George Mikes. How to be an Alien
'I have seen much to hate here, much to
forgive. But in a world where England is
finished and dead, I do not wish to live.'
ALICE DUER MILLER: The White Cliffs
A HANDBOOK FOR BEGINNERS AND ADVANCED PUPILS
the reception given to this book when it first appeared in the autumn
of 1946, was at once a pleasant surprise and a disappointment for me. A
surprise, because the reception was so kind; a disappointment for the same
Let me explain.
The first part of this statement needs little amplification. Even
people who are not closely connected with the publishing trade will be able
to realize that it is very nice - I'm sorry. I'd better be a little more
English: a not totally unpleasant thing for a completely unknown author to
run into three impressions within a few weeks of publication and thereafter
into another twenty-one.
What is my grievance, then? It is that this book has completely changed
the picture I used to cherish of myself. This was to be a book of defiance.
Before its publication I felt myself a man who was going to tell the English
where to get off. I had spoken my mind regardless of consequences; I thought
I was brave and outspoken and expected either to go unnoticed or to face a
storm. But no storm came. I expected the English to be up in arms against me
but they patted me on the back; I expected the British nation to rise in
wrath but all they said, was: 'quite amusing'. It was indeed a bitter
While the Rumanian Radio was serializing (without my permission) How to
be an Alien as an anti-British tract, the Central Office of Information rang
me up here in London and asked me to allow the book to be translated into
Polish for the benefit of those many Polish refugees who were then settling
in this country. 'We want our friends to see us in this light,' the man said
on the telephone. This was hard to bear for my militant and defiant spirit.
'But it's not such a favour able light,' I protested feebly. It's a very
human light and that is the most favourable,' retorted the official. I was
A few weeks later my drooping spirit was revived when I heard of a
suburban bank manager whose wife had brought this book home to him remarking
that she had found it fairly amusing. The gentleman in ques tion sat down in
front of his open fire, put his feet up and read the book right through with
a continually darkening face. When he had finished, he stood up and said:
And threw the book into the fire.
He was a noble and patriotic spirit and he did me a great deal of good.
I wished there had been more like him in England. But I could never find
Since then I have actually written about a dozen books; but I might as
well have never written anything else. I remained the author of How to be an
Alien even after I had published a collection of serious essays. Even Mr
Somerset Maugham complained about this type of treatment bitterly and
repeatedly. Whatever he did, he was told that he would never write another
Of Human Bondage', Arnold Bennett in spite of fifty other works remained the
author of The Old Wives' Tale and nothing else; and Mr Robert Graves is just
the author of the Claudius books. These authors are much more eminent tlian
I am; but their problem is the same. At the moment I am engaged in writing a
750-page picaresque novel set in ancient Sumeria. It is taking shape nicely
and I am going to get the Nobel Prize for it. But it will be of no use: I
shall still remain the author of How to be an A lien.
I am not complaining. One's books start living their independent lives
soon enough, just like one's children. I love this book; it has done almost
as much for me as I have done for it. Yet, however loving a parent you may
be, it hurts your pride a little if you are only known, acknowledged and
accepted as the father of your eldest child.
In 1946 I took this manuscript to Andre Deutsch, a young man who had
just decided to try his luck as a publisher. He used to go, once upon a
time, to the same school as my younger brother. I knew him from the old days
and it was quite obvious to me even then, in Budapest, when he was only
twelve and wore shorts, that he would make an excellent publisher in London
if he only had the chance. So I offered my book to him and as, at that time,
he could not get manuscripts from better known authors, he accepted it with
a sigh. He suggested that Nicolas Bentley should be asked to 'draw the
pictures'. I liked the idea but I said he would turn the suggestion down.
Once again I was right: he did turn it down. Eventually, however, he was
persuaded to change his mind.
Mr Deutsch was at that time working for a different firm. Four years
after the publication of this book, and after the subsequent publication of
three other Mikes-Bentley books, he left this firm while I stayed with them
and went on working with another popular and able cartoonist, David Langdon.
Now, however, Andre Deutsch has bought all the rights of my past and future
output from his former firm and the original team of Deutsch, Bentley and
myself are together again under the imprint of the first named gentleman. We
are all twelve years older and Mr Deutsch does not wear shorts any more, or
not in the office, at any rate.
'When are you going to write another How to be an Alien?' Deutsch and
Bentley ask me from time to time and I am sure they mean it kindly.
They cannot quite make out the reply I mutter ill answer to their
friendly query. It is: 'Never, if I can help it.'
London, May 1958 GEORGE MIKES
I believe, without undue modesty, that I have cer tain qualifications
to write on 'how to be an alien.' I am an alien myself. What is more, I have
been an alien all my life. Only during the first twenty-six years of my life
I was not aware of this plain fact. I was living in my own country, a
country full of aliens, and I noticed nothing particular or irregular about
myself; then I came to England, and you can imagine my painful sur prise.
Like all great and important discoveries it was a matter of a few
seconds. You probably all know from your schooldays how Isaac Newton
discovered the law of gravitation. An apple fell on his head. This incident
set him thinking for a minute or two, then he ex claimed joyfully: 'Of
course I The gravitation constant is the acceleration per second that a mass
of one gram causes at a distance of one centimetre.' You were also taught
that James Watt one day went into the kitchen where cabbage was cooking and
saw the lid of the sauce pan rise and fall. 'Now let me think,' he murmured
- let me think.' Then he struck his forehead and the steam engine was
discovered. It was the same with me, although circumstances were rather
It was like this. Some years ago I spent a lot of time with a young
lady who was very proud and conscious of being English. Once she asked me -
to my great sur prise - whether I would marry her. 'No,' I replied, 1 will
not. My mother would never agree to my marrying a foreigner.' She looked at
me a little surprised and irri tated, and retorted: I, a foreigner? What a
silly thing to say. I am English. You are the foreigner. And your mother,
too.' I did not give in. In Budapest, too?' I asked her. 'Everywhere,' she
declared with determination. 'Truth does not depend on geography. What is
true in England is also true in Hungary and in North Borneo and Venezuela
I saw that this theory was as irrefutable as it was simple. I was
startled and upset. Mainly because of my mother whom I loved and respected.
Now, I suddenly learned what she really was.
It was a shame and bad taste to be an alien, and it is no use
pretending otherwise. There is no way out of it. A criminal may improve and
become a decent member of society. A foreigner cannot improve. Once a
foreigner, always a foreigner. There is no way out for him. He may become
British; he can never become English.
So it is better to reconcile yourself to the sorrowful reality. There
are some noble English people who might forgive you. There are some
magnanimous souls who realize that it is not your fault, only your
misfortune. They will treat you with condescension, understanding and
sympathy. They will invite you to their homes. Just as they keep lap-dogs
and other pets, they are quite prepared to keep a few foreigners.
The title of this book. How to be an Alien, consequently expresses more
than it should. How to be an alien? One should not be an alien at all. There
are certain rules, however, which have to be followed if you want to make
yourself as acceptable and civilized as you possibly can.
Study these rules, and imitate the English. There can be only one
result: if you don't succeed in imitating them you become ridiculous; if you
do, you become even more ridiculous.
1. How to be a general Alien
in England * everything is the other way round. On Sundays on the
Continent even the poorest person puts on his best suit, tries to look
respectable, and at the same time the life of the country becomes gay and
cheerful; in England even the richest peer or motor-manufacturer dresses in
some peculiar rags, does not shave, and the country becomes dull and dreary.
On the Continent there is one topic which should be avoided - the weather;
in England, if you do not repeat the phrase 'Lovely day, isn't it?' at least
two hundred times a day, you are considered a bit dull. On the Continent
Sunday papers appear on Monday; in England - a country of exotic oddities -
they appear on Sunday. On the Continent people use a fork as though a fork
were a shovel; in England they turn it upside down and push everything -
including peas - on top of it.
