Friday, August 2, 2013

Unfunny Germans

I live on an American Army base in Germany. I loathe it. What is the fun of living in a foreign country when you are surrounded by other Americans? I do however get a chance to interact with Germans on a daily basis. The section of the base that I live on is guarded, but not by American personnel. It's guarded by a German security firm so every time I drive to my house I have to stop and talk to these German security guards. Down in Heidelberg, I didn't make much of an effort to get to know these guards. They were faceless Germans dressed in a uniform. Upon our move to Wiesbaden, I vowed to be more friendly. With all the driving around I have been doing I have been entering the same gate close to five times a day. And every day the same guard with the nice smile is there. And because I have Heidelberg plates on my car he always says "Welcome to Wiesbaden," with that smile.

I decided to be friendly. After handing my ID and going through the retinal scan, fingerprinting, and DNA analysis that is required to get on base, I struck up a little conversation.

Me - "So, are you like, always here?" Joking tone of voice with a smile.

German Guard as the smile leaves his face - "No, I'm not always here..."

Me with a bigger smile and more joking in voice - "No, I mean it just always seems like you are here when I drive through so I kinda thought you might live in the guard shack."

German Guard with no smile now and with much uncertainty in his voice - "No, they don't make me live in the guard shack. I have a home."

This is the look he was giving me (just substitute the suit with a guard uniform).

I should have just stopped there. I should have taken my ID and driven through the check point and scuttled my little way back to my home. Did I do this? No. I was intent on making sure this German guard knew I was being friendly and was doing this by being jokey.

Me - "No!" as I laugh. "I know you don't live in the guard shack. It just seems you work a lot. Maybe I only drive through on days you work. Maybe we're on the same 'schedule' or something." I'm trying really hard to smile and steer this train wreck into something resembling a friendly connection.

German Guard - "Um... same schedule? Well, I work three days on then two days off so if you drive through on those days, yes, I will be here. But I don't think residents have schedules that they have to follow about when they can come on base..."

This is going nowhere fast and I now have a line of cars waiting behind me so I say "Thanks," and drive off. Much to the relief of this German guard. So what went wrong? I will tell you what I forgot:

Germans not funny

I read an article once that said Germans were voted worldwide the least funny people. Anywhere. Of course, Americans were voted the funniest. And no, it's not an European thing. With all the traveling we have done, we have come across some funny people. There was the waitress in Paris that didn't speak any English and to tell us what was beef on the menu she would moo and laugh hysterically along with us. There was the old Austrian lady who could only say 'hello' until we taught her 'good morning' and she said it every time of day while she laughed because she knew it wasn't morning. There were the Swedes in the Volvo dealership who joked right along with our American group of car buyers. So what is it with these Germans?

(And do I even have to point out that I didn't go through that guard post for the next two days I was so embarrassed. I saw the guard stare at the back of my car in total confusion while I drove away. Oh great. I am now the "crazy American lady who thinks he lives in the guard station." What a great way to be friendly.)

German billboard

It's true that Germans are a hard working people. But does hard work equal no sense on humor? Doesn't the guard know that upon me saying "It seems like you are always here," that he should have said "It sure feels like I am always here. Maybe I should move into the shack and cut down on my commute time." And then I would say, "Hey! There's an idea! You could spruce it up with some throw pillows!" And then we would both chuckle and say "Have a nice day," and be content that we were funny and should share that funniness with another human.

Maybe there just aren't any funny Germans out there.

I looked up laughing Germans and funny Germans and this is what I found. Mostly pictures of people in traditional Bavarian dress drinking beer while laughing. So if I was to go with what I found on the internet, to make a German laugh I have to get them drunk. Alright. Maybe I will drive through again and try the same exchange with the guard but offer him a beer first to loosen him up.

But I doubt it would work. I'd probably get a look like this. So serious it's written on his face.

(This is an actual German. Do you see what I'm dealing with?)

I just want to say thank you to all the people who jumped to the defense of the German people by telling me that they know a funny German. I do know that there are funny Germans out there. I've actually met some. When I wrote this post I was just highlighting a difficult moment I had with one person. I decided to use this one moment to write about something that is talked about, how the German people have a different sense of humor. I hope everyone knows that I wrote this post in good fun (I'm an American after all, isn't everything supposed to be fun?) and meant no harm. Thanks!

5 May 2014 - Second addition - I just want to reiterate that I know there are funny German people out there. The reason I wrote about this was I was just trying to highlight how embarrassed I actually was (and still am when I see this guard). I know not everyone gets sarcasm and irony and such. Luckily, we have a wide assortment of German guards that I can joke with! I hope any German people who read this realize this was all written in jest. After all, some of my very favorite people are German. And quite funny!


  1. Hello, Kelly!

    I want to defend the Germans, but you have a point there. This guard was not funny. Although in this case he might have been a little awkward with the language. It's not always easy to make jokes in a foreign language.

