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I recently heard this joke:

Kennst du den Unterschied zwischen der Hölle und dem Himmel? Also, Himmel ist ein Hotel, da ist der deutsche Hotelleiter, der Franzose ist in der Küche, der Italiener ist an der Rezeption und das Zimmermädchen ist eine Finnin. Die Hölle ist auch ein Hotel, auch die gleichen Leute. Der Deutsche in der Küche, der Franzose macht die Leitung, und die Finnin ist an der Rezeption, und der Italiener macht die Zimmer.

This is not from a newspaper or so, it was part of a conversation in a business context in a large German company, and all participants were home-grown Germans.

My problem is: I do not get it. I know about various stereotypes in German everyday culture about certain characteristics of certain nations, so Italians are said to be chaotic (but very communicative), French have excellent cuisine (but are believed to be unorganised), etc. However, in this joke some things seem awkward:

  • Germans are not that much famous for horrible cuisine, and certainly they would not assign this feature to themselves

  • I am not aware of any stereotype concerning Finns (except perhaps that they tend to be friendly but depressive due to the long winter; or that they take in large amounts of alcohol if left alone, but I do not see how this relates to the reception job)

The question is: are there regions in Germany where German cuisine is said to be bad, and there are stereotypes regarding Finns that would fit the joke (and even make it funny)? Or could it be that this joke has been taken and directly translated from some other cultural-linguistic area, e.g. the Anglosaxon world or so? Or where (geographically) would those exact stereotypes be living?

(If someone feels like remarking that this is not a question related to rules, grammar and lexems of German: well... I would argue that stereotypes are as much part of a lingustic system as rules of grammar are.)

Additional info

As some commenters were asking: no, the company where this took place has nothing to do with Finland in particular (beyond selling their products and services to Finland as to any other country in the world). Finland has not any particular role here. And it is a genuine German company, no Scandinavian roots, ownership, history, or whatever. Management is predominantly German, although as everywhere in companies of that size various foreign individuals may be hired, too.

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    In my experience, yes. Germans are famous within Europe for bad Food. Whether or not that is fair is a personal question. Consider the large social-political theme at the moment - the insistance of the Germans on eating the cheapest Food and particularly the cheapest meat possible, regardless of Quality. Also, In my Region for instance, the Phrase "Wat der Bauer nicht kennt isst er nicht." applies not just to farmers. When I came to Germany, I couldnt get Broccoli in the store, or green Asparagus, because People thought it was poisonous. " Zu lange im Feld gelassen." – MonsterMushroom Feb 26 '18 at 10:48
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    I think the Brits are famous for bad food. – Janka Feb 26 '18 at 10:58
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    The stereotype is the finnish woman is a voluptous blonde, while she speaks any language with a strong finnish accent, so no one understands her. – Janka Feb 26 '18 at 11:03
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    For the record: Here is the variation of the joke as citied in ELU: "Heaven is where the police are British, the lovers French, the mechanics German, the chefs Italian, and it is all organized by the Swiss. - Hell is where the police are German, the lovers Swiss, the mechanics French, the chefs British, and it is all organized by the Italians." – Christian Geiselmann Feb 26 '18 at 11:59
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    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because it is not about the German language. The culinary expertise of Germans may also be opinion based. – Carsten S Feb 26 '18 at 12:02
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This is another variation of a very old joke that is made up of similar stereotypes with variable nations.

The oldest internet reference I found was claimed to date back to 1970:

Im Himmel, so sagt man, sind die Polizisten Briten, die Liebhaber Franzosen, die Mechaniker Deutsche, Lebenskünstler und Köche die Italiener, und alles wird von Schweizern organisiert. In der Hölle dagegen sind die Lebenskünstler und Köche Briten, die Mechaniker Franzosen, die Liebhaber Schweizer, die Polizisten Deutsche, und die Italiener organisieren das Ganze. (Anonym)U. Pleitgen

Another reference in books scanned by Google dates back to 1992 and English variants (possibly original source?) are from the mid 80ies of the Last Century. Of course there are plenty of variants from Swiss bankers to French cooks, and more.

The stereotype used depends very much on the political background and intention of the joke-teller. There is no such universal stereotype that would hold true everywhere and in any time. Nationaltities and professions are grossly exchangeable.

So the variant you had quoted in your question may have been told in a Finnish hotel for example, or at a Nokia meeting, or any other meeting, where the joke would work for specific local reasons.