On a continental bus approaching a request-stop the conductor rings the
bell if he wants his bus to go on without stopping; in England you ring the
bell if you want the bus to stop. On the Continent stray cats are judged
individually on their merit - some are loved, some are only respected; in
England they are universally worshipped as in ancient Egypt. On the
Continent people have good food; in England people have good table manners.
On the Continent public orators try to learn to speak fluently and
smoothly; in England they take a special course in Oxonian stuttering. On
the Continent learned persons love to quote Aristotle, Horace, Mon taigne
and show off their knowledge; in England only uneducated people show off
their knowledge, nobody quotes Latin and Greek authors in the course of a
conversation, unless he has never read them.
On the Continent almost every nation whether little or great has openly
declared at one time or another that it is superior to all other nations;
the English fight heroic wars to combat these dangerous ideas without ever
mentioning which is really the most superior race in the world. Continental
people are sensitive and touchy; the English take everything with an
exquisite sense of humour - they are only offended if you tell them that
they have no sense of humour. On the Continent the population consists of a
small percentage of criminals, a small percentage of honest people and the
rest are a vague transition between the two; in Eng land you find a small
percentage of criminals and the rest are honest people. On the other hand,
people on the Continent either tell you the truth or lie; in Eng land they
hardly ever lie, but they would not dream of telling you the truth.
Many continentals think life is a game; the English think cricket is a
*When people say England, they sometimes mean Great Britain, sometimes
the United Kingdom, sometimes the British Isles - but never England.
this is a chapter on how to introduce people to one another. The aim of
introduction is to conceal a person's identity. It is very important that
you should not pronounce anybody's name in a way that the other party may be
able to catch it. Generally speaking, your pronunciation is a sound
guarantee for that. On the other hand, if you are introduced to someone
there are two important rules to follow.
1.If he stretches out his hand in order to shake yours, you must not
accept it. Smile vaguely, and as soon as he gives up the hope of shaking you
by the hand, you stretch out your own hand and try to catch his in vain.
This game is repeated until the greater part of the afternoon or evening has
elapsed. It is extremely likely that this will be the most amusing part of
the afternoon or evening, anyway.
2.Once the introduction has been made you have to inquire after the
health of your new acquaintance. Try the thing in your own language.
Introduce the persons, let us say, in French and murmur their names. Should
they shake hands and ask: Â€˜Comment aliez-vous?' 'Comment aliez-vous?' - it
will be a capital joke, re membered till their last davs. Do not forget,
however, that your new friend who makes this touchingly kind inquiry after
your state of health does not care in the least whether you are well and
kicking or dying of delirium tremens. A dialogue like this:
he: 'How d'you do?'
You: 'General state of health fairly satisfactory. Slight insomnia and
a rather bad corn on left foot. Blood pressure low, digestion slow but
normal.' - well, such a dialogue would be unforgivable. In the next phase
you must not say 'Pleased to meet you.' This is one of the very few lies you
must never utter because, for some unknown reason, it is considered vulgar.
You must not say 'Pleased to meet you,' even if you are definitely disgusted
with the man. A few general remarks:
1. Do not click your heels, do not bow, leave off gymnastic and
choreographic exercises altogether for the moment.
2. Do not call foreign lawyers, teachers, dentists, commercial
travellers and estate agents 'Doctor.' Everybody knows that the little word
'doctor' only means that they are Central Europeans. This is painful enough
in itself, you do not need to remind people of it all the time.
this is the most important topic in the land. Do not be misled by
memories of your youth when, on the Continent, wanting to describe someone
as exceptionally dull, you remarked: 'He is the type who would discuss the
weather with you.' In England this is an ever-interesting, even thrilling
topic, and you must be good at discussing the weather.
PREFACE TO THE 24th IMPRESSION
For Good Weather
'Lovely day, isn't it?' Isn't it beautiful?' 'The sun . . .' 'Isn't it
gorgeous?' 'Wonderful, isn't it?' It's so nice and hot. . .' 'Personally, I
think it's so nice when it's hot- isn't it?' 1 adore it - don't you?'
For Bad Weather
'Nasty day, isn't it?' Isn't it dreadful?' 'The rain . . . I hate rain
. . .' 1 don't like it at all. Do you?' 'Fancy such a day in July. Rain in
the morning, then a bit of sunshine, and then rain, rain, rain, all day
long.' I remember exactly the same July day in 1936.' 'Yes, I remember too.'
'Or was it in 1928?' 'Yes, it was.' 'Or in 1939?' Tes, that's right.' Now
observe the last few sentences of this conversation. A very important rule
emerges from it. You must never contradict anybody when discussing the
weather. Should it hail and snow, should hurricanes uproot the trees from
the sides of the road, and should someone remark to you: 'Nice day, isn't
it?' - answer without hesitation: Isn't it lovely?' Learn the above
conversation by heart. If you are a bit slow in picking things up, learn at
least one conversation, it would do wonderfully for any occasion. If you do
not say anything else for the rest of your life, just repeat this
conversation, you still have a fair chance of passing as a remarkably witty
man of sharp intellect, keen observation and extremely pleasant manners.
English society is a class society, strictly organized almost on
corporative lines. If you doubt this, listen to the weather forecasts. There
is always a different weather forecast for farmers. You often hear
statements like this on the radio: 'To-morrow it will be cold, cloudy and
foggy; long periods of rain will be interrupted by short periods of
showers.' And then: 'Weather forecast for farmers. It will be fair and warm,
many hours of sunshine.' You must not forget that the farmers do grand work
of national importance and deserve better weather.
It happened on innumerable occasions that nice, warm weather had been
forecast and rain and snow fell all day long, or vice versa. Some people
jumped rashly to the conclusion that something must be wrong with the
weather forecasts. They are mistaken and should be more careful with their
allegations. I have read an article in one of the Sunday papers and now I
can tell you what the situation really is. All troubles are caused by
anti-cyclones. (I don't quite know what anti-cyclones are, but this is not
important; I hate cyclones and am very anti-cyclone myself.) The two
naughtiest anti-cyclones are the Azores and the Polar anti-cyclones. The
British meteorologists forecast the right weather - as it really should be -
and then these impertinent little anti-cyclones interfere and mess up
everything. That again proves that if the British kept to themselves and did
not mix with foreign things like Polar and Azores anti-cyclones they would
be much better off.
foreigners have souls; the English haven't. On the Continent you find
any amount of people who sigh deeply for no conspicuous reason, yearn,
suffer and look in the air extremely sadly. This is soul. The worst kind of
soul is the great Slav soul. People who suffer from it are usually very deep
thinkers. They may say things like this: 'Sometimes I am so merry and
sometimes I am so sad. Can you explain why?' (You cannot, do not try.) Or
they may say: 1 am so mysterious. . . . I sometimes wish I were somewhere
else than where I am.' (Do not say: 1 wish you were.') Or 'When I am alone
in a forest at night-time and jump from one tree to another, I often think
that life is so strange.' All this is very deep: and just soul, nothing
else. The English have no soul; they have the understatement instead. If a
continental youth wants to declare his love to a girl, he kneels down, tells
her that she is the sweetest, the most charming and ravishing person in the
world, that she has something in her, something peculiar and individual
which only a few hundred thousand other women have and that he would be
unable to live one more minute without her. Often, to give a little more
emphasis to the statement, he shoots himself on the spot. This is a normal,
week-day declaration of love in the more temperamental continental
countries. In England the boy pats his adored one on the back and says
softly: 1 don't object to you, you know.' If he is quite mad with passion,
he may add: 'I rather fancy you, in fact.' If he wants to marry a girl, he
I say . . . would you? . . .' If he wants to make an indecent proposal:
'I say . . . what about . . .'
