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John Oliver had a very funny show about Brexit.

He made 4 jokes near the end about Germany, Luxembourg, Belgium, and Denmark that I don't think I understood. What references or aspects of those countries was he poking fun at?

In other words, could someone "explain" these jokes?

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    Could you please add the jokes to your question, just in case the YouTube video ever goes away? – Thunderforge Jun 25 '16 at 19:45
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The thing Oliver is actually making fun of here is the British tendency to make jokes about other EU countries. So these "example jokes" are not particularly good and more based on stereotypes than clever political observation. If you expected any witty political satire hidden in here, spare yourself the time and please do not read on.

Germany: Where the national motto is "Let's stick to the present, shall we?"

A reference to Nazi Germany, a historical period modern-day Germany wants to distance itself from as far as possible.

Luxembourg: What happens when you leave Liechtenstein out in the sun for too long.

Both Liechtenstein and Luxembourg are small city-states, with Luxembourg being considerably larger, but still tiny compared to other EU states. It might also be a reference to "Luxembourg" sounding a bit like a kind of cheese.

Belgium: The causal acquaintance France crops out of his Instagram photos.

Part of Belgium is french-speaking, but the French do not consider Belgium part of their culture.

Denmark: What would happen if a suicide note were a country?

I don't get this one either. The suicide rate in Denmark is quite average. However, the country in the world with the highest suicide rate is Greenland which is part of the Danish realm (it's complicated). But when he would be referencing that, I wonder why he doesn't mention Greenland directly.

  • He says, "suicide note." Which is weird cause I thought Denmark was usually considered one of the happiest places to live on earth. – Nova Jun 22 '16 at 1:00
  • @Nova That makes almost sense. Updated the answer. – Philipp Jun 22 '16 at 1:11
  • Denmark is 7th in countries that use the most antidepressants...indy100.independent.co.uk/article/… – Nova Jun 22 '16 at 1:21
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    The Nordic countries have a reputation for depression and SAD, in part due to the fact that they have long, dark winters. This is also related to the popularity of metal (music). I think the tropes are more true of Finland than of Denmark, but the Nordic countries get lumped together. – Era Jun 22 '16 at 15:39
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    Denmark: Could this be an allusion to a Shakespeare tragedy about a Danish prince? – Frank from Frankfurt Apr 13 '19 at 18:26
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Philip did a good job on the first three countries, but I think there's a bit more to the joke about Denmark. I think it's a reference to the Law of Jante (or Janteloven in Danish), which are 10 rules that appeared in a satirical novel. Those rules, as listed by Wikipedia, are:

  1. You're not to think you are anything special.
  2. You're not to think you are as good as we are.
  3. You're not to think you are smarter than we are.
  4. You're not to imagine yourself better than we are.
  5. You're not to think you know more than we do.
  6. You're not to think you are more important than we are.
  7. You're not to think you are good at anything.
  8. You're not to laugh at us.
  9. You're not to think anyone cares about you.
  10. You're not to think you can teach us anything.

While these rules are all good fun (they appeared in a satirical novel after all), they have also been mentioned in articles talking about high suicide rates in Scandinavia. In addition to that, they don't seem very upbeat to me (as someone who's not from 'The North').

Now, you might think this is a bit of an obscure reference, but it's actually made an entrance in (American / Western) popular culture on multiple occasions.

Firstly, Wikipedia lists a reference on the Late Show with Stephen Colbert:

When interviewed during episode 646 of The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, broadcast November 9, 2018, Swedish actor Alexander Skarsgård explained that although he had recently received an Emmy and a Golden Globe Award for a lauded performance, the inhibitions induced by the Law of Jante prevented him from boasting of the accolade.

Secondly, there's an article by Quartz titled The happiness of the Danes can easily be explained by 10 cultural rules, which is a direct reference to the Law of Jante.

Thirdly, BBC Ideas did a short video on Jante Law.

Fourthly, The Atlantic wrote a piece on it:

On the face of it, the Danes have considerably less to be happy about than most of us. Yet, when asked, they still insist that they are the happiest of us all.

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The joke is in the preface where he states that Britain "has an innate desire to tell Europe to go fuck itself" which is a reference to British history and culture in general.

He then points out that as he's British himself, he also has that desire and the jokes are then just a riff on that...he's insulting each country like an insult comic might do.

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