“Europe doesn’t grow because of the treaties. It grows from the heart of the citizens, or is doomed to failure“.
Konrad Adenauer, first chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany.
But who are we laughing at? Belgian jokes are very popular in France, Luxembourg and the Netherlands such as jokes about the Swedes are very common in Norway, Denmark and Finland. In the Baltic countries, people tend to laugh at the Estonians, whereas in Balkan countries, they do jokes about the Bosnians. Europe is full of this “jokelore”! But don’t worry, most researchers like Davies and Leon Rappoport argue that ethnic jokes do not propagate ethnic stereotypes, but are instead a way to interact positively between communities. According to Anthony Giddens, jokes about our neighbours provide a sense of personal security and frame a “known” and “controllable” identity. If scholars say so, why not enjoy a bunch of them then?
This article has been adapted into a book now available in French in bookstores and online! Each European country takes the mickey out of their neighbours – but in a different way! The French find the Belgians simple-minded, the Spanish seen arrogant to the Portuguese, the Irish reckon Brits are all repressed and Swedes think the Norwegians a bunch of hicks. Read in French De Qui Se Moque-t-On ? Tour d’Europe en 345 Blagues. On this informative journey, you will discover other Europeans have a wicked sense of humour! If you wish to adapt the book into English, contact me here.
“Portugal is the only country in the world where a man’s mistress is uglier than his wife”
After a long period of struggle for political power on the Iberian peninsula and overseas, the Spaniards and the Portuguese are nowadays better friends. But the cultural differences between both countries remain and are subject to jokes from both sides. In the Spanish ‘jokelore’, the Portuguese often appear as deeply melancholic and introverted people – in stark contrast with the extroverted mindset of their Castilian neighbours. Most of the jokes in Spain are thus targeting the Portuguese and to a greater extent the Galicians. The Spaniards love making fun of the Portuguese, joking especially about their physical appearance or their backward habits.
– How do you recognize a Spaniard in a library?
– He is the only one to look after a world map of Madrid ”
The Spanish jokes about the Portuguese couldn’t remain unanswered. The Portuguese have an old and resentful feeling towards their peninsular neighbour who is often portrayed as an upstart and uppity “big brother.” Quite a few Portuguese will for instance express satisfaction at the idea that there are almost as many speakers of Portuguese as Spanish in the world. But when it comes to jokes, the Portuguese don’t mince their words and depict the Spaniards as a mix of proud, arrogant and disdainful individuals.
France - Luxembourg
Two Belgians are driving a truck and arrive at a bridge with a warning sign: maximum height 4 meters. They get off and measure their truck. It’s 6 meters high.
– What shall we do? asks the one.
– I don’t see any police, says the other one, so let’s drive on
In their jokes, the French would always tend to depict their Belgian neighbours as either dumb and retarded or with a weird accent and outdated vocabulary. The “Belgian jokes” appeared in France long ago – originating at a time when a great number of Belgians settled in the North of France to work in factories and were assimilated by local workers as “strikebreakers”. Their origins could even be older, as we find a quote by the French poet Charles Baudelaire writing in 1864: “All the Belgians, without exception, have empty cranium“. Who needs enemies when you have neighbours like the French…
– Why do we say ‘going to the toilets’ in France and ‘going to the toilet’ in Belgium ?
– Because in France, you have to visit many of them before finding one clean enough.
The Belgians soon started to answer their French neighbours back – depicting them as either rude, arrogant and with a superiority complex or with a loose definition of personal hygiene. The “arrogant Frenchman” became a deeply rooted stereotype and was also fed by the attitude of some French politicians, like Charles De Gaulle, who both during World War II and later as President (1958-1969) expressed a very non-cooperative and independent view on world politics.
– Why do the Dutch people love the Belgian-jokes so much?
– They are cheap.
The Belgian jokes about the Dutch generally refer to their alleged stinginess. The Belgians can further entertain themselves with jokes about each Dutch person owning a cheese slicer and a bicycle – two tools that obviously also exist in Belgium but are far less common than in the Netherlands.
“Then there was the cross-eyed Irish teacher who resigned because he had no control over his pupils.”