Overstatement, too, plays a considerable part in English social life.
This takes mostly the form of someone remarking: 1 say ...' and then keeping
silent for three days on end.
the trouble with tea is that originally it was quite a good drink. So a
group of the most eminent British scientists put their heads together, and
made complicated biological experiments to find a way of spoiling it. To the
eternal glory of British science their labour bore fruit. They suggested
that if you do not drink it clear, or with lemon or rum and sugar, but pour
a few drops of cold milk into it, and no sugar at all, the desired object is
achieved. Once this refreshing, aromatic, oriental beverage was successfully
transformed into colourless and tasteless gargling-water, it suddenly became
the national drink of Great Britain and Ireland - still retaining, indeed
usurping, the high-sounding title of tea. There are some occasions when you
must not refuse a cup of tea, otherwise you are judged an exotic and
barbarous bird without any hope of ever being able to take your place in
civilised society. If you are invited to an English home, at five o'clock in
the morning you get a cup of tea. It is either brought in by a heartily
smiling hostess or an almost malevolently silent maid. When you are
disturbed in your sweetest morning sleep you must not say: 'Madame (or
Mabel), I think you are a cruel, spiteful and malignant person who deserves
to be shot.' On the contrary, you have to declare with your best five
o'clock smile: 'Thank you so much. I do adore a cup of early morning tea,
especially early in the morning.' If they leave you alone with the liquid,
you may pour it down the washbasin.
Then you have tea for breakfast; then you have tea at eleven o'clock in
the morning; then after lunch;then you have tea for tea; then after supper;
and again at eleven o'clock at night. You must not refuse any additional
cups of tea under the following circumstances: if it is hot; if it is cold;
if you are tired; if anybody thinks that you might be tired; if you are
nervous; if you are gay; before you go out; if you are out; if you have just
returned home; if you feel like it; if you do not feel like it; if you have
had no tea for some time; if you have just had a cup. You definitely must
not follow my example. I sleep at five o'clock in the morning; I have coffee
for breakfast; I drink innumerable cups of black coffee during the day; I
have the most unorthodox and exotic teas even at tea-time. The other day,
for instance - I just mention this as a terrifying example to show you how
low some people can sink -1 wanted a cup of coffee and a piece of cheese for
tea. It was one of those exceptionally hot days and my wife (once a good
Englishwoman, now completely and hopelessly led astray by my wicked foreign
influence) made some cold coffee and put it in the refrigerator, where it
froze and became one solid block. On the other hand, she left the cheese on
the kitchen table, where it melted. So I had a piece of coffee and a glass
continental people have sex life; the English have hot-water bottles.
EXAMPLES FOR CONVERSATION
I heard of a distinguished, pure-minded English publisher who adapted
John Steinbeck's novel. The Grapes of Wrath, so skilfully that it became a
charming little family book on grapes and other fruits, with many
illustrations. On the other hand, a continental publisher in London had a
French political book. The Popular Front, translated into English. It became
an exciting, pornographic book, called The Popular Behind.
when I arrived in England I thought I knew English. After I'd been here
an hour I realized that I did not understand one word. In the first week I
picked up a tolerable working knowledge of the language and the next seven
years convinced me gradually but thoroughly that I would never know it
really well, let alone perfectly. This is sad. My only consolation being
that nobody speaks English perfectly.
Remember that those five hundred words an average Englishman uses are
far from being the whole vocabulary of the language. You may learn another
five hundred and another five thousand and yet another fifty thousand and
still you may come across a further fifty thousand you have never heard of
before, and nobody else either. If you live here long enough you will find
out to your greatest amazement that the adjective nice is not the only
adjective the language possesses, in spite of the fact that in the first
three years you do not need to learn or use any other adjectives. You can
say that the weather is nice, a restaurant is nice, Mr Soandso is nice, Mrs
Soandso's clothes are nice, you had a nice time, and all this will be very
nice. Then you have to decide on your accent. You will have your foreign
accent all right, but many people like to mix it with something else. I knew
a Polish Jew who had a strong Yiddish-Irish accent. People found it
fascinating though slightly exaggerated. The easiest way to give the
impression of having a good accent or no foreign accent at all is to hold an
unlit pipe in your mouth, to mutter between your teeth and finish all your
sentences with the question: 'isn't it?' People will not understand much,
but they are accustomed to that and they will get a most excellent
I have known quite a number of foreigners who tried hard to acquire an
Oxford accent. The advantage of this is that you give the idea of being
permanently in the company of Oxford dons and lecturers on medieval
numismatics; the disadvantage is that the permanent singing is rather a
strain on your throat and that it is a type of affection that even many
English people find it hard to keep up incessantly. You may fall out of it,
speak naturally, and then where are you? The Mayfair accent can be highly
recommended, too. The advantages of Mayfair English are that it unites the
affected air of the Oxford accent with the uncultured flavour of a
half-educated professional hotel-dancer.
The most successful attempts, however, to put on a highly cultured air
have been made on the polysyllabic lines. Many foreigners who have learnt
Latin and Greek in school discover with amazement and satisfaction that the
English language has absorbed a huge amount of ancient Latin and Greek
expressions, and they realize that (
a) it is much easier to learn these expressions than the much simpler
(b) that these words as a rule are interminably long and make a simply
superb impression when talking to the greengrocer, the porter and the
insurance agent. Imagine, for instance, that the porter of the block of
flats where you live remarks sharply that you must not put your dustbin out
in front of your door before 7.30 a.m. Should you answer 'Please don't bully
me,' a loud and tiresome argument may follow, and certainly the porter will
be proved right, because you are sure to find a dause in your contract
(small print, of last page) that the porter is always right and you owe
absolute allegiance and unconditional obedience to him. Should you answer,
however, with these words: 1 repudiate your petulant expostulations,' the
argument will be closed at once, the porter will be proud of having such a
highly cultured man in the block, and from that day onwards you may, if you
please, get up at four o'clock in the morning and hang your dustbin out of
the window. But even in Curzon Street society, if you say, for instance,
that you are a tough guy they will consider you a vulgar, irritating and
objectionable person. Should you declare, however, that you are an
inquisitorial and peremptory homo sapiens, they will have no idea what you
mean, but they will feel in their bones that you must be something
wonderful. When you know all the long words it is advisable to start
learning some of the short ones, too. You should be careful when using these
endless words. An acquaintance of mine once was fortunate enough to discover
the most impressive word notalgia for back-ache. Mistakenly, however, he
declared in a large company: 'I have such a nostalgia.' 'Oh, you want to go
home to Nizhne-Novgorod?' asked his most sympathetic hostess. 'Not at all,'
he answered. 'I just cannot sit down.' . Finally, there are two important
points to remember:
1. Do not forget that it is much easier to write in English than to
speak English, because you can write without a foreign accent.
2. In a bus and in other public places it is more advisable to speak
softly in good German than to shout in abominable English.
Anyway, this whole language business is not at all easy. After spending
eight years in this country, the other day I was told by a very kind lady:
'But why do you complain? You really speak a most excellent accent without
the slightest English.'
'You foreigners are so clever,' said a lady to me some years ago.
First, thinking of the great amount of foreign idiots and half-wits I had
had the honour of meeting, I considered this remark exaggerated but
complimentary. Since then I have learnt that it was far from it. These few
words expressed the lady's contempt and slight disgust for foreigners.
If you look up the word clever in any English dictionary, you will find
that the dictionaries are out of date and mislead you on this point.
