HOW TO BE AN ALIEN. A HUNGARIAN IN BRITAIN

GEORGE MIKES

HOW TO BE AN ALIEN. A HUNGARIAN IN BRITAIN

PREFACE

I believe, without undue modesty, that I have certain 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 surprise. Like all great and important discoveries it HOW TO BE AN ALIEN. A HUNGARIAN IN BRITAIN was a matter of a few seconds.

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 surprise - 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 HOW TO BE AN ALIEN. A HUNGARIAN IN BRITAIN. '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 and everywhere.' 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 HOW TO BE AN ALIEN. A HUNGARIAN IN BRITAIN 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.

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 HOW TO BE AN ALIEN. A HUNGARIAN IN BRITAIN. 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.

A WARNING TO BEGINNERS

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 HOW TO BE AN ALIEN. A HUNGARIAN IN BRITAIN 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 HOW TO BE AN ALIEN. A HUNGARIAN IN BRITAIN 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 HOW TO BE AN ALIEN. A HUNGARIAN IN BRITAIN off their knowledge; in England only uneducated people show off their knowledge, nobody quotes Latin and Greek authors in the course of a conversation.

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 HOW TO BE AN ALIEN. A HUNGARIAN IN BRITAIN. Many continentals think life is a game; the English think cricket is a game. *When people say England, they sometimes mean Great Britain, sometimes the United Kingdom, sometimes the British Isles - but never England.



INTRODUCTION

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 HOW TO BE AN ALIEN. A HUNGARIAN IN BRITAIN 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 HOW TO BE AN ALIEN. A HUNGARIAN IN BRITAIN health of your new acquaintance.. 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 HOW TO BE AN ALIEN. A HUNGARIAN IN BRITAIN 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 HOW TO BE AN ALIEN. A HUNGARIAN IN BRITAIN all the time.

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