The joke is on the Germans

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The Independent Online
Germans may be wealthier and drive more expensive cars but for most British people their image remains of a boring, humourless, efficient race intent on taking over the world.

And most Germans have alow opinion of the British too as backward, under-achievers who live in the past and glory in Sunday afternoon re- runs of Sink the Bismarck, Colditz, and The Battle of Britain.

Now these stereotypes, hardened by the beef war, are to be investigated by academics, politicians and business people to promote better relations. An international conference on the war of insults between the two countries, to be held in Cardiff, host city for next year's European Summit, will debate how to bring about a ceasefire in the sniping.

Conference organiser, Dr Rainer Emig, a German academic working at Cardiff University, says the British image of Germans is wrong. "The image is of a cold, abstract thinker who is complex with no sense of humour. We talk and think in an incredibly long-winded way and we are an aggressive, imperialistic force, still dangerous and still planning to take over the world.

"What is worrying to me is why so many people here watch television on Sundays when there are all war and post war propaganda films on which portray all Germans as Nazis. I think that represents an unwillingness to accept that things have changed."

He says that the German image of the average Briton is a less aggressive one: "We see the British as cultured, sophisticated, but at the same time harmless, incompetent, eccentric, charming, backward, and not living in the present but in grandiose notions of the past."

He points out that the stereotype is basically an English one rather than a British one: "It's about country houses, Jane Austen, living in the past."

A key area for debate in the conference is likely to be German humour, or the lack of it. One tip from Dr Peter Collett, Oxford University research psychologist and author of Foreign Bodies, is that jokes that do go down well in Germany tend to centre on anal humour.

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