According to the Pocket Oxford Dictionary, for instance, the word means
quick and neat in movement .. . skilful, talented, ingenious. Nuttall's
Dictionary gives these meanings: dexterous, skilful, ingenious, quick or
ready-witted, intelligent. All nice adjectives, expressing valuable and
estimable characteristics. A modern Englishman, however, uses the word
clever in the sense: shrewd, sly, furtive, surreptitious, treacherous,
sneaking, crafty, un-English, un-Scottish, un-Welsh. In England it is bad
manners to be clever, to assert something confidently. It may be your own
personal view that two and two make four, but you must not state it in a
self-assured way, because this is a democratic country and others may be of
a different opinion.
A continental gentleman seeing a nice panorama may remark: 'This view
rather reminds me of Utrecht, where the peace treaty concluding the War of
Spanish Succession was signed on the 11 th April, 1713. The river there,
however, recalls the Guadalquivir, which rises in the
Sierra de Cazoria and flows south-west to the Atlantic Ocean and is 6^0
kilometres long. Oh, rivers. . . . What did Pascal say about them? "Les
rivieres sont les chemins qui marchent. . . ." ' This pompous, showing-off
way of speaking is not permissible in England. The Englishman is modest and
simple. He uses but few words and expresses so much - but so much - with
them. An Englishman looking at the same view would remain silent for two or
three hours and think about how to put his profound feeling into words. Then
he would remark: 'It's pretty, isn't it?' An English professor of
mathematics would say to his maid checking up the shopping list: 'I'm no
good at arithmetic, I'm afraid. Please correct me, Jane, if I am wrong, but
I believe that the square root of 97344 is 312.' And about knowledge. An
English girl, of course, would be able to learn just a little more about,
let us say, geography. But it is just not 'chic' to know whether Budapest is
the capital of Roumania, Hungary or Bulgaria. And if she happens to know
that Budapest is the capital of Roumania, she should at least be perplexed
if Bucharest is mentioned suddenly. It is so much nicer to ask, when someone
speaks of Barbados, Banska Bystrica or Fiji: 'Oh those little islands. . . .
Are they British?' (They usually are.)
it is easy to be rude on the Continent. You just shout and call people
names of a zoological character.
On a slightly higher level you may invent a few stories against your
opponents. In Budapest, for instance, when a rather unpleasant-looking
actress joined a nudist club, her younger and prettier colleagues spread the
story that she had been accepted only under the condition that she should
wear a fig-leaf on her face. Or in the same city there was a painter of
limited abilities who was a most successful card-player. A colleague of his
remarked once: 'What a spendthrift! All the money he makes on industrious
gambling at night, he spends on his painting during the day.'
In England rudeness has quite a different technique. If somebody tells
you an obviously untrue story, on the Continent you would remark 'You are a
liar, Sir, and a rather dirty one at that.' In England you just say 'Oh, is
that so?' Or 'That's rather an unusual story, isn't it?'
When some years ago, knowing ten words of English and using them all
wrong, I applied for a translator's job, my would-be employer (or
would-be-not-employer) softly remarked: 1 am afraid your English is somewhat
unorthodox.' This translated into any continental language would mean:
employer (to the commissionaire) : 'Jean, kick this gentleman down the steps
In the last century, when a wicked and unworthy subject annoyed the
Sultan of Turkey or the Czar of Russia, he had his head cut of without much
ceremony; but when the same happened in England, the monarch declared: 'We
are not amused'; and the whole British nation even now, a century later, is
immensely proud of how rude their Queen was.
Terribly rude expressions (if pronounced grimly) are: 1 am afraid that
. . .' 'unless . ..' 'nevertheless . . .' 'How queer . . .' and 1 am sorry,
but . . .'
It is true that quite often you can hear remarks like: 'You'd better
see that you get out of here I ' Or 'Shut your big mouth I ' Or 'Dirty pig!
' etc. These remarks are very un-English and are the results of foreign
influence. (Dating back, however, to the era of the Danish invasion.)
wise compromise is one of the basic principles and virtues of the
If a continental greengrocer asks 14 schillings (or crowns, or francs,
or pengoes, or dinars or leis or or
ð»ðµð²ð°, or whatever you like) for a bunch of radishes, and his customer
offers 2, and finally they strike a bargain agreeing on 6 schillings,
francs, roubles, etc., this is just the low continental habit of bargaining;
on the other hand, if the British dock-workers or any workers claim a rise
of 4 shillings per day, and the employers first flatly refuse even a penny,
but after six weeks strike they agree to a rise of 2 shillings per day Â€"
that is yet another proof of the British genius for compromise. Bargaining
is a repulsive habit; compromise is one of the highest human virtues - the
difference between the two being that the first is practised on the
Continent, the latter in Great Britain.
The genius for compromise has another aspect, too. It has a tendency to
unite together everything which is bad. English club life, for instance,
unites the liabilities of social life with the boredom of solitude. An
average English house combines all the curses of civilisation with the
vicissitudes of life in the open. It is all right to have windows, but you
must not have double windows because double windows would indeed stop the
wind from blowing right into the room, and after all, you must be fair and
give the wind a chance. It is all right to have central heating in an
English home, except the bath room, because that is the only place where you
are naked and wet at the same time, and you must give British germs a fair
chance. The open fire is an accepted, indeed a traditional, institution. You
sit in front of it and your face is hot whilst your back is cold. It is a
fair compromise between two extremes and settles the problem of how to burn
and catch cold at the same time. The fact that you may have a drink at five
past six p.m., but that it is a criminal offence to have it at five to six
is an extremely wise compromise between two things (I do not quite know
between what, certainly not between prohibition and licentiousness),
achieving the great aim that nobody can get drunk between three o'clock and
six o'clock in the afternoon unless he wants to and drinks at home.
English spelling is a compromise between documentary expressions and an
elaborate code-system; spending three hours in a queue in front of a cinema
is a compromise between entertainment and asceticism; the English weather is
a fair compromise between rain and fog; to employ an English charwoman is a
compromise between having a dirty house or cleaning it yourself; Yorkshire
pudding is a compromise between a pudding and the county of Yorkshire.
The Labour Party is a fair compromise between Socialism and
Bureaucracy; the Beveridge Plan is a fair compromise between being and not
being a Socialist at the same time; the Liberal Party is a fair compromise
between the Beveridge Plan and Toryism; the Independent Labour Party is a
fair compromise between Independent Labour and a political party; the
Tory-reformers are a fair compromise between revolutionary conservatism and
retrograde progress; and the whole British political life is a huge and
noncompromising fight between compromising Conservatives and compromising
if you want to be really and truly British, you must become a
Now: how to be a hypocrite?
As some people say that an example explains things better than the best
theory, let me try this way.
I had a drink with an English friend of mine in a pub. We were sitting
on the high chairs in front of the counter when a flying bomb exploded about
a hundred yards away. I was truly and honestly frightened, and when a few
seconds later I looked around, I could not see my friend anywhere. At last I
noticed that he was lying on the floor, flat as a pancake. When he realized
that nothing particular had happened in the pub he got up a little
embarrassed, flicked the dust off his suit, and turned to me with a superior
and sarcastic smile.
'Good Heavens I Were you so frightened that you couldn't move?'
it is important that you should learn to enjoy simple joys, because
that is extremely English. All serious Englishmen play darts and cricket and
many other games; a famous English statesman was reported to be catching
butterflies in the interval between giving up two European states to the
Germans; there was e.ven some misunderstanding with the French because they
considered the habit of English soldiers of singing and playing football and
hide and seek and blind man's buff slightly childish.