Irish jokes have sinister origins. They originate in the simian portrayal of Irish people in English comic magazines of the mid-late 19th century – depicting the Irish as stupid apes given to agrarian and alcohol-fuelled violence against their benevolent and tolerant English masters. The Irish jokes seem nevertheless to have survived the era of political correctness and are nowadays much like a kind of friendly teasing between neighbours who share a lot in common.
– What does an Englishman do for thrills?
– Eats an After Eight mint at 7:30.
Irish jokes have recently been reclaimed by Irish people themselves and reversed to ridicule the Englishmen and their jokes. There is sometimes a debate to discuss whether Irish jokes made by Englishmen were racist or not. But the shift in humour between both countries seems to have changed in nature – for our greater pleasure.
Ole (Norwegian) and Sven (Swedish) went on a fishing trip to Canada and come back with only three fish. Ole says,
– The way I figger it, Sven, each of them fish cost us $400 !
– Well, at dat price it’s a good ting we didn’t catch any more of em than we did, says Sven.
Since Sweden has long been the dominant country among the Nordics, the Norwegian national identity had to be built in opposition to them – this also applied to their jokes. The Norwegians tend to depict the Swedes as ‘impolite’ big brothers who always think they know best. Two characters Ole, the Norwegian, and Sven, the Swede, often embody this Norwegian-Swedish war-joke.
– How do you say ‘genius’ in Norway?
– A tourist.
The Swedes love poking fun at their (beloved) Norwegian neighbours – much more than at the Danes or the Finns. In their jokes, the Norwegians are often depicted as rich neighbours – after all, they are lucky to have found oil and gas reserves – but paradoxically dumb and rustic at the same time. For instance, they are said to like mountain climbing because they need a place to heal their (regular) hangovers…
– Why do Danish people never play hide and seek?
– Because nobody wants to look for them.
In the old days, Sweden was just a part of the Danish Kingdom. For historical reasons, the Swedes still bear the Danes a grudge. They are often portrayed as untrustworthy and imbued neighbours with a deep inclination for dolce far’ niente. The Swedes would also tend to portray them as beer-drinkers, happy-go-lucky, vaguely unhygienic and profoundly disorganised people.
“The difference between a Finnish wedding and a Finnish funeral is that at a funeral there’s one person not having vodka.”
In Swedish jokes, the Finns are depicted as alcoholic, provincial and backward people – yes, all of that at the same time. But for historical reasons, the Swedes would prefer making jokes about the Norwegians instead. A ‘touch love’, we assume…
– What is the difference between Swedes and Finns?
– The Swedes have nice neighbors!
The Finns mainly joke about the Swedes – their closest neighbours. They depict them as not very bright guys with no sense of humor. Surprisingly, the Finns also like to joke about themselves and their complicated relationship with… alcohol.
“Keep Denmark clean – show a Swede to the ferry.”
Since there was a historical fight for hegemony between Denmark and Sweden, the Danes tend to depreciate their northern neighbours in their jokes. The joke above may be a reference to the Swedish habits of coming to Denmark to buy alcohol and get drunk in the ferries on their way back to Sweden.
“Hey, I’m Danish”
Icelanders bear a tremendous grudge against the Danes, from whom they got independence only in 1944. The Icelandic sense of humour can be very dark and sometimes misinterpreted by foreigners. Most of the time, Icelanders make jokes about the Danish language – watch this stand-up comedy clip by Jón Gnarr to get a better understanding. The guy even became mayor of Reykjavík between 2010 and 2014.
– Why wasn’t Jesus born in Belgium?
– God couldn’t find three wise men in Belgium.
The Dutch sense of humour has changed over centuries. In the 16th century, the Dutch were renowned for their witty sense of humour throughout Europe, and a large number of travel journals have notes on the happy and celebratory nature of the Dutch. But with the decline of the country’s golden age, the Dutch suddenly lost their sense of humour. During the Second World War, Americans soldiers were even instructed not to tell jokes to the Dutch as “they wouldn’t appreciate it”! The Dutch have nowadays a dark ironic and sarcastic humour which is often quite bold.
