No laughing matter

'The English don't tell jokes about the Welsh, but they make silly fun of them. This isn't funny unless you think Wales is funny. And it isn't'
Click to follow
The Independent Online

Yesterday I raised the subject of how countries, or nations, or peoples, make fun of each other, and how whenever we make a joke about the Germans we are unaware that they are just as likely to be making jokes about us. Mark you, our jokes about the Germans are all pretty pathetic by now, as they are still based on images of the Second World War. Whenever Alan Coren does his anti-German routine on the News Quiz, it's all echoes of Lebensraum, and 1,000-year empire, and "Achtung! Schpitfeuer!", and he calls them the Hun and the Kraut, and you think, blimey, if we are going to be serious about anti-German jokes, the British should have thought up some new ones by now. Towels on the edge of the pool. That's a post-war joke. But it's the only new one I can think of.

Well, I suppose there's also the joke about the German who teases the Englishman about the way Germany beats England so often at football.

"How do you feel about us beating you at your national game?"

"Well," says the Englishman, "don't forget that we've also beaten you twice at your national game."

And this stereotype of the Germans as a warrior race is not limited to us. I met a Frenchman once near Rheims (he was in the champagne business) who was introduced to me as an Anglophile.

"Don't meet many Anglophiles in France," I said carefully.

"Well, it stands to reason," he said. "We French don't see much of you English. I come to England every year on holiday, so I know you well. But most Frenchmen don't meet any English people, really. It's different with the Germans. We have a special arrangement with the Germans. They come into France every 50 years and stay here for a few years, and sleep with our women, and make our men work in the fields. So we know them pretty well."

Ouch. Black humour, or what? Much gentler is the story of the two Germans who decide to go on holiday to Paris in 1946, because they had spent a lot of time there in the war as officers in Hitler's army and liked it. But it being 1946, they decide to pretend not to be German, but to be English instead. When they arrive they go into a bar.

"Can we have a Martini?" one of them says in careful English.

"Yes, of course," says the barman, and he turns to start making them. Then he turns back.

"Dry?" he says.

"Nein, zwei," says the German.

Clever, eh? That comes from a two-volume French encyclopaedia of jokes I once acquired, in which all the jokes were ranged by subject matter, so all the jokes about Germans were in one place. And the anti-English jokes. And the anti-Swiss jokes. And the anti-Spanish jokes. And the anti-Corsican jokes... yes, they didn't miss out any of their neighbours. Except, I think, the Belgians, because Belgian jokes come into a special category and get a separate volume of their own. Because Belgian jokes are just Irish jokes all over again.

Except that, and this is a curious thing, people don't tell Irish jokes any more. Whether because of social pressure, or plain fatigue, or inability to think of any new ones, I don't think I have heard anyone tell an Irish joke for a long time. I hope we just got bored with the pretence that the Irish are stupid, knowing full well that most of them could out-talk and out-argue us at the drop of a hat. What seems to have happened, on a much tinier scale, is that the English have started making fun of the Welsh instead. They don't actually make jokes abut the Welsh. They can't think of any. But they make silly fun of the Welsh. I have heard people in political sitcoms saying "We could always raise money by selling off Wales." Stephen Fry, in Blackadder, on being told that he can't marry a certain girl because there's something wrong with her ("she" is actually Hugh Laurie in drag), says: "Lord – she's not Welsh, is she?" There's nothing funny about this, unless you think Wales is funny. And Wales isn't funny, unless comedians set out to try to persuade you otherwise...

Good Lord! I almost forgot! Yesterday I promised you a Chilean joke. Here it is. One Chilean man says to another: "What would you do if you came home and found your wife in bed with another man ?"

"Do?" he says. "I'd be so furious that... I would go and break every window in the American Embassy!"

I haven't got time to explain it. You work it out for yourself.