Dull and pompous foreigners are unable to understand why ex-cabinet
ministers get together and sing 'Daisy, Daisy' in choir; why serious
business men play with toy locomotives while their children learn
trigonometry in the adjoining room; why High Court judges collect rare birds
when rare birds are rare and they cannot collect many in any case; why it is
the ambition of grown-up persons to push a little ball into a small hole;
why a great politician who saved England and made history is called a 'jolly
They cannot grasp why people sing when alone and yet sit silent and
dumb for hours on end in their clubs, not uttering a word for months in the
most distinguished company, and pay twenty guineas a year for the privilege.
queueing is the national passion of an otherwise dispassionate race.
The English are rather shy about it, and deny that they adore it.
On the Continent, if people are waiting at a bus-stop they loiter
around in a seemingly vague fashion. When the bus arrives they make a dash
for it; most of them leave by the bus and a lucky minority is taken away by
an elegant black ambulance car. An Englishman, even if he is alone, forms an
orderly queue of one.
The biggest and most attractive advertisements in front of cinemas tell
people: Queue here for 4s 6d; Queue here for 9s 3d; Queue here for 16s 8d
(inclusive of tax). Those cinemas which do not put out these queueing signs
do not do good business at all.
At week-ends an Englishman queues up at the bus-stop, travels out to
Richmond, queues up for a boat, then queues up for tea, then queues up for
ice cream, then joins a few more odd queues just for the sake of the fun of
it, then queues up at the bus-stop and has the time of his life.
Many English families spend lovely evenings at home just by queueing up
for a few hours, and the parents are very sad when the children leave them
and queue up for going to bed.
if you go for a walk with a friend, don't say a word for hours; if you
go out for a walk with your dog, keep chatting to him.
There is a three-chamber legislation in England. A bill to become law
has to be passed by the House of Commons and the House of Lords and finally
approved by the Brains Trust.
A fishmonger is the man who mongs fish; the ironmonger and the
warmonger do the same with iron and war. They just mong them.
2. How to be a Particular Alien
A WORD ON SOME PUBLISHERS
they all hate uniforms so much that they all wear a special uniform of
their own: brown velvet trousers, canary yellow pullover, green jacket with
The suit of clothes has to be chosen with the utmost care and is
intended to prove that its wearer does not care for suits and other petty,
A walking-stick, too, is often carried by the slightly dandyfied
right-wing of the clan.
A golden chain around the ankle, purple velvet shoes and a half-wild
angora cat on the shoulders are strongly recommended as they much increase
the appearance of arresting casualness.
It is extremely important that the B.I. should always wear a three-days
beard, as shaving is considered a contemptible bourgeois habit. (The
extremist left-wing holds the same view concerning washing, too.) First one
will find it a little trying to shave one's four-day beard in such a way
that, after shaving, a three days old beard ration should be left on the
cheeks, but practise and devoted care will bring their fruits.
A certain amount of rudeness is quite indispensable, because you have
to prove day and night that the silly little commonplace rules and customs
of society are not meant for you. If you find it too difficult to give up
these little habits - to say 'Hullo' and 'How d'you do?' and 'Thank you,'
etc. - because owing to Auntie Betty's or Tante Bertha's strict upbringing
they have become second nature, then join a Bloomsbury school for bad
manners, and after a fortnight you will feel no pang of conscience when
stepping deliberately on the corn of the venerable literary editor of a
quarterly magazine in the bus.
Literary opinions must be most carefully selected. Statements like this
are most impressive. 'There have been altogether two real poets in England:
Sir Thomas Wyatt and John Ford. The works of the rest are rubbish.' Of
course, you should include, as the third really great, colossal and
epoch-making talent your own friend, T. B. Williams, whose neo-expressionist
poetry is so terribly deep that the overwhelming majority of editors do not
understand it and refuse to publish it. T. B. Williams, you may proudly
claim, has never used a comma or a full stop, and what is more, he has
improved Apollinaire's and Aragon's primitive technique by the fact that he
does use question marks. (The generous and extravagant praise of T. B.
Williams is absolutely essential, otherwise who will praise you?)
As to your own literary activities, your poems, dramas and great novels
may lie at the bottom of your drawer in manuscript form. But it is important
that you should publish a few literary reviews, scolding and disparaging
everything and everybody on earth from a very superior and high-brow point
of view, quoting Sir Thomas Wyatt and anything in French and letting the
reader feel what you would be able to do if you could only find a publisher.
(Some practical advice. It is not difficult to have a few literary reviews
published. Many weeklies and monthlies would publish anything in their
so-called literary columns, if it costs nothing. You must not call your
action unfair competition with qualified reviewers; call it devotion to the
'cause.' Almost every paper has a cause - if yours has not, invent one, it
is quite easy. And it really does not matter what you write. I remember one
B.I. writing of a significant philosophical work and admitting in the
opening sentence that he did not understand it; still, I suppose the review
passed as buoyant and alarmingly sincere.)
Politically you must belong to the extreme left. You must, however,
bear a few things in mind:
1. You must not care a damn about the welfare of the people in this
country or abroad, because that would be 'practical politics' - and you
should only be interested in the ideological side of matters.
2. Do not belong to any party, because that would be 'regimentation.'
Whatever different parties achieve, it is much more interesting to criticize
everyone than to belong to the herd.
3. Do not hesitate to scorn Soviet Russia as reactionary and
imperialistic, the British Labour Party as a conglomeration of elderly Trade
Union Blimps, the French Socialists as 'confused people,' the other Western
Socialist parties as meek, bourgeois clubs, the American labour movements as
being in the pay of big business; and call all republicans, communists,
anarchists and nihilists 'backward, reactionary crypto-fascists.'
You should also invent a few truly original, constructive theories too,
such as: Only Brahmanism can save the world.
Spiritualism is a factor, growing immensely in importance, and a
practical, working coalition between ghosts and Trotskyites would be highly
The abolition of all taxation would enrich the population so enormously
that everybody would be able to pay much more taxes than before.
Finally, remember the main point. Always be original ! It is not as
difficult as it sounds: you just have to copy the habits and sayings of a
few thousand other B.I.s.
Fix the little word de in front of your name. It has a remarkable
attraction. I knew a certain Leo Rosenberg from Graz who called himself
Lionel de Rosenberg and was a huge success in Deanery Mews as a Tyrolean
Believe that the aim of life is to have a nice time, go to nice places
and meet nice people. (Now: to have a nice time means to have two more
drinks daily than you can carry; nice places are the halls of great hotels,
intimate little clubs, night clubs and private houses with large radiograms
and no bookshelves; nice people are those who say silly things in good
English - nasty people are those who drop clever remarks as well as their
In the old days the man who had no money was not considered a
gentleman. In the era of an enlightened Mayfair this attitude has changed. A
gentleman may have money or may sponge on his friends; the criterion of a
gentleman is that however poor he may be he still refuse to do useful work.
You have to develop your charm with the greatest care. Always laugh at
everybody's jokes - but be careful to tell a joke from a serious and
profound observation. Be polite in a teasing, nonchalant manner. Sneer at
everything you are not intelligent enough to understand. You may flirt with
anybody's wife, but respect the ties of illegitimate friendships - unless
you have a really good opportunity which it would be such a pity to miss.
Don't forget that well-pressed trousers, carefully knotted ties and silk
shirts are the greatest of all human values. Never be sober after 6.30 p.m.
A BLOOMSBURY INTELLECTUAL
A little foreign blood is very advantageous, almost essential, to
become a really great British film producer.
The first aim of a British film producer should be to teach Hollywood a
lesson. Do not be misled, however, by the examples of Henry V or Pygmalion,
which tend to prove that excellent films can be made of great plays without
changing the out-of-date words of Shakespeare and the un-film-like dialogues
of Shaw by ten 'experts' who really know better.
