ANYONE who believes the national stereotype of the Germans as humourless might like to ponder the following Teutonic rib-tickler: How did the Grand Canyon originate? Answer: A Scottish tourist lost a 50-cent piece.
This, and dozens of jokes like it, is popular in Germany, where the stereotype of the tight-fisted Scot is alive and well.
As well as provoking mirth, the alleged meanness of Scots is also a powerful marketing tool. The phrase Schottenpreis - literally ‘Scotsman’s price’ - is used in countless adverts to persuade German consumers that something is dirt cheap.
But after the offending phrase popped up on VisitScotland’s official website, one Scots MP decided it was time for German advertisers to pass auf, or back off.
Angus Robertson - who is half-German - has written to the Berlin-based national association of advertising agencies telling them their obsession with Scottish meanness is damaging.
He claims: "The constant linking of our land and our people with miserliness and cheapness verges on being defamatory and insulting." Roberston, who is the SNP’s spokesman on international affairs, was backed last night by the Scottish Executive, who described the Schottenpreis slogan as an outdated and misleading clich.
In Germany, everything from mobile phones and internet services to cars, videos and even condoms are marketed as Schottenpreis to emphasise their rock-bottom cheapness.
Even international companies have got in on the act, with Greek-based Superfast Ferries, the operators of the Rosyth-Zeebrugge service, offering Germans trips to Scotland at Schottenpreis.
The VisitScotland web page of special offers boasts: "Nach Schottland zum Schottenpreis" (Travel to Scotland for a Scotsman’s price).
Robertson, the MP for Moray, said: "These adverts are crass, they are outdated and they are offensive to Scots."
Robertson worked as a radio producer in Vienna during the 1990s and Austria, just like Germany, makes much use of the ‘Scottish is cheap’ notion to sell products.
During Robertson’s time there, his protests led to the scrapping of an advertising campaign which touted cheap cars by emphasising the Scottish image.
He added: "They don’t seem to realise how offensive it is, and it doesn’t help our image abroad."
Allan Rankin, the chief executive of the Scottish Tourism Forum, which represents the tourism industry, agreed: He said: "I don’t think any negative message is helpful."
A Scottish businessman in Hamburg said that the Scots stereotype in advertising was one of the banes of his life.
John Houston, originally from Glasgow, said: "It’s infuriating and it drives me crazy. Every couple of weeks there’s another example of some building company or supermarket using Scotland or the kilt to market something as ultra-cheap.
"There’s some grinning idiot on a placard or an advertising leaflet who wears something which might have resembled a kilt sometime in the past two years. I face a constant battle to convince colleagues that we are not like that.
"We have a good sense of humour, but this is too much. We wouldn’t use an image of a fat German in lederhosen to sell something."
Last night, Ingo Radcke, Germany’s consul-general to Scotland, expressed some sympathy with the critics of his nation’s advertising industry.
"Angus Robertson is well within his rights to complain about these adverts," he said. "If he and other Scots are offended then it’s something that should be discussed and aired."
Last night a spokeswoman for the Scottish Executive said: "We are aware that there a number of misconceptions about Scotland and the Scots, particularly that we are a nation stuck in the past and that we are a land of fairy tales. This particular misconception is an outdated and misleading clich."
The image of the thrifty Scot began in the 15th century, when large numbers of Scots left for the cities of the Baltic, which at that time were mainly inhabited by Germans.
Large numbers became pedlars, selling very cheap household products, such as pots and pans. And the expression Schottenwaren (Scottish wares) emerged to describe the ultra-cheap items which they sold.
Paul Bishop, professor of German at Glasgow University, said: "Scots are one of the few groups whom Germans feel they can still make jokes about without causing controversy. Also there is no great constituency of people in Germany who will be offended by these jokes."
A spokesman for VisitScotland defended the use of the term on the organisation’s own website. He said: "Our information is that the word simply means cheap. It is acceptable because we want to encourage people to come to Scotland by telling them that they can get here cheaply."
Ted Cowan, professor of Scottish history at Glasgow University, said the Scots should live and let live. "I think that of all people, the Scots should know how to have a sense of humour. There are worse things which can be said about people than that they are rather too careful with money."
A spokeswoman for the Berlin-based Association of German Advertisers declined to comment.
THE Germans have a great sense of humour; the problem is they reserve it for the Scots, as these examples show.
Scots traditionally marry on February 29, goes the joke, so that they only need to celebrate their anniversary once every four years.
How can you tell that the trawler coming to the harbour is from Scotland? There are no seagulls in its wake.
"I’ve received some photos from my Scottish pen pal?" "What do they look like?" "Don’t know. Have to get them developed first."
Two Scots fall down a crevasse while in the mountains. The mountain watch is alerted, and the rescue team appears. "Hello, we’re from the Red Cross," one rescuer says. The reply comes from below, "You’re getting no donations from us."