You think you know your own culture, but let’s face it, sometimes you wish someone would tell you what your country is really like. Lucy Duggan explores what the Germans can learn from the British tabloids’ in-depth analyses and vice versa. So Germans, British: get ready to “bare your souls”…!

Here at E&M, we know how much Europeans can learn from each other. Our magazine is founded on the idea that young Europeans should listen to each other’s views in order to come to a better understanding of their own identities. The Europe of the future is a place of greater self-knowledge and better communication.

In this article – hopefully the first in a highly educational series – Lucy Duggan demonstrates one of the best and most reliable ways to learn about your own nation: read the wise words of the foreign press. Take the example of two European nations, both alike in dignity: Germany and England. Particularly in the slow summer months, German newspapers devote many pages not only to speculating on Prince Harry’s outfits, but also to analysing the essence of Englishness – and meanwhile, English journalists selflessly dedicate their intellects to the eternal mysteries of the German soul. We say: what better way to find out the truth about your national character, than to read what other people say about you?

What the Germans can learn about themselves from the English

Funny or weird? | Photo: George Vasey (flickr), The Internet Archive Book Images

Germans (probably don’t) have a sense of humour

If you’re German, the one question which probably keeps you awake at night is this: “Do I have a sense of humour? Okay, so my friends sometimes laugh at my jokes, but all my friends are German, so maybe they don’t actually know what humour is! What I really need is for someone to tell me whether I have a sense of humour or not!”

Germans: the English have got your back. They have invested hours of painstaking research and journalistic chin-scratching into researching this very question. Quite frequently, they have concluded that yes, Germans actually do have a sense of humour – however, they have added many caveats. You may have a sense of humour, but it’s completely different from the British one. You don’t like mocking each other, you don’t like banter. You don’t understand deadpan comments, and the grammatical structure of your language makes it difficult to tell jokes. You have a “dubious enthusiasm for situational slapstick”.

Does this sound comforting to you? Here’s what you can take away: yes, Germans have a sense of humour, but we can’t figure out what it is.

Germans love to be naked

This seems to be less tricky than the mystery of German humour. The English agree that Germans love to be naked in as many situations as possible, and even offer statistics to back this up. And not only that: Germans love being naked so much that they boss everyone else around, ordering them to strip off too. However, the English are aware that this love of nudity hides further secrets: Adrian Bridge begins his article in the Telegraph, “For a nation that sometimes finds it difficult to bare its soul, the German people are surprisingly relaxed when it comes to baring their bodies.”

The German people are a bastion of rationalism, pragmatism and excellent engineering…

If you’re finding it a little difficult to express your sense of angst about being a bossy nudist who probably doesn’t have a sense of humour, don’t worry. At least you keep a cool head in a crisis, and are consistently pragmatic and great at engineering.

… which is one of the reasons why they are so likely to get penis enlargements

If there’s one thing English journalists know, it’s that you should be very careful about praising the Germans. It might go to their heads! All praise should be uttered in a tone of surprise (“Actually, some German restaurants are quite good!”) and should ideally be combined with a put-down of some sort. This Telegraph article, which explains that penis enlargements are popular in Germany because Germans love porn and are good at engineering, is a perfect model of how to praise the Germans: Here, the celebration of “typical German pragmatism and excellent engineering” is wrapped up in many paragraphs of sexual innuendo and WW2 references (we’ll get to those next) and topped off with the immortal claim, “The Germans love porn almost as much as they love sauerkraut.”

Whatever Germans do, it has something to do with the war(s)

If you’re German, you might think that you can do something perfectly ordinary and everyday like reserve a sun-lounger, name your child or bail out Cyprus without reminding yourself of the Second World War.

The English know better. Of course, they are aware that mentioning “the battle of the bulge” in connection with German penis enlargements or comparing the crockery at a restaurant with trays at Colditz is the pinnacle of humour – something which the Germans can (probably) not understand. But it goes further than that. When the English look at Merkel, for instance, they see beyond the “apparent banality of this quiet woman” to the “political mastermind of extraordinary cunning, subtlety and ambition” who has “succeeded where Hitler failed”. As we know, the Germans find it very difficult to bare their souls – but luckily, the English are here to do it for them!

A few more pearls of wisdom about the Germans

“The cult of the German mother is incredibly strong.”