Forget these misleading examples because it is obvious that Shakespeare
could not possibly have had any film technique, and recent research has
proved that he did not even have an eight-seater saloon car with his own
You must not touch any typically American subject. For instance: a
young man of Carthage (Kentucky) who can whistle beautifully goes to town,
and after many disappointments forms his own swing-band and becomes the
leading conductor of New York's night life - which, if you can take the
implication of Hollywood films seriously, is one of the highest honours
which can be conferred on anyone in that country. At the same time he falls
in love with the cloakroom attendant of a drug-store* round the corner, a
platinum-blonde, ravishingly beautiful, who sings a little better than Galli
Curci and Deanna Durbin rolled into one and, in secret, has the greatest
histrionic talent of the century.
*Please note my extensive knowledge of the American language.
After a last-minute scandal with the world-famous prima donna she saves
the first night of her lover's show in the presence of an audience of six
million people by singing Gounod's slightly adapted song. (If you would be
my tootsie-bootsie, I would be your tootsie-bootsie'.) The young and mighty
successful band-leader marries the girl and employs Toscanini to clean his
mouth-organ. Or - to mention just one more example of the serious and 'deep'
type of American films - there is a gay, buoyant, happy and miserably poor
young man in New Golders Green (Alabama), who becomes tremendously rich just
by selling thousands of tractors and jet-propelled aeroplanes to other poor
fellows. The richer he becomes, the unhappier he is - which is a subtle
point to prove that money does not mean happiness, consequently one had
better be content to remain a poor labourer, possibly unemployed. He buys
seven huge motor cars and three private planes and is bitter and pained; he
builds a magnificent and ostentatious palace and gets gloomier and gloomier;
and when the woman he has loved without hope for fifteen years at last falls
in love with him, he breaks down completely and groans and moans desperately
for three days. To increase the 'deep' meaning of the film they photograph
the heroes from the most surprising angles: the cameraman crawls under
people's feet, swings on the chandelier, and hides himself in a bowl of
soup. Everybody is delighted with the new technique and admires the
director's richness of thought. English film directors follow a different
and quite original line. They have discovered somehow that the majority of
the public does not consist, after all, of idiots, and that an intelligent
film is not necessarily foredoomed to failure. It was a tremendous risk to
make experiments based on this assumption, but it has proved worth while.
There are certain rules you must bear in mind if you want to make a really
and truly British film.
1. The 'cockney heart' has definitely been discovered, i.e. the fact
that even people who drop their aitches have a heart. The discovery was
originally made by Mr Noel Coward, who is reported to have met a man who
knew someone who had actually seen a cockney from quite near. Ever since it
has been essential that a cockney should figure in every British film and
display his heart throughout the performance.
2. It has also been discovered that ordinary men occasionally use
unparliamentary expressions in the course of their every-day conversation.
It has been decided that the more often the adjective referring to the
sanguinary character of certain things or persons is used and the
exclamation 'Damn I ' is uttered, the more realistic and more convincing the
film becomes, as able seamen and flight-sergeants sometimes go so far as to
say 'Damni ' when they are carried away by passion. All bodies and
associations formed to preserve the purity of the English soul should note
that I do not agree with this habit - I simply record it. But as it is a
habit, the author readily agrees to supply by correspondence a further list
of the most expressive military terms which would make any new film
3. Nothing should be good enough for a British film producer. I have
heard of a gentleman (I don't know whether the story is true, or only
characteristic) who made a film about Egypt and had a sphinx built in the
studio. When he and his company sailed to Egypt to make some exterior shots,
he took his own sphinx with him to the desert. He was quite right, because
first of all the original sphinx is very old and film people should not use
second-hand stuff; secondly, the old sphinx might have been good enough for
Egyptians (who are all foreigners, after all) but not for a British film
4. As I have seen political events successfully filmed as
detective-stories, and historical personages appear as 'great lovers' (and
nothing else), I have come to the conclusion that this slight change in the
character of a person is highly recommendable, and I advise the filming of
Peter Pan as a thriller, and the Concise Oxford Dictionary as a comic opera.
it is about the same to drive a car in England as anywhere else. To
change a punctured tyre in the wind and rain gives about the same pleasure
outside London as outside Rio de Janeiro; it is not more fun to try to start
up a cold motor with the handle in Moscow than in Manchester, the roughly
50-50 proportion between driving an average car and pushing it is the same
in Sydney and Edinburgh.
There are, however, a few characteristics which distinguish the English
motorist from the continental, and some points which the English motorist
has to remember.
1. In English towns there is a thirty miles an hour speed-limit and the
police keep a watchful eye on law-breakers. The fight against reckless
driving is directed extremely skilfully and carefully according to the very
best English detective-traditions. It is practically impossible to find out
whether you are being followed by a police car or not. There are, however, a
few indications which may help people of extraordinary intelligence and with
very keen powers of observation:
(a) The police always use a 13 h.p., blue Wolseley car;
(b) three uniformed policemen sit in it; and
(c) on these cars you can read the word police written in large letters
in front and rear, all in capitals - lit up during the hours of darkness.
2. I think England is the only country in the world where you have to
leave your lights on even if you park in a brilliantly lit-up street. The
advantage being that your battery gets exhausted, you cannot start up again
and consequently the number of road accidents are greatly reduced. Safety
3. Only motorists can answer this puzzling question: What are taxis
for? A simple pedestrian knows that they are certainly not there to carry
passengers. Taxis, in fact, are a Christian institution. They are here to
teach drivers modesty and humility. They teach us never to be
over-confident; they remind us that we never can tell what the next moment
will bring for us, whether we shall be able to drive on or a taxi will bump
into us from the back or the side. ' ... and thou shalt fear day and night,
and shalt have none assurance of thy life' (Deut., chapter 28, verse 66).
4. There is a huge ideological warfare going on behind the scenes of
the motorist world.
Whenever you stop your car in the City, the West End or many other
places, two or three policemen rush at you and tell you that you must not
park there. Where may you park? They shrug their shoulders. There are a
couple of spots on the South Coast and in a village called Minchinhampton.
Three cars may park there for half an hour every other Sunday morning
between 7 and 8 a.m.
The police are perfectly right. After all, cars have been built to run,
and run fast, so they should not stop.
This healthy philosophy of the police has been seriously challenged by
a certain group of motorists who maintain that cars have been built to park
and not to move. These people drive out to Hampstead Heath or Richmond on
beautiful, sunny days, pull up all their windows and go to sleep. They do
not get a spot of air; they are miserably uncomfortable; they have
nightmares, and the whole procedure is called 'spending a lovely afternoon
in the open.'
HOW TO BE A FILM PRODUCER
if you become a bus driver there are three lovely and very popular
games you must learn to play.
1. Blind man's buff. When you turn right just signal by showing two
millimetres of your finger-tips. It is great fun when motorists do not
notice your signal and run into your huge bus with their tiny cars.
2. Hide and seek. Whenever you approach a request stop hide behind a
large lorry or another bus and when you have almost reached the stop shoot
off at a terrific speed. It is very amusing to see people shake their fists
at you. It is ten to one they miss some important business appointment.
3. Hospital game. If you have to stop for one reason or another, never
wait until the conductor rings the bell. If you start moving quickly and
unexpectedly, and if you are lucky - and in slippery weather you have a very
good chance - people will fall on top of one another. This looks extremely
funny from the driver's seat. (Sometimes the people themselves, who fall
into a muddy pool and break their legs, make a fuss, but, alas! every
society has its bores who have no sense of humour and cannot enjoy a joke at
their own expense.)
britain, far from being a 'decadent democracy', is a Spartan country.
