Everyone: ‘Germany’s the greatest!’ Greeks: ‘No, actually, we’re the greatest.’

A new poll out from Pew today shows that despite Germany’s insistence on austerity and reluctance to deepen its financial exposure to its neighbors, it remains by far the most respected country in Europe. Citizens of every European country rank Germans as the hardest-working Europeans — well, every country but one:

The British, Germans, Spanish, Poles, and Czechs all see Greece as the laziest country and Germany as the most industrious. The Greeks say they’ve got it backwards. (And to be fair, they’ve got some evidence on their side: In 2010, the average Greek worker worked 2,109 hours, to just 1,419 for the average German worker.)

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Everyone’s playing psychologist, so I will too.

It’s kind of amusing to watch all these journalists and economists put on their psychologist hats and try to explain why hard-working, austerity-loving Germans are willing to put their taxpayer euros toward bailing out those lazy, irresponsible Greeks and Italians. I’ve seen all sorts of explanations. The most common one is economic, and it’s got a few different formulations: German businesses rely on Greek and Italian and Irish customers to buy their products; or Germany benefits most from the euro (because it essentially cheapens their exports for foreign purchasers) and won’t allow it to collapse; or the run on banks resulting from an out-of-control Greek default would cripple the entire European (and world) economy.

Another explanation, put forward by NPR’s Planet Money a few days ago, is historic. Germans, the theory goes, are so freaked out by the memory of World War II that they’ll do anything to be good European neighbors, even if it means giving hundreds of billions of hard-earned euros to those no-good southerners.

And in yesterday’s New York Times, we have a third type of explanation, which is purely cultural:

Germans struggle with a national envy. For over 200 years, they have been searching for a missing part of their soul: passion. They find it in the south and covet the loosey-goosey, sun-filled days of their free-wheeling Mediterranean neighbors. […]

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