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Blutwölfin
Thursday, May 25th, 2006, 03:58 PM
The Brits often assume that Germans have no sense of humour. In truth, writes comedian Stewart Lee, it's a language problem. The peculiarities of German sentence construction simply rule out the lazy set-ups that British comics rely on ...


In 1873, the British scholar and traveller Professor Basil Hall Chamberlain visited Japan. He recorded his views of the nation's music in his subsequent book, Japanese Things: Being Notes On Various Subjects Connected With Japan. "Music," he wrote, "if that beautiful word must be allowed to fall so low as to denote the strummings and squealings of Orientals, is supposed to have existed in Japan since mythological times ... but (its) effect is not to soothe, but to exasperate beyond all endurance the European breast."
Today this view seems shameful; we can see that it was not, as Chamberlain assumed, that Japan had no musical ability, but that it had no musical tradition that a Victorian professor could recognise. The Japanese musical vocabulary was simply utterly alien to him.

Similarly, a commonly held contemporary British view is that the Germans have no sense of humour. But can this be possible? Can there genuinely be a nation incapable of laughter, or is it just that the German language of laughter differs so greatly from our own, that it appears non-existent?

Our attitude to the Germans and their supposed lack of a sense of humour is best understood through the example of the joke known to comedy professionals such as myself as The German Child. It goes like this. An English couple have a child. After the birth, medical tests reveal that the child is normal, apart from the fact that it is German. This, however, should not be a problem. There is nothing to worry about. As the child grows older, it dresses in lederhosen and has a pudding bowl haircut, but all its basic functions develop normally. It can walk, eat, sleep, read and so on, but for some reason the German child never speaks. The concerned parents take it to the doctor, who reassures them that as the German child is perfectly developed in all other areas, there is nothing to worry about and that he is sure the speech faculty will eventually blossom. Years pass. The German child enters its teens, and still it is not speaking, though in all other respects it is fully functional. The German child's mother is especially distressed by this, but attempts to conceal her sadness. One day she makes the German child, who is now 17 years old and still silent, a bowl of tomato soup, and takes it through to him in the parlour where he is listening to a wind-up gramophone record player. Soon, the German child appears in the kitchen and suddenly declares, "Mother. This soup is a little tepid." The German child's mother is astonished. "All these years," she exclaims, "we assumed you could not speak. And yet all along it appears you could. Why? Why did you never say anything before?" "Because, mother," answers the German child, "up until now, everything has been satisfactory."


Read the whole article (http://www.guardian.co.uk/germany/article/0,,1781004,00.html)