    German is a rich language and leaves a lot of room for "playing around" with words. I find my colleagues at work pretty funny. And one girl, Claudia, she is hilarious. So at least some Germans are funny, once you get to hear Germans in their natural language environment.

    I am a great fan of stand-up comedy. I listen to both classics like George Carlin and coming-up comedians like Dana Alexander. So I can really appreciate it. But, oh, my God, I listened to some German stand-up comedy a few nights ago - so not my thing. Perhaps in some other wording the story about the comedian who doesn't trust the rottweiler with the sign "I'm just playing" on the bloody children playground might have been funny but ...

    Greetings, stay funny!

  2. Funny story. You must have really confused the serious (ernst!) guy. Let's hope he doesn't search your car next time!

    BTW, I emailed you about the prize, this time from a different email address, so I hope it goes through. If it doesn't, could you please leave a message on my blog? Sorry that this is become a series of hoops to jump through. I'm not sure why the emails aren't arriving.

  3. Well, I guess Karl Theodor zu Guttenberg is definitely NOT a funny German. But I am pretty sure that guard just did not get your joke. I know it is a common stereotype that Germans are not funny at all and I do agree that Germans can be a bit grumpy at first but that's just because we need to warm up a bit first and we always expect the worst and we are a little reserved at first with strangers. I am sure you will meet some funny Germans, they are out there! Maybe just not security guards. :)

    1. I have met more funny Germans and some very kind and warm Germans in the almost two years I have lived here. Yes. Funny Germans are out there. You just have to find them! :-)

  4. There ARE funny Germans, I´m married to one. :)

  5. I've taught German in both the States and Canada for a number of years, and in my experience it can be really hard for even the most experienced of speakers to tell whether someone is joking or being serious. The opposite is true as well, properly expressing things like irony or sarcasm so that native speakers will instanly "get it" is probably one of the hardest things to pick up on for learners of any language, and most people never quite get there.

    I often found it hard to tell when my students were trying to joke in German until I got to know them a bit better, and they definitely had similar problems with me.

  6. I think this is a very funny post!

  7. hmmm, maybe some germans don't even know sarcasm and irony. but the most do ;)
    i know a girl, she is from baden-württemberg aswell, and we nerver understood why she is sooooo damned serious. she really don't understand any ironic phrase...

    but hey, you're reeeeally not stereotyping us germans. we're drinking beer aaaaall the day in lederhosen and dirndl and all of ur ads are written in fracture(type)... "true story"... ;)

    don't be angry about this guy. maybe he didn't understood you so well or he was pissed about his job or or he just was too much baden-württemberg?! we're not all serious or bad, give us a chance :)

    (sorry for my bad english - hope you could understand it anyway)

    1. Your English is fine! Better than my German! I wasn't mad at the guard. Just embarrassed!

  8. That's quite an interesting rant! I totally understand where you coming from!

    Remember, you Americans have totally different culture and hence, humour as well. What may be funny for you, may not be funny for us(me being British). Americans tend to fiddle in others' business a lot, specially strangers as its fine to do in their own country. But, this doesn't apply outside America. If we don't know you, we won't simply start joking with you as if we are friends for past 20 years or so. We like to introduce each other before we get into that zone!

    So, be careful, you might be offending a lot of non-Americans with this kinda behaviour where you thinking you are trying to be funny !

  9. Hello Kelly,
    Me as a German living since over 8 years in America - I have to say that it is not easy to teach Americans German Humor - at least some of them - and it takes quite some time - but after a while the are enjoying it or at leas around me they are doing so.
    I also figured out that my kind of humor is nor very productive around police and officials - beeing a hard headed German I still continue knowing that i am getting sooner or later in trouble for this.
    But like the person before mentioned, usually Germans need to warm up or know you prior getting funny.
    And there is one advantage - making jokes at work is in Germany allowed while you are getting in the US in trouble because of horrasm - also here - I am doing it anyway and hide behind "lost in translation"
    My recommendation - teach and lean - teach the German your humor and learn the German humor and the world is getting way more fun!

  10. Hello (from Germany),

    there are unfunny German, like there are unfunny people in every country, but I guess their was more the reason that a stranger in a foreign talk to them and the case that you maybe worn a uniform didnt made it easier, so then he deside to take your word literal so when he missunderstood you and lauth he would offend you, I would has done it maybe the same way

  11. Germans are pretty serious culturally. I base that oh having lived two + years in Frankfurt.

  12. I have found that Germans can be funny, but usually only when they are relaxing and having a beer or four. They definitely don't laugh as easily as Americans do. We've been to see movies in our local theater and we were the only ones who laughed out loud! The Germans mostly just smiled at the funny parts or didn't react.

  13. For English speakers to claim that Germans have no sense of humor is the height of arrogance. This ignores the various definitions of "funny" in different cultures. For a German to not find British humor funny would be equal to a Briton not finding German humor funny. Simply put, German humor is different.
    - Josep


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