"Xenophobe's® Guides: Sense of Humour"

Xenophobe's® Guides: German sense of humour

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

Xenophobe's® Guides: A book series that highlights the unique character and behaviour of different nations with insight and humour.

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).

For more, read The Xenophobe's Guide to the Germans.

Reproduced from Xenophobe's Guide to the German by kind permission of Xenophobe's® Guides.

Photo credit: lizzyliz

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3 Comments To This Article

  • Barbara posted:

    on 20th May 2013, 01:06:28 - Reply

    I agree with both Marietta and Greg; Ii am German, born n USA, and married to a Dutch man (lived in Holland for ten years). l feel jokes are best understood by those who speak the language fluently. My Dutch husband thinks I am serious, but I truly don't understand his punch lines, or sometimes the entire joke. Our German relatives feel the same way. And I don't even bother to tell a joke.because their view of America is so
    wrong...all Americans are NOT rich nor do we all carry guns. We all need to learn more about each other, cultures and traditions,but jokes will always be repeated until they realize we did not get the joke!
  • Greg D. posted:

    on 13th May 2013, 18:51:17 - Reply

    Also living half and half in the U.S. and Germany, I agree with Mz. Mitchell. Not having perfect German, I know a lot is lost in the mental translation of words and deeds. ... and more and likely that works both ways, plus, it also depends on what part of the Country, North or South. And, as Mz. Mitchell said, it becomes more serious in the U.S.
  • marietta mitchell posted:

    on 8th May 2013, 13:17:26 - Reply

    generalisation..I live in the USA and in Germany, life in the USA is no more a laughing matter then in Germany...there are serious and funny people in both places and some of the most serious ones here in the USA ....people who laugh a lot do not shoot each other... another generalisation. ha ha ha