This is mainly due to the British way of building towns, which dispenses
with the reasonable comfort enjoyed by all the other weak and effeminate
peoples of the world.
Medieval warriors wore steel breast-plates and leggings not only for
defence but also to keep up their fighting spirit; priests of the Middle
Ages tortured their bodies with hair-shirts; Indian yogis take their daily
nap lying on a carpet of nails to remain fit. The English plan their towns
in such a way that these replace the discomfort of steel breast-plates,
hair-shirts and nail-carpets.
On the Continent doctors, lawyers, booksellers -just to mention a few
examples - are sprinkled all over the city, so you can call on a good or at
least expensive doctor in any district. In England the idea is that it is
the address that makes the man. Doctors in London are crowded in Harley
Street, solicitors in Lincoln's Inn Fields, second-hand-bookshops in Charing
Cross Road, newspaper offices in Fleet Street, tailors in Saville Row,
car-merchants in Great Portland Street, theatres around Piccadilly Circus,
cinemas in Leicester Square, etc. If you have a chance of replanning London
you can greatly improve on this idea. All greengrocers should be placed in
Hornsey Lane (N6), all butchers in Mile End (e1), and all gentlemen's
conveniences in Bloomsbury (WC).
Now I should like to give you a little practical advice on how to build
an English town.
You must understand that an English town is a vast conspiracy to
mislead foreigners. You have to use century-old little practices and tricks.
1. First of all, never build a street straight. The English love
privacy and do not want to see one end of the street from the other end.
Make sudden curves in the streets and build them S-shaped too; the letters
L, T, V, Y, W and 0 are also becoming increasingly popular. It would be a
fine tribute to the Greeks to build a few ð¤ and î˜-shaped streets; it would
be an ingenious compliment to the Russians to favour the shape ð¯, and I am
sure the Chinese would be more than flattered to see some -shaped thoroughfares.
2. Never build the houses of the same street in a straight line. The
British have always been a freedom-loving race and the 'freedom to build a
muddle' is one of their most ancient civic rights.
3. Now there are further camouflage possibilities in the numbering of
houses. Primitive continental races put even numbers on one side, odd
numbers on the other, and you always know that small numbers start from the
north or west. In England you have this system, too; but you may start
numbering your houses at one end, go up to a certain number on the same
side, then continue on the other side, going back in the opposite direction.
You may leave out some numbers if you are superstitious; and you may
continue the numbering in a side street; you may also give the same number
to two or three houses.
But this is far from the end. Many people refuse to have numbers
altogether, and they choose names. It is very pleasant, for instance, to
find a street with three hundred and fifty totally similar bungalows and
look for 'The Bungalow'. Or to arrive in a street where all the houses have
a charming view of a hill and try to find 'Hill View'. Or search for 'Seven
Oaks' and find a house with three apple-trees.
4. Give a different name to the street whenever it bends; but if the
curve is so sharp that it really makes two different streets, you may
keep the same name. On the other hand, if, owing to neglect, a street has
been built in a straight line it must be called by many different names
(High Holborn, New Oxford Street, Oxford Street, Bayswater Road, Netting
Hill Gate, Holland Park and so on).
5. As some cute foreigners would be able to learn their way about even
under such circumstances, some further precautions are necessary. Call
streets by various names: street, road, place, mews, crescent, avenue, rise,
lane, way, grove, park, gardens, alley, arch, path, walk, broadway,
promenade, gate, terrace, vale, view, hill, etc.*
* While this book was at the printers a correspondence in The Times
showed that the English have almost sixty synonyms for 'street.' If you add
to these the street names which stand alone (Piccadilly, Strand, etc.) and
the accepted and frequently used double names ('Garden Terrace', 'Church
Street', 'Park Road', etc.) the number of street names reaches or exceeds a
hundred. It has been suggested by one correspondent that this clearly proves
what wonderful imagination the English have. I believe it proves the
contrary. A West End street in London is not called 'Haymarket' because the
playful fancy of Londoners populates the district with romantically clad
medieval food dealers, but simply because they have not noticed as yet that
the hay trade has considerably declined between Piccadilly and Pall Mall in
the last three hundred years.
Now two further possibilities arise:
(a) Gather all sorts of streets and squares of the same name in one
neighbourhood: Belsize Park, Belsize Street, Belsize Road, Belsize Gardens,
Belsize Green, Belsize Circus, Belsize Yard, Belsize Viaduct, Belsize
Arcade, Belsize Heath, etc.
(b) Place a number of streets of exactly the same name in different
districts. If you have about twenty Princes Squares and Warwick Avenues in
the town, the muddle - you may claim without immodesty - will be complete.
6. Street names should be painted clearly and distinctly on large
boards. Then hide these boards carefully. Place them too high or too low, in
shadow and darkness, upside down and inside out, or, even better, lock them
up in a safe in your bank, otherwise they may give people some indication
about the names of the streets.
7. In order to break down the foreigner's last vestige of resistance
and shatter his morale, one further trick is advisable: Introduce the system
of squares - real squares, I mean - which run into four streets like this:
With this simple device it is possible to build a street of which the
two sides have different names.
P.S. - I have been told that my above-described theory is all wrong and
is only due to my Central European conceit, because the English do not care
for the opinion of foreigners. In every other country, it has been
explained, people just build streets and towns following their own common
sense. England is the only country of the world where there is a Ministry of
Town and Country Planning. That is the real reason for the muddle.
there is a world of difference between the English Civil Servant and
On the Continent (not speaking now of the Scandinavian countries),
Civil Servants assume a certain military air. They consider themselves
little generals; they use delaying tactics; they cannot withdraw armies, so
they withdraw permissions; they thunder like cannons and their speech is
like machine-gun fire; they cannot lose battles, they lose documents
instead. They consider that the sole aim of human society is to give jobs to
Civil Servants. A few wicked individuals, however (contemptible little
groups of people who are not Civil Servants), conspire against them, come to
them with various requests, complaints, problems, etc., with the sole
purpose of making a nuisance of themselves. These people get the reception
they deserve. They are kept waiting in cold and dirty ante-chambers (some of
them clean these rooms occasionally, but they are hired commissionaires
whose duty it is to re-dirty these rooms every morning); they have to stand,
often at attention, whilst they are spoken to; they are always shouted at in
a rude manner and their requests are turned down with malicious pleasure.
Sometimes - this is a popular cat and mouse game - they are sent to another
office on the fifth floor, from there they are directed to a third office in
the basement, where they are told that they should not have come there at
all and sent back to the original office. In that office they are thoroughly
told off in acrimonious language and dispatched to the fifth floor once
again, from there to the basement and the procedure goes on endlessly until
the poor fellows either get tired of the whole business and give up in
despair or become raving lunatics and go to an asylum asking for admittance.
If the latter case occurs they are told in the reception office that they
have come to the wrong place, they should go to another office on the fifth
floor, from which they are sent down to the basement, etc., etc., until they
give up being lunatics.
(If you want to catch me out and ask me who are then the people who
fill the continental lunatic asylums, I can give you the explanation: they
are all Civil Servants who know the ways and means of dealing with officials
and succeed in getting in somehow.)
If a former continental Civil Servant thought that this martial
behaviour would be accepted by the British public he would be badly
mistaken. The English Civil Servant considers himself no soldier but a
glorified businessman. He is smooth and courteous; he smiles in a superior
way; he is agreeable and obliging.
If so - you may ask - how can he achieve the supreme object of his vast
and noble organization, namely, not to transact any business and be left in
peace to read a good murder story undisturbed?
There are various, centuries-old, true British traditions to secure
1.All orders and directives to the public are worded in such a way that
they should have no meaning whatever.
