By Michael Roddy
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From the heavily indebted nations of the euro zone, which seem to be dragging the rest of the continent down with them, to the finance ministers, prime ministers and chancellors trying to steer the ships of state safely clear of the debt iceberg, no one escapes the humorists' barbs.
"Why did Greece fail to get the latest installment of EU/IMF aid?" goes one of the riddles making the rounds, many of which finger Greece as the most catastrophic of the euro-debt basket cases.
"Because no one in Greece works long enough to complete the application form."
"A Greek, an Irishman and a Portuguese go into a bar and order a drink. Who picks up the bill? A German."
And from the website of the German newspaper Deutsche Welle:
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"There's a joke doing the rounds in Bratislava -- 'For 400 euros you can adopt a Greek. He'll stay at your place, sleep late, drink coffee, have lunch and then take a nap, so you can go to work.'"
Sometimes, it almost gets personal.
A Reuters correspondent of Greek nationality was asked, with a smirk, by a hairdresser in Amsterdam:
"So are you willing to accept a 50 percent haircut?" -- the reference being to a plan to ask Greek bondholders to take 50 percent losses -- known as a "haircut" in financial parlance.
Sometimes -- but not often -- the joke does not involve Greece.
"What's the difference between Iceland and Ireland?" went one popular riddle at the time when Ireland looked as if it would follow the tiny island nation of Iceland, whose banking system collapsed in the midst of the 2008 global financial crisis.
"One letter and about six months," was the answer.
GREEKS REACT IN KIND
The Greeks have not taken all this lying down and are especially incensed at criticism from Germany, which has revived historic enmities.
Some cartoons have sprung up depicting the "troika" of senior EU officials as soldiers in World War Two German uniform, and some Greeks are beginning to resent German tourists.
And what of the continent's heavy hitters whose meetings, mostly in Brussels but also in Luxembourg, Hungary, Finland, Poland and elsewhere have tried to come up with a rescue plan, but have dragged on for many months? Their parlays and personalities are fertile territory too.
Q: "How many European finance ministers does it take to change a light bulb?
A: None. There's nothing wrong with the light bulb."
Q: What economic model correctly forecasts the outlook for the European economy? A double-dip recession, a V-shaped recovery, or something else?
A: The bathtub. A steep decline, then a period of stagnation, then it goes down the drain.
Q: How do you know it's going to be a double-dip recession?
A: Greek exports of taramosalata and tzatziki have plunged.
Germany's dominant role in the rescue talks, and German criticism of those countries that have racked up huge debts, is also a target.
The Portuguese newspaper Public's humor section, "Public Enemy," commented a few weeks ago: "Germany does not rule out leaving the euro zone, but taking all the euro notes and coins with it."
Personalities, too, are grist for the mill. The humor requires only a passing knowledge of the fact that German Chancellor Angela Merkel's country is the strongest economy in Europe, French President Nicolas Sarkozy's wife Carla Bruni just had a baby, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi likes to party and Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou's country is the butt of almost every joke.
Hence, the official schedule for a eurozone summit this week was appended, in a wag stealth attack, as follows:
A little more knowledge of European history, back to the Cold War era when East was communist and had an economic union called COMECON, and West was capitalist and joined up in the EU, helps readers appreciate this update of an old Hungarian wheeze:
"What's the coat of arms of Comecon? Seven skin-and-bone cows in a green pasture milking each other. These days it's 27 cows and the EU."
Humor can also reveal the pathos behind that smiling mask, as in the Frankfurter Rundschau cartoon showing a child walking into the living room in the evening saying, "I can't sleep."
The father, looking up from the TV where he is watching a program about saving the euro, says:
"Oh, dear little bunny, were you dreaming about who might have to pay for all of this one day?"
(Reporting by Carmel Crimmins in Dublin, Paul Taylor in Paris, Alex Chambers in London, Catherin Bosley in Zurich, Greg Roumeliotis in Amsterdam, Jonathan Cable and Peter Griffiths in London, Vera Eckert in Frankfurt; Writing by Michael Roddy; Editing by Tim Pearce)