Dinner For One
Dinner For One

On this New Year’s Eve, like every other New Year’s Eve since 1972, nearly every German will find a way to sit in front of a telly to watch a short comedy skit titled Dinner for One. The sketch is funny enough, barely, but the Germans seem to have found something hidden within its few scenes of slapstick, and even fewer lines of dialogue, beyond the reach of almost every other country.

Comment from Michael V. Owens

What do the Germans find so funny? Why do they watch it so religiously, making it the number one television program of all time!? These are serious questions many researchers in myriad fields of academic study have tried to answer.

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If you would like to watch the original from 1963, it is right here:

Some have said that it shows Germany finally accepted the first half of the 20th century, and were ready to begin on the second half. Others say that the themes of social class in Britain (Germans feel strongly about some sort of proper socialism), the idea of a ninety year old baroness sleeping with the hired help who is also longer in the teeth, or just the simplicity of British “Benny Hill” style humor suits the Germans’ fancy.

Others researchers focus on the Germans, and their desire to remain stable. The most important line is when the butler asks the Lady, “The same procedure as last year, madam?” Her reply is “The same procedure as every year, James.” This continuity, this desire for stability, can be seen in the management structure at any German car company, Germany’s politics, or the Germans’ love of neo-Classical architecture and art.

Strangely enough, or perhaps not, British humor has evolved into the 21st century and Dinner for One is mostly unknown in the British Isles. A few other countries are aware of the show, with Nordic countries, the Baltic States, and those country which border Germany being influenced the most.

I think there is another reason for Germany’s love affair with the show.

Charles de Gaulle
Charles de Gaulle
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Charles de Gaulle famously quipped “Comment voulez-vous gouverner un pays qui a deux cent quarante-six variétés de fromage?” (How can you govern a country which has two hundred and forty-six varieties of cheese?)  In Germany there are over 1200 breweries and an equal number of sausages. The differences between Germans from Chemnitz and Cologne, or Magdeburg and Munich are clear, with the different political and economic systems after the Second World War being two of the major components. The cultures between the East and West were also different in many areas.

As stark as these differences may be, and they are tangible, the differences between Hamburg and Augsburg, or Duisburg and Dachau are even greater. The north-south divide is as wide as the east –west.

Perhaps, Dinner for One, like Die Mannschaft and bread, has become a thing (of only 11 minutes) which can unite a people which has been separated for centuries. It is their joke. Political divides, religious divides, economic divides and culinary divides, are all palpable within the country. A group of Germanic tribes united only by some similarities in language, beer and sausages can all find humor in something which really does not matter.

World Cup Winner in 2014
World Cup Winner in 2014

I suspect, that if one wants to truly understand the Germans, he must understand what it is in a silly skit that attracts all Germans. And like the people themselves, there really is no single answer, like there is no uniform German.

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Michael V. Owens
Michael V. Owens was born in San Diego, California, but is a product of the Orlando, Florida, school system. This gave him a love of the ocean and its bounty, a rudimentary education, and a great swing for both baseball (then), and golf (now). Michael graduated with diplomas in History and English Literature, which have done little good when “debating” Trump supporters on Facebook, or trying to find a job in America. However, in Munich they have been golden! (Not the swings but the diplomas.) His choice to move here was the best one he has ever made, after coercing his wife to marry him and their having a daughter. He has lived in Munich for about 15 years and hopes at some point to learn German, for as Oscar Wilde said, “Life is too short to learn German.” That is so true on so many levels. Michael can be read with fewer constraints from his editors at www.laptopsandlederhosen.com He can also be found on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram under the name LaptopsAndLederhosen.

4 COMMENTS

  1. I think it is a shame that you seem to make fun of Germans. I also don’t get why life is too short to learn German. It sounds like you belittle the German Language, not worthy of your efforts. I have been living in the UK for 6 years now and can not say that the UK is in any way superior to Germany.

    • Thanks for reading and replying. Yes, the object of the article is to poke fun at the Germans. I would also agree that absolutely nothing in England is better than in Germany, except for the Premier League, music and the comedy. Oh, the next future queen and Wimbledon are pretty good.
      I believe that Germany is far and away the best place to live and work and raise a family. I do, however, stand firmly behind the ideas of Oscar Wilde, George Eliot, and Mark Twain; the language is horrible to learn!
      Thanks again for the comments. I did not intend to ‘make fun of’, but ‘to poke fun at’ Germans and their culture. Thanks for your contribution! MVO

  2. Your article is undoubtedly more entertaining for English speakers than the flick Michael, and I don’t perceive it as ridiculing Germans.. but I have to say I’ve asked myself as in American for nearly 30 years in Munich; what’s so amusing in the yearly broadcast. This year, my 10 year old trilingual (French/English/German) son had a good laugh watching it for the first time. I might note that he’d rather watch Little Rascals, Laurel & Hardy or Three Stooges more than most other current fare.. I expect the cultural phenomena here is similar to my yearning to watch Rudolph or Frosty or Charlie Brown with my kids seasonally. So (without comparing the quality of those American productions to the NDR skit), as much as your analysis may be a factor, I’m certain the larger influence in making this annually popular is in the tradition it’s become. And when you’ve grown up watching it and finding it funny since you were small (inherited sense of humor?), that’s likely to continue for some years.
    If I might do some of my own ethnic bashing and with all due respect to the German culture I’ve embraced these many years (fluid Bavarian if not German speaker); the Germans have never been renowned for their humor – the bulk of them will admit that.
    Let’s not forget also that far, far fewer Germans spoke English in 1963 than do today, and as such were likely very proud to be entertained by such a simply understandable English Comedy – perhaps ensuring it’s initial success?
    At any rate, the subject could indeed fill at least a chapter in a book about German culture from an outside perspective! Thanks for the provocation! 😉

  3. I think you might be right. How often have I watched the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, in all of its corniness, makeup, and scripted humor. So there you go.
    “A German comedy is like a German sentence,” George Eliot once remarked. “You see no reason in its structure why it should ever come to an end.” English can be manipulated. What it lacks in rhyme it can make up for in rhythm and double entendres. The phrasal verbs with put, get, cut, make, take, etc., also add much depth and opportunities for humor.
    As Mark Twain said, “The fact that the verbs in German sentences, the action, the reason for a sentence come at the end,” takes away a lot of the punch of a punch line I believe.
    Finally, since so much of this great culture is high brow, opera, theater, cinema, etc., the fact that Germans can let their collective hair down, and give a good belly laugh when not in a beer hall, just might be another intangible reason.
    Thanks again for the feedback. Happy New Year!

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