of them?
Whether one is a soft, lazy, materialist brat or some murderous fundamentalist doesn't matter, the humourlessness and arrogance are the same.
Whereas those of us who had the misfortune (as we thought) to be brutalised by savage British teachers and bullying upperclassmen couldn't help but become aware of our own deficiencies. This knocks some of the conceit out.
Also, one learns that some of the great weapons against tyrants are satire, irony, mockery. One doesn't just mock oneself. One pretends to be mocking oneself, when one's peers know one is actually dissing the sadistic brutes running the school/government/platoon.
This is a very different kind of humour to the rubbish practiced by cruel American middle schoolers on the bus who taunt and abuse their peers with "that's so gay..." or "You are SO belonging on the short bus..." or whatever else they can think of to do damage. And then verbally scamper away saying "JUST KIDDING..." No self-mockery, just an avoidance of responsibility for what one has said to wound....
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