– What do you call it when 2 whites are pushing a car?
-What do you call it when 2 blacks are pushing a car?
– Black Power
– What do you call it when 2 Poles are pushing a car?
– Grand theft auto.
Some of the earliest Polish jokes, also called Polack jokes, in reference to an ethnic slur, might have been told originally before World War II in disputed border-regions such as Silesia. This is what Christie Davies wrote in The Mirth of Nations suggesting that “Polish jokes” did not originate in Nazi Germany, but a lot earlier, as an outgrowth of regional jokes rooted in “social class differences reaching back to the nineteenth century”. In the US, polish jokes are very popular. In their German equivalent, the Poles are depicted as lazy and unemployed people who distinguished themselves in the art of stealing.
–Why did Ikea stop opening stores in the Netherlands?
– They couldn’t afford the free pencils anymore.
The Germans make a lot of jokes about the Dutch and people living in East Frisia – a German region close to the Netherlands. They depict the Dutch either as marijuana smokers, skinflint or slow drivers on motorways (typically with a caravan attached to their car). The Germans particularly fancy the (weird-to-their-ears) Dutch accent.
– What is the name of this German who always hides my glasses?
A bit like in Ireland against England, the Poles fought German jokes back by inventing their own jokes. Against the historical background and the source for humour they could find in Nazi regime, the Poles went to make jokes about the Germans, depicting them as authoritarians, not good-looking and bad lovers.
“Why is the Austrian flag ‘red-white-red’?
– So that they can’t raise it upside-down.
For linguistic reasons, the Swiss-Germans frequently make jokes about the Austrians, portraying them as dumb, provincial and foolish neighbours.
– Did you know the Belgian Ministry of Transport has introduced a new sign?
– It reads “End of Roundabout”.
The Swiss living in the French-speaking part of the country tend to vehicle the same Belgian jokes as the French do. It is worth noting that the Swiss-French depict the Belgians the same way as the Swiss-Germans depict the Austrians.
– What do you call an Italian with his hands in his pocket?
– A mute
The Italians don’t seem to have a specific national target for their jokes. They do have some jokes about the French, the Germans or the Brits, but not to the same extent as other countries have with their neighbours. On the other hand, the Italians have a lot of jokes about themselves, their moms, their FIAT and their policemen. Watch the now famous joke about an Italian who went to Malta. It’s worth a click!
The Prime Ministers of Germany and Austria met to exchange notes.
– How are things in Germany? asked the Prime Minister of Austria.
The German sighed:
– Well, in Germany the situation is serious, he said, but not hopeless.
– In Austria the situation is hopeless, the Austrian Prime Minister replied, but not serious.
The Austrians have a lot of jokes highlighting how disorderly and happy-go-lucky they are compared to their Teutonic neighbours.
“The Slovak language has been invented by Stur has he was drunk and tried to translate Russian to Czech”
When the Slovaks and the Czechs tell jokes, they actually tend to laugh at each other, but most of the cases, they tell exactly the same jokes! The jokes often focus on the rare differences between their languages and the misunderstandings it feeds. The fact they both tell these jokes proves that they have the same sense of humour and understand perfectly each other.
A Slovak man, a Polskie man and a Czech man buy German cars.
The Slovak man buys a Mercedes-Benz.
The Polskie man buys a BMW.
And the Czech man buys a Trabant.
The Slovaks have many jokes about the Czechs – they mainly deal with their alleged backwardness and sexual deviances. Some jokes imply that the Czechs often ignore scientific and technological advances happening in other countries. Others portray the Czechs as heavy drinkers who would rather choose to drink before thinking – even in life or death situations.
– Why is that in Estonia young mothers change their children’s nappy only once a day?
– Because there is a note written on the packet: up to 4 kg.
The Lithuanians often make jokes about the Estonians –focusing on how allegedly stupid and slow they are. Most jokes actually revolve around the excessive slowness of the Estonians. A scholar, Arvo Krikmann, even published a paper in which he analyzed the frequency of the supposed Estonian slowness in Baltic jokes.
“In the film “Matrix” the stand-in of the main character Neo was Estonian.”
