An Encounter with European Humour

The Make Film, Make History residential took place in Ypres, Belgium in April, and I was proud to take part! One of the things I started thinking about at the residential was identity. Often, when thinking about Europe, we think about the European Union, and the ‘community’ that this creates. But does this make national identity redundant? I would say “no”.

This residential made me see all the different kinds of culturally distinct communities that flourish within this continent. For instance the dialect indigenous to a particular part of a particular nation, is almost as unique as a fingerprint; just by hearing a sentence from this stranger, you get distinct cultural connotations, and you feel that you have a sense of who they are by where they’re from.

For instance, I spoke to a co-participant, who had no idea that I was a proud Dane (I love our history, our literary inheritance, our architecture, our arts — and I could go on!). He kept talking about all the ways in which Germany had defeated Denmark both culturally and historically, thinking that I was from Britain, since he thought I had “an accent”. As soon as he realized his mistake he tried to mend the situation by saying that Denmark had a lot of great qualities (funnily enough, he couldn’t think of anything in particular). Luckily I don’t define my national identity on how others view Denmark, and so we laughed about it (and never mentioned it again).

But still, it got me thinking; when you can mistake a Dane for a Brit, is that a result of cultural commonalities between the two nations, of the Europeanisation taking its toll on youth today, or was it just an honest mistake?

On the first day of the residential, participants from Germany, Great Britain and Denmark worked together in groups to portray the three nations though animation.

The animation of Denmark shows national failure, in missing a penalty, discussed as a time when Danes feel like they have been brought together.

The video of Great Britain shows different communities, coming together to form the UK.

The final video, focusing on Germany reflects on German history, through the symbol of a wall.

Apart from the video concerning Denmark (which is less than flattering) the videos contain a certain degree of pride. For Great Britain, it’s their pride in having a diverse community. For Germany, it’s the uniqueness of their history and for Denmark, it, to me, symbolizes that national failure, and national triumph aren’t that far apart.

By all accounts, in this exercise, it seems that national identity thrives. The videos show that sports, history, economics and innovations all contribute to how you see a nationality — and not necessarily your own. But what about humour?

In this globalized Europe, it seems that comedy plays a crucial role in how you see yourself and others — both locally, nationally and internationally. One thing we did a lot on the residential was laugh! It made me realize how humour can transcend nationality. Still, some jokes were best understood solely on a national level!

The American historian Robert Darnton wrote in “The Great Cat Massacre”, that humour is determined by history and culture. Maybe that is what happened at the Make Film, Make History residential? In one way you can argue, that our globalized views have made us more prone to teamwork and mutual understanding regardless of cultural identity, where we created our own language and code of social conduct. Maybe that is why we could laugh together, and get along with one another regardless of national background? Maybe we have a ‘European’ sense of humour?

I think that’s what we experienced in Ypres. We started feeling European in a way that transcends nationality, without undermining our respective national identities.