As the end of the carnival season is drawing near, Cologne is preparing for six days of celebration. Visitors from all over the world will flock in and be merry. Many foreigners think that Germans love carnival for the sole reason that it gives them permission to shed their otherwise serious face and let their hair down just for a few days a year. But is that really so?
Germans are known throughout the world for many good things. A sense of humour isn’t one of them. I’ve come across this prejudice several times – in Great Britain and Australia. While it may be true that it is not a forte of the German soul to laugh about oneself as systematically as the British do, it would be wrong to say that all Germans ‘go to the basement to laugh’, as a German saying goes.
It is true that, even in laid-back Cologne, people generally seem to have a certain sense of self-righteous entitlement, which I call Anspruchshaltung. For example, complete strangers will pass judgment on anything and everything, from the way you raise your child to the way you ride your bike – not to your face but loud enough to make sure you hear. The concept of queuing in Germany is replaced by the concept of ‘If I cheat my way in front of you, I’m first and you’re stuffed. Hard cheese’! This is just as annoying to many Germans as it is to foreigners.
And yet, humour, in my opinion, is the one thing that unites the world. A (German) friend of mine who recently spent the better part of two years on an aid mission in Afghanistan told me how he ditched all the official advice about treading on eggshells with topics such as sex, religion and politics. Despite being a non-smoker, he decided he’d use cigarette breaks to befriend his Afghan colleagues and just have a good laugh with them. They came to deeply respect him for being the only person to show a true interest in their lives. In the end, they all took the micky out of each other. He was the only German sitting with Afghans during lunch. And the only one who ever got invited to an Afghan house.
So, if you dare, try out your humour with your German colleagues next time. And invite them to pancakes on Veilchendienstag. Read more next week …
The Pommes Buddha says: Humour is the key.