From a London Bathroom Wall, A Lesson in Complementaries

Am on holiday with the family in London. Pure joy — although my 6-year-old daughter, who’d recently heard that black pepper can force a sneeze, took a handful and somehow mashed it into her eye instead; tears ensued; but it was nothing a trip to Hamleys couldn’t cure.

At a very delicious Italian restaurant called Pappa Ciccia, there is a sign outside the basement toilets that carries a nice ode to what economists (and others) call complementarities:


I do not know how regularly Pappa Ciccia changes this message, but I will check back soon in case they have something good to say on market meltdowns or perhaps the ease of fraud.


That's a joke that appeared when the European Union was first organized.


You can find the same message printed on the wall at Pinocchio's in Harvard Square.


this is an old cartoon, but with the with the last line(s) :

The trains are run by the Swiss (Italians).

Jennifer S.

I heard it this way from Richard Thompson at a concert earlier this year:

In Heaven,

the English greet you at the gates,

the French do the cooking,

the Italians are in charge of the entertainment,

and the Germans arrange everything.

In Hell,

the French greet you at the gates,

the English do the cooking,

the Italians arrange everything,

and the Germans provide the entertainment.


Read the joke in the picture! I first heard the joke at my commencement when our special speaker said it and everybody laughed out loud. It's a good one!


Clearly the statement about the British police harkens back before RIPA.


I heard it thusly:

"The Canadians had the perfect opportunity. They could have had French cuisine, British culture, and American technology. Instead, they ended up with British cuisine, American culture, and French technology."


I forgot who was the famous opera singer who once said (I am quoting from memory):
"Germans are born to compose, French are born to dance, Italians are born to sing and Americans are born to ... pay for all this"



I thought in Heaven the cooks were French and the lovers Italian.
But I can see why Pappa Cicca would go the other way...


Americans try to do all 5. Is there a better reason for US decline?


This is how I've heard it:

Heaven is an English home, a Chinese chef, an American salary and a Japanese wife.

Hell is a Japanese home, an English chef, a Chinese salary, and an American wife.

offensive maybe? Can't remember where I first heard it- but people sure do like stereotyping, don't they?

Eric M. Jones

Heaven: The cooks are French, The policemen are English, The mechanics are German, The lovers are Italian, The bankers are Swiss.

Hell: The cooks are English, The policemen are German, The mechanics are French, The lovers are Swiss, The bankers are Italian.


Shouldn't it be ..

Toys are made in Taiwan, baby food in China, democracy created by Russia, the bankers from Iceland, immigration policies set by Australia and a financial system created by America.


It's really old, this one. I first heard a variation of it from a guy who ran a scientific translating agency in Redwood City, 1967!


This is an old, old, old joke. The version I've always heard is:

Hell is where the plumbers are French, the cooks are British, the policemen are German and the intellectuals are American.


uhm -
so how are these complementarities?
We call something a complementarity if the presence of A increases the utility of B

But that's not the case here: Even if your lover is Swiss and your mechanic French, you will still gain just as much utility from a good (e.g. Italian) cook.

So Steve - if you find an amusing story you want to tell - go ahead. But if you want to use it to illustrate economic concepts, please get them right!


It's funny, there are so many variations of this joke but everybody seems to agree that the British cooking is the worst ;-))


December 17, 2008
1:07 pm

I like the one about Canada. I've heard it described as the unluckiest country on earth - surrounded by the French and next to America.

I've also heard it called Number 667 - the neighbour of the beast!


The version my Dutch friends used included the lines that "in heaven, the Dutch are the theologians, and in hell . . . the Dutch are still the theologians."

simple and real minded

Dear Sebastian;

You are not seeing the win-win benefits.