“Germans only manage to produce so much because they have a set of rigid, unbendable rules and they stick to them.”

“When the average German wants to switch off after a hard day at the office, they are more likely to play an Andrea Berg album than open a beer.” (Yes, Germans, you may have thought you were a beer nation, but apparently that’s nothing compared with your addiction to cheesy Schlagermusik.)

What the English can learn about themselves from the Germans

The English are the worst “lounger squatters”

Given that the Germans are such a humourless people, it should come as no surprise that their journalists devote almost all their attention to one of the most fundamental issues in Anglo-German relations: who is more likely to steal the sun-loungers on holiday? The quality newspaper Bild conducted a complex scientific experiment on this very topic, concluding that the English are most likely to reserve loungers using their towels, which are often emblazoned with the Union Jack or the English flag. Of course, this provoked shock among the English, but Bild stood firm, publishing roughly 700 further articles on the same topic, in a valiant attempt to educate their colleagues.

The English love to be naked

Yes, strangely enough, despite being almost entirely alien to one another, these two countries do have one thing in common: our love of nudism. As with the sun-loungers, the English have been in denial about this for a while, but the Germans have helpfully set them straight, and even provided an explanation: the English have an irresistible urge to strip off because they want to emulate their all-time greatest role model, Prince Harry.

The English are happy to have strange names

Evidently aware that they may not be able to solve all the mysteries of the English character without observing their subject in its natural habitat, the Süddeutsche Zeitung sent one of its journalists on a long-term safari into the wilds of London. So far, their intrepid explorer has discovered many shocking facts, including the revelation that English people like to pay by card at the post office, and has succeeded in penetrating some of the most arcane cultural traditions of this island people. For example: English people tend to have bizarre surnames and nicknames as a matter of course. “That the nanny of William Mountbatten-Windsor is genuinely called Tiggy Legge-Bourke is seen as normal here”. Never have our ancient tribal names been analysed with such precision.

The English hide their houses behind ivy

If you’re not yet overcome with admiration at the brave efforts of the Germans to reveal the secrets of the English, you may not yet have realised the magnitude of this task. Perhaps you think it’s easy enough to turn up in London and chat to a few genuine English people? Think again: according to the Süddeutsche Zeitung, the English conceal themselves cunningly in houses which are overgrown with ivy and which often lack even a house number! Truly, the Englishman is a creature of the swampy northern wilds.

And don’t forget: The English are drunken, stupid, overweight, lecherous, tattooed and sunburnt

And talking of the wilds – reading the learned words of German journalists, it’s clear that no country contains more barbaric savages than England. The expert anthropologists at Bild have produced an in-depth exposé explaining the strangest traits of the English, and discussing the medical problems to which these lead. Thus, according to Bild, many English men suffer from “balcony leg”, from jumping off the hotel balcony into the pool when on holiday, and English women frequently show signs of “underwear amnesia”. As one would expect from the rigorous German rationalists, the article includes a helpful diagram and a whole dossier of statistics to prove that English people are especially likely to be sunburnt and fat.

A few more German aphorisms about the English

Photo: pixabay

“Der Brite an sich stirbt früh, und das hat seine Gründe.” [“The British as such tend to die young, and there are reasons for that”]

“Für wie blöd hält man die Schotten eigentlich? Sie sind bessere, vernünftigere Europäer als die Engländer.” [“How stupid do people think the Scots are? They are better, more reasonable Europeans than the English”]

“Der Brite unterscheidet zwischen ‘Hairdresser’ und ‘Barber’. Erstere sind richtige Friseure, Letztgenannte bedienen Schermaschinen und tun anschließend noch kurz so, als würden sie auch mit der Schere umgehen können.” [“The British distinguish between ‘hairdressers’ and ‘barbers’. The former are actual hairdressers, the latter use electric trimmers and then spend a brief moment behaving as if they knew what to do with scissors”]

Cover photo: xingray, CC-BY-NC-SA 2.0

  • retro

    Lucy Duggan's novel Tendrils was published in 2014. She is working on a PhD in Czech and German literature at Oxford University, but when she has the chance, she likes to wander around Prague, Moravia or East Germany. In Oxford, she regularly performs her poetry and prose at the Catweazle Club. She also publishes her miniature stories at www.tinystori.es More information: http://www.peerpress.co.uk/tendrils.html

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