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Last update on November 06, 2019

Need help understanding the Germans’ sense of humour? It’s seriously funny.

The Germans take their humour very seriously. It is not a joking matter.

Humour is used by the Germans to come to terms with life’s reverses and hardships. Most of them know that the best-laid plans will probably collapse into ruin. If more than three things go right consecutively in a German’s day it will occasion fearful speculations about uncanny forces at work in the world.

The Germans’ humour does not translate very well. Most German jokes when translated into English are no funnier than the average till receipt. Learn a bit of German, and you’ll soon come to realize that there is a rich seam of humour running through German life. But their humour is largely a matter of context. There is a time and a place for being funny and for laughing. You do not tell jokes to your boss, nor do you lard your sales pitch or lecture with witticisms. Irony is not a strong German suit and may easily be misunderstood as sarcasm and mockery.

German humour tends to have a target. While they are happy to laugh at others, and especially the misfortunes of others (other Germans, that is), their faltering self-confidence doesn’t allow for self-ridicule.

To help you get a joke, Germans will gladly explain it to you. If they are of an academic bent – or from Stuttgart – the finer points of the explanation will be repeated so that you cannot fail to appreciate it.

Part of the problem is that a lot of Germans apply the rule that more equals better. If a passing quip makes you smile, then surely by making it longer the pleasure will be drawn out and increased. As a rule, if you are cornered by someone keen to give you a laugh, you must expect to miss lunch and most of that afternoon’s appointments. If you’re lucky you may get home in time for Nachbarn (Neighbours).