The Poles ridicule German food, the Belgians say the Dutch are cheap, while Macedonians pity the sexual prowess of Greek men
‘What’s the difference between the Swedes and the Finns? The Swedes have got nice neighbours’. Or so the joke goes. Photograph: Chesnot/Getty Images
Europe is the migrant crisis, the Greek crisis, the euro crisis; It is the CAP, Ecofin and Eurostat; it is Schengen suspended, anti-Europeans on the march, and the imminent threat of Brexit.
But it is also the Finns who snicker at overbearing Swedes (“What’s the difference between the Swedes and the Finns? The Swedes have got nice neighbours”); and the Portuguese, who mock Spanish arrogance (“In a recent survey, 11 out of 10 Spaniards said they felt superior to the others”).
There are the Irish, who joke about buttoned-up Brits (“What’s the English definition of a thrill? Having an After Eight at 7.30”); and the Poles, who have a go at the Germans for pretty much anything (“German footballers are like German food: if they’re not imported from Poland they’re no good”).
Making fun of our best enemies, said Romain Seignovert, who has just published a book on the jokes Europeans tell about their neighbours, is a great European tradition. “We are a big, diverse community with a centuries-long common history of highs and lows, and our humour reflects that,” he says.
“German footballers are like German food: if they’re not imported from Poland they’re no good”
De Qui Se Moque-t-On (Who do we make fun of?) features 345 jokes, many contributed by readers of Seignovert’s blog Europeisnotdead. A 29-year-old Frenchman who studied in Spain and Germany and now lives in Brussels, Seignovert said they underlined the adage that “teasing is a sign of affection. Some of them are pretty crude and unsubtle, but they’re rarely downright nasty.”
“If you knew how to cook and clean,” says a Greek husband to his wife, “I wouldn’t need a maid.” “If you knew how to make love,” replies the wife, “I wouldn’t need a Macedonian lover.”
Thus the Estonians laugh at the hopelessly shy Finns (“How do you tell an extrovert Finn? It’s your shoes he’s looking at, not his”). The Macedonians giggle at the (lack of) machismo of Greek men: “If you knew how to cook and clean,” says a Greek husband to his wife, “I wouldn’t need a maid.” “If you knew how to make love,” replies the wife, “I wouldn’t need a Macedonian lover.”
The only exception are the Italians, who rather endearingly make jokes mainly about themselves: “Your wife cracked such a good joke the other day, I almost fell out of bed.” “Notice on an Italian bus: don’t talk to the driver, he needs his hands.”
Otherwise, though, the Belgians love nothing better than teasing the penny-pinching Dutch: (“How do all Dutch recipes begin? Borrow six eggs, 200g of flour, half a litre of milk …” or “Why do the Dutch make so many jokes about the Belgians? Because they’re cheap.”)
And pretty much all their neighbours finds the Belgians a tiny bit slow: “Why do Belgians have pommes frites, while the Arab world has oil? Because the Belgians got to choose first.” And “What do Belgian mothers do when the baby’s bathwater is too hot? Put on a pair of gloves.”
There is a deeper point. Ultimately, Seignovert said, laughing at our neighbours is “recognising, even celebrating, our particularities. It shows we’re not indifferent. Europe isn’t just political and economic, it’s also cultural – about all these nations, living together. The EU hasn’t made enough of that.”
That may be true. But Seignovert, remember, is French, so what he says should clearly not be taken too seriously. In the words of one particularly fine Belgian quip: “How does a Frenchman commit suicide? By shooting 15cm above his head, right in the middle of his superiority complex.” -By Jon Henley, theguardian
THE PASHTUN TIMES