Jokes about the alleged slowness of the Estonians are also found in Latvia. Actually, in contemporary Russian slang, the mocking name for Estonians is “stick-in-the-mud”. The French also have the same kind of jokes about slowness – but targeting the Swiss instead.
– Why are Latvians the best in the world?
– Because our living standard is twice as bad than that of the Estonians’, but we laugh about them twice as loud.
In the 21st century, a revival of self-referential and self-deprecating humour can be seen in the web-based joke circulation titled “Why are Latvians the best in the world?”.
– How do you know that you’re talking to an extrovert Finn?
– When conversing with you, he’s looking at your feet instead of his own
The Estonians have a genre of Finnish jokes, featuring Finns as either slow, stupid or alcoholic people. Finland is economically more prosperous than Estonia – so you will also hear quite some jokes about the Finns’ alleged wealth in the North of Estonia.
“Nowadays the Scots do not play bagpipes to frighten their enemies, they do it to annoy their neighbours.”
Who would have thought about it? The Hungarians tend to make jokes about the Scots! It is hard to find the reasons why. Is it because of Saint Margaret, Queen of Scotland, who actually grew up in Hungary? The question is still open but the good thing is that the (good) jokes remain.
The (new) Russians
Two New Russians meet:
– Look, I bought a tie for 3 thousand bucks!
– Idiot, I saw the same tie for 5 thousand bucks round the corner!
New Russians – a class of arrogant, stupid, poorly-educated post-perestroika businessmen and gangsters – were a very common category of characters in Russian and Ukrainian jokes of the 1990s. A common theme is the interaction of a New Russian in his archetypal shiny black Mercedes S600, arguing with a regular Russian in his modest Soviet-era Zaporozhets after their vehicles collide. The New Russian is often a violent criminal who keeps swearing…
“McManus donates a lot of money to charity but likes to remain anonymous. He even forgets to sign his name on the cheques.”
In Romanian jokes, the Scots are almost always presented as stingy, mean, dumb and feisty kilt-wearing skulks. Jokes about the Scots are quite mean and never fail to depict them as acting against common sense just to save a few pennies in the short run.
– What is small, dark, and knocking at the door?
– The future
Last but not least, the Romanians tend to have some very funny self-deprecating jokes about their poor social and economical conditions.
– What’s big, black, noisy, makes a lot of smoke and cuts carrots in five?
– The Romanian machine for cutting carrots in four.
Without surprise, Moldovans tend to make jokes about the Romanians. Something quite interesting happened in 2003, when the first ever Moldovan-Romanian dictionary was published, under the direction of the Moldovan Government who ignored that the Moldovans actually speak the same language as the Romanians. 96% of the words in this dictionary were the same! Jokes about this Romanian-Romanian dictionary became very popular from then on.
– A Slovene, a Bosnian and a Montenegrin run a 100-meter race. The Slovene wins.
– The Montenegrin gave up, and the Bosnian lost his way.
Many jokes in former Yugoslavia revolve around the Bosnians, depicted as unintelligent, slow and sometimes lazy. In addition to being portrayed as stupid, the Bosnians often come out as sexually promiscuous, omnisexual, and alcoholic.
– Mujo, haven’t you heard, the male gorilla in the Sarajevo Zoo is seriously ill and the female gorilla is going crazy without sex. They are now looking for somebody to replace the male gorilla and they are willing to pay up to 5,000 marks! says Suljo.
– Oh yes, I heard, but where will I find 5,000 marks?
The Bosnians are the usual laughingstock. As Muslims, they are the butt of a lot of jokes often using ethnical names. Mujo stands for Mustafa or Muhamed; Suljo for Sulejman; and Fata, usually Mujo’s wife, for Fatima.
– Why did the Montengrin become so lazy?
– Because the Bosnian once said to him: “Let me explain…”
In Serbian jokes and popular stories, the Montenegrins are often portrayed as lazy and pushy.
An Albanian goes in a shopping area to sell some clothes he had stolen previously, but another thief robs him. When he returns home his wife asks him:
– So, did you earn anything?
– No, replies the Albanian, this time I sold at cost price!