  • Yes, this variant of the joke I knew, and it makes perfectly sense to me (as I grew up in a German environment and am familiar with the stereotypes used). Regarding the version of the joke cited in the original question I wonder where those stereotypes may come from, geography-wise. – Christian Geiselmann Feb 26 '18 at 11:57
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    It may also be that the person who told that joke heard it from another person who heard it from somebody who was at an Intel meeting in Helsinki... we simply won't know. I for myself can not find anything funny with a Finnish person at the reception. The joke won't work for people with my background. – Takkat Feb 26 '18 at 12:35
  • @Takkat Exactly my problem. And respectively my question: where does this come from? (But then, of course, grumbling Carsten S is right that this is not any more much related to German language...) – Christian Geiselmann Feb 26 '18 at 12:41
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    @ChristianGeiselmann: not understanding is IMO very much "language" even if it was a joke ;) – Takkat Feb 26 '18 at 12:44
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    Receptionist: "Das Klischee-Image eines Finnen ist das eines sturzbesoffenen Typen, der keine Lust hat, mit irgendjemandem ein Wort zu wechseln."Focus Not even thinking about the de/die dichotomy. – LangLangC Feb 26 '18 at 13:31
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The question is: are there regions in Germany where German cuisine is said to be bad?

Some may argue, all of the regions are known for their bad cuisine. In reality this is somewhat supported by the dominance of the simpler, basic food items that are seen as typical for a certain region. Two examples:

Left: Nadia Hassani: "Spoonfuls of Germany: German Regional Cuisine", Right: Food Maps of Europe and another map.

That would translate into a generalisation that German food is not very sophisticated, like illustrated here Top 10 Things to Eat while in Germany:

Germans are know for their traditional German cousine around the world. What many people don’t know is the fact that German cuisine is so much more than just sausage and meat.

But then this post lists Spätzle, Bratwurst, Currywurst, Bratkartoffeln, Sauerbraten, Maultaschen, Leberkäse, Schnitzel, Rouladen, and Gulasch. Indeed, much more than sausages and meat!

These stereotypes are not always based on good research, but apparently really widespread:

Given that France and Germany had fairly equal access to foodstuffs and spices, why did French cuisine reach such great heights and the general French populace eat so well, while German food is unremarkable?

To be fair, while the German cuisine might have a widespread bad reputation, the reality for sophistcated cooking in German gastronomy seems to look somehwat different than the stereotype, according to the Guide Michelin:  Michelein Sterne in Deutschland

Further more, this map seems to indicate a pattern of regional variation. Germans have apparently some excellent cooks to the South-West, near the French border. For French tastes?


Given the role change for Finnish personnel as a receptionist:

"Das Klischee-Image eines Finnen ist das eines sturzbesoffenen Typen, der keine Lust hat, mit irgend jemandem ein Wort zu wechseln.
(Source: Focus (The stereotypical image of a Finn is that he is always very drunk and not in the mood to talk to anybody.)


Although from a German perspective an English cook might serve also very well as the stereotypical bad food preparer, Germans are known to be as wrongly placed in a kitchen if sophistication is expected. The same principle applied to a receptionist: You want a friendly and reliable person that has to talk to the guests. One of the least likely candidates to be good at this job is by cliché the Finn.


Apparently the joke originates from xeroxlore (now called faxlore), but is very widely shared in its basic construction among almost all Europeans:

In heaven, all the policeman are English, all the car mechanics are German, all the cooks are French, all the hotel keepers are Swiss, and all the lovers are Italian. In hell, all the policeman are German, all the car mechanics are French, all the cooks are English, all the hotel keepers are Italian, and all the lovers are Swiss.
In general, jokes that depend on national stereotypes are in bad taste, but we submit that the one above is an instructive exception. It does not choose a stigmatized group and heap further abuse on it; instead, it targets a number of the most economically powerful nations on the planet and attributes both the best and worst of traits to each of them. But for our purposes, what is most interesting about the joke is that its humor depends on the audience’s knowledge of a great deal about each of the nations; heaven and hell are distinguished by whether the assignment of occupations takes advantage of the nations’ envisioned best traits or exposes their worst ones. In other words, the joke aligns a collection of nations in a field of attributes.

And this seems to 'work' because:

The few target nations within Europe on which there is comparable agreement are the British, Italians, and Germans. […] Only the stereotypes of the British, Italians, and Germans are as widely held as those of these non-European nations.
(From James Shilts Boster & Kateryna Maltseva: "A Crystal Seen From Each of Its Vertices: European Views of European National Characters", Cross-Cultural Research, Vol 40, Issue 1, 2006.)