2. All official letters are written in such a language that the oracles
of Delphi sound as examples of clear, outspoken, straightforward statements
compared with them.
3. Civil Servants never make decisions, they only promise to
'consider,' - 'consider favourably' - or - and this is the utmost -
'reconsider' certain questions.
4. In principle the British Civil Servant stands always at the disposal
of the public. In practice he is either in 'conference' or out for lunch, or
in but having his tea, or just out. Some develop an admirable technique of
going out for tea before coming back from lunch.
The British Civil Servant, unlike the rough bully we often find on the
Continent, is the Obedient Servant of the public. Before the war, an alien
in this country was ordered to leave. He asked for extension of his staying
permit, but was refused. He stayed on all the same, and after a while he
received the following letter (I quote from memory):
Dear Sir, The Under-Secretary of State presents his compliments and
regrets that he is unable to reconsider your case, and begs to inform you
that unless you kindly leave this country within 34 hours you will be
Your Obedient Servant,
x x x
On the Continent rich and influential people, or those who have
friends, cousins, brothers-in-law, tenants, business associates, etc., in an
office may have their requests fulfilled. In England there is no such
corruption and your obedient servant just will not do a thing whoever you
may be. And this is the real beauty of democracy.
THREE GAMES FOR BUS DRIVERS
there was some trouble with the Buburuk tribe in the Pacific Island,
Charamak. A party of ten English and two American soldiers, under the
command of Capt. R. L. A. T. W. Tilbury, raided the island and took 217
revolutionary, native troublemakers prisoner and wrecked two large
oil-dumps. The party remained ashore an hour-and-a-half and returned to
their base without loss to themselves.
How to report this event? It depends which newspaper you work for.
. . . It would be exceedingly perilous to overestimate the significance
of the raid, but it can be fairly proclaimed that it would be even more
dangerous to underestimate it. The success of the raid clearly proves that
the native defences are not invulnerable; it would be fallacious and
deceptive, however, to conclude that these defences are vulnerable. The
number of revolutionaries captured cannot be safely stated, but it seems
likely that the number is well over 216 but well under 218.
You may become an M.P. (Nothing is impossible - this would not be even
unprecedented.) You may hear then the following statement by a member of Her
'Concerning the two wrecked oil-dumps I can give this information to
the House. In the first half of this year the amount of native oil destroyed
by the Army, Navy and the R.A.F. - excluding however, the Fleet Air Arm - is
one-half as much as three times the amount destroyed during the
corresponding months of the previous year, seven and a half times as much as
the two-fifths destroyed two years ago and three-quarters as much again as
twelve times one-sixth destroyed three years ago.' (Loud cheers from the
You jump to your feet and ask this question:
You: Is the Right Hon. Gentleman aware that people in this country are
puzzled and worried by the fact that Charamak was raided and not Ragamak?
the right hon. member: I have nothing to add to my statement given on
2nd August, 1892.
EVENING STANDARD (Londoner's Diary)
The most interesting feature of the Charamak raid is the fact that
Reggie Tilbury is the fifth son of the Earl of Bayswater. He was an Oxford
Blue, a first-class cricketerand quite good at polo. When I talked to his
wife (Lady Clarisse, the daughter of Lord Elasson) at Claridges today, she
wore a black suit and a tiny black hat with a yellow feather in it. She
said: 'Reggie was always very much interested in warfare.' Later she
remarked : 'It was clever of him, wasn't it?'
You may write a letter to the Editor of The Times:
Sir, - In connection with the Charamak raid I should like to mention as
a matter of considerable interest that it was in that little Pacific Island
that the distinguished English poet, John Flat, wrote his famous poem 'The
Cod' in 1693. Yours, etc. . ..
You may read this answer on the following day.
Sir, - I am very grateful to Mr . . . for calling attention to John
Flat's poem 'The Cod.' May I be allowed to use this opportunity, however, to
correct a widespread and in my view very unfortunate error which the great
masses of the British people seem to share with your correspondent. "The
Cod,' although John Flat started writing it in 1603, was only finished in
the early days of January 1694.
Yours, etc. . . .
If you are the London correspondent of the American paper THE OKLAHOMA
SUN simply cable this:
'Yanks Conquer Pacific Ocean.'
the verb to naturalize clearly proves what the British think of you.
Before you are admitted to British citizenship you are not even considered a
natural human being. I looked up the word natural (na'tural) in the Pocket
Oxford Dictionary (p. 251); it says: Of or according to or provided by
nature, physically existing, innate, instinctive, normal, not miraculous or
spiritual or artificial or conventional. . . . Note that before you obtain
British citizenship, they simply doubt that you are provided by nature.
According to the Pocket Oxford Dictionary the word 'natural' has a
second meaning, too: Half-witted person. This second meaning, however, is
irrelevant from the point of view of our present argument.
If you are tired of not being provided by nature, not being physically
existing and being miraculous and conventional at the same time, apply for
British citizenship. Roughly speaking, there are two possibilities: it will
be granted to you, or not.
In the first case you must recognize and revise your attitude to life.
You must pretend that you are everything you are not and you must look down
upon everything you are.
Copy the attitude of an English acquaintance of mine - let us call him
Gregory Baker. He, an English solicitor, feels particularly deep contempt
for the following classes of people: foreigners, Americans, Frenchmen,
Irishmen, Scotsmen and Welshmen, Jews, workers, clerks, poor people,
non-professional men, business men, actors, journalists and literary men,
women, solicitors who do not practise in his immediate neighbourhood,
solicitors who are hard up and solicitors who are too rich. Socialists,
Liberals, Tory-reformers (Communists are not worthy even of his contempt);
he looks down upon his mother, because she has a business mind, his wife,
because she comes from a non-professional county family, his brother,
because although he is a professional officer he does not serve with the
Guards, Hussars, or at least with a county regiment. He adores and admires
his seven-years old son, because the shape of his nose resembles his own. If
naturalized, remember these rules:
1. You must start eating porridge for breakfast and allege that you
2. Speak English with your former compatriots. Deny that you know any
foreign language (including your mother tongue). The knowledge of foreign
languages is very un-English. A little French is permissible, but only with
an atrocious accent.
3. Revise your library. Get rid of all foreign writers whether in the
original or translated into English. The works of Dostoyevsky should be
replaced by a volume on English Birds; the collected works of Proust by a
book called 'Interior Decoration in the Regency Period'; and Pascal's
Pensees by the 'Life and Thoughts of a Scottish Salmon'.
4. Speaking of your new compatriots, always use the first person
In this aspect, though, a certain caution is advisable. I know a
naturalized Britisher who, talking to a young man, repeatedly used the
phrase 'We Englishmen.' The young man looked at him, took his pipe out of
his mouth and remarked softly: 'Sorry, Sir, I'm a Welshman,' turned his back
on him and walked away.
The same gentleman was listening to a conversation. It was mentioned
that the Japanese had claimed to have shot down 22 planes.
'What - ours?' he asked indignantly.
His English hostess answered icily:
'No - ours.'
The Land of the Rising Yen
Everyone writes about the tea ceremony in Japan, but who, except George
Mikes, notices the way the rubbish is thrown out? Everyone reports his own
reaction to the Japanese sense of tradition, but who else spots the reaction
of the Japanese to their own sense of tradition?
Whether he is describing morals or manners, George Mikes looks at the
Japanese as he looks at the rest of mankind - with his own inscrutable blend
of curiosity, respect, affection and charm.
How to be a Brit
How to be a Decadent
How to be a Guru
How to be Poor
How to be a Yank
JOURNALISM OR THE FREEDOM OF THE PRESS
Last-modified: Wed, 23 Jun 1999 21:19:18 GMT