To a lesser extent, the Serbs tend to also poke fun at the Albanians.
““I think, therefore I am,” says a Bosnian and disappears without a trace.”
In former Yugoslavia, the Bosnians, depicted as raw and stupid, may be the eastern equivalent to the Belgians in western Europe.
Bosnia and Herzegovina
A Bosnian is at an interview for a job in Germany.
– Where are you from? asks the employer.
– From Bosnia!
– Oh, I know, says the German, you Bosnians, you have the reputation to be lazy.
– Oh no, sir, responds the Bosnian, those are the Montenegrins. We, Bosnians, are stupid!
Perhaps following historical and diasporic experiences, the Bosnians often differentiate themselves from other Europeans, especially the Germans. The Bosnian-German joking relationship, if any such thing can be said to exist, is less related to inferiority/superiority than to a struggle for respect and the recognition that values between communities differ.
Fata is taken to intensive care in the city hospital. Mujo is waiting for doctor in front of main entrance. Doctor came out and talked to Mujo:
– Your Fata is not looking good
– Doctor, I know that, but she is good cooker, she is good with our children and that is the reason why she is my wife
The Bosnian identity has been written and re-written several times by the Bosnians themselves – including through jokes.
– What do you call a Bulgarian trying to understand Macedonian history?
– A person without a chance.
The Bulgarians may argue about the existence of the Macedonian people, even in their jokes – one of the versions of “the shortest Bulgarian joke” is exactly the “Macedonian people”. The paradox is that exactly the Bulgarian jokes, which laugh at the Macedonians are anthropological proof that the Macedonians and the Bulgarians are two different cultural worlds. There’s an example of this Bulgarian paradox “All people come from the monkeys, only the Macedonians – from the Bulgarians“.
– Why don’t people from Gabrovo buy refrigerators?
– Because they can’t be sure the light goes off when the door’s closed.
The city of Gabrovo in Bulgaria is well-known for the unique sense of humour of its citizens. Local humour revolves around the alleged stinginess of its citizens and a rivalry with the neighbouring city of Sevlievo. The city even hosts a House of Humour and Satire.
– What do you call a greek with 300 hundred wifes?
– A Shepherd!
The Albanians still bear a grudge against the Greeks, mostly for historical territorial issues. The border between Greece and Albania was set up by the great European powers through the Treaty of Florence (1913) following the Balkan wars. It was immediately challenged by a nationalist movement of the Greek minority in “Northern Epirus” or “southern Albania.” The border has been confirmed, with a slight modification for Albania following the Treaty of Rapallo in 1920. Nowadays around 1 million Greeks live in Albania.
A Greek and Italian were arguing over who had the superior culture. The Greek says:
– We have the Parthenon.
Arching his eyebrows, the Italian replies:
– We have the Coliseum.
The Greek retorts:
– We Greeks gave birth to advanced mathematics.
The Italian, nodding agreement, says,
– But we built the Roman Empire.
And so on and so on until the Greek comes up with what he thinks will end the discussion. With a flourish of finality he says:
– We invented sex!
The Italian replies:
– That is true, but it was the Italians who introduced it to women.
In North Macedonia, there are a lot jokes about the Greeks, frequently depicting them as sexually deviant.
– What’s the fastest thing in Kosovo?
– An Albanian with your TV
– And what’s the second fastest thing in Kosovo?
– His cousin with your VCR.
In response to the Albanian and Macedonian jokes about them, the Greeks tend to make jokes about the Albanians. Many jokes relate to burglary and outlaw behaviours, just as in the following running gag format: “How does an Albanian cooking recipe start?” “- Steal 2 eggs…”.
A Greek and a Turki were sitting at a party. Someone told a turkish Joke and the Greek guy got offended. The Greek guy walked up to the Turki and asked him:
– Don’t you get offended when you hear these Turki jokes?
The Turki replied:
– For you they are jokes for us they are memories.
Due to the historical rivalry between Turks and Greeks, many jokes involving both nationalities appeared in the last century. The problematic issue of Cyprus influences the relation between both countries and remains subject to tensions and controversies.
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