If this explanation is any good, the joke should be very unfunny by now.

  • O la la! This answer take a directions completely unintended by the original question. (The question was not "Is German cuisine bad", rather: where do stereotypes exist that would make the joke funny.) But anyway, I appreciate the answer. It adds some hard evidence to the discussion. – Christian Geiselmann Feb 26 '18 at 21:31
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Ich kann nicht für ganz Deutschland sprechen, aber im deutschsprachigen Raum gibt es Österreich, insbesondere Wien, und ein befreundeter Österreicher, wenn auch kein Wiener, hat mir erklärt, dass die Deutsche Küche in Österreich als ziemlich armselig gilt.

Ausnahmen seien Süddeutschland (Spätzle), Bayern (Obatzter, Leberkäs, Brezeln, Spanferkel, Weißwürste) das alte Böhmen und angrenzende Gebiete, Thüringen, Sachsen (Knödelkultur).

Das sind natürlich alles Generalisierungen, aber die preußisch/norddeutsche Küche ist tatsächlich wenig für Spezialitäten bekannt.

Völlig aus der Luft gegriffen sind solche Generalisierungen aber auch nicht. Zum einen ist es eine Frage der Geographie, was Landwirtschaft, Fischerei und Jagd traditionell an Früchten hergeben, und da steht Preußen sehr für Rüben und Kohl, später Kartoffeln, zum zweiten des Wohlstands, denn was man nicht selbst anbaut kann man natürlich in der Ferne kaufen - jedoch bedarf es auch an Kühltechnik und moderner Transportinfrastruktur, um frische Lebensmittel im großen Stil zu importieren. Zum dritten spielen weltoffenheit, Reiselust und Migration in die Frage, so dass man sich beeinflussen und bereichern lässt. So gelten in Europa etwa Belgien und Schweiz als traditionell bekannte Orte für Schokolade, obwohl der Kakao dort so wenig zu Hause ist, wie hierzulande.

Deutschland ist aber für Wurst- und Brotvielfalt bekannt, und je differenzierter man schaut, desto mehr Ausnahmen wird man überall finden, wie Lübecker Marzipan, Brandenburger Spreewaldgurken und ebendort Meerrettich.

Ganz grob läßt sich vielleicht die Mainlinie als Grenze ausmachen. Südlich davon gibt es auch Weinanbau. Ein weiterer Einfluss könnten religiöse Werte sein, katholische Prasserei hier, puritanische Kargheit dort. In der Moderne ist das natürlich alles in Bewegung geraten und stimmt von Jahr zu Jahr weniger. Damit verschwinden auch derartige Witze.

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    Ausgerechnet Obazder, Weißwürste und Leberkäse sollen positive Ausnahmen sein? Diese Quelle erscheint mir doch recht zweifelhaft. ;) Und ich lebe in Bayern. – Gerhardh Feb 26 '18 at 18:41
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    Nördlich des Mains wird auch Wein angebaut – Lykanion Feb 26 '18 at 20:25
  • @Lykanion: Das sollte keine präzise Grenze darstellen. Selbst hier, am Kreuzberg versucht sich jmd. mit Wein. Weit nördlich des Mains ist Wein (noch) selten. Mosel zähle ich auf gleicher Höhe, auch wenn sie Koblenz nördlicher ist. Gut, die Ahr, und Saale/Unstrut natürlich. Und da ist dann auch gleich das Essen besser. :) – user unknown Feb 26 '18 at 20:37
  • @user unknown: Ich gebe zu, in den östlichen Weinanbaugebieten war ich noch gar nicht. Aber im allgemeinen bin ich auch eher ein Fan der schwäbischen bis böhmischen Küche :) – Lykanion Feb 26 '18 at 20:53
  • @Gerhardh Eine gute Weißwurst (es kommt natürlich vollkommen auf die Zutaten an) ist in der Tat ein kulinarischer Genuß. Wie überhaupt das Angebot einer ordentlichen Metzgerei in deutschsprachigen Gefilden eine kulinarische Sensation sein kann. (Immer vorausgesetzt, es wird kein Mist in die Wurst gerührt, und das Schwein ist glücklich aufgewachsen. Hier liegt natürlich der Hase im Pfeffer heute.) – Christian Geiselmann Feb 26 '18 at 21:37

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