How to be an Alien

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Published Date:02-07-2017
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GEORGE M I K E S How to be an Alien DRAWINGS BY N I C O L A S B E N T L E Y How to be an Alien GEORGE MIKES Nicolas Bentley drew the pictures Level 3 Retold by Karen Holmes Series Editors: Andy Hopkins and Jocelyn Potter Pearson Education limited Edinburgh Gate, Harlow, Essex CM20 2JE, England and Associated Companies throughout the world. ISBN 0 582 468272 First published by Andre Deutsch 1946 Copyright 1946 by George Mikes and Nicolas Bentley This adaptation first published by Penguin Books 1998 Published by Addison Wesley Longman Limited and Penguin Books Ltd. 1998 This edition first published 2000 Text copyright © Karen Holmes 1998 All illustrations copyright © Nicolas Bentley 1946 All rights reserved The moral right of the adapter and of the illustrator has been asserted Typeset by Digital Type, London Set in ll/14pt Bembo Printed in Spain by Mateu Cromo, S. A. Pinto (Madrid) All rights reserved; no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior written permission of the Publishers. Published by Pearson Education Limited in association with Penguin Books Ltd, both companies being subsidiaries of Pearson Plc For a complete list of the tides available in the Penguin Readers series please write to your local Pearson Education office or to: Marketing Department, Penguin Longman Publishing, 5 Bentinck Street, London W1M 5RN. Contents page Introduction iv Preface 1 Part 1 The Most Important Rules 3 Chapter 1 A Warning to Beginners 3 Chapter 2 Introducing People 5 Chapter 3 The Weather 7 Chapter 4 Examples for Conversation 7 Chapter 5 Soul: Not Quite Saying What You Mean 10 Chapter 6 Tea 11 Chapter 7 Sex 12 Chapter 8 The Language 12 Chapter 9 How Not to Be Clever 14 Chapter 10 How to Be Rude 15 Chapter 11 How to Compromise 17 Chapter 12 How to Be a Hypocrite 18 Chapter 13 Small Pleasures 18 Chapter 14 Favourite Things 19 Chapter 15 Remember 21 Part 2 Less Important Rules and some Special Examples 21 Chapter 16 A Bloomsbury Intellectual 21 Chapter 17 Mayfair Playboy 22 Chapter 18 How to Be a Film-Maker 23 Chapter 19 Driving Cars 24 Chapter 20 Three Games for Bus Drivers 28 Chapter 21 How to Plan a Town 29 Chapter 22 Civil Servants 32 Chapter 23 British Newspapers 35 Chapter 24 If Naturalized 37 Activities 41 Introduction The weather is the most important subject in the land. In Europe, people say, ‘He is the type of person who talks about the weather,’ to show that somebody is very boring. In England, the weather is always an interesting, exciting subject and you must be good at talking about it. George Mikes wrote this book to tell the English what he thought about them. He is both funny and rude about the strange things English people do and say - the things that make them different from other Europeans. In this book you will learn many useful rules about being English. You will learn how to talk about the weather, and what to say when somebody brings you a cup of tea at 5 o’clock in the morning. You will discover what the English really think of clever people and doctors. This book will help you to be more like the English. As George Mikes says: ‘If you are like the English, they think you are funny. If you are not like them, they think you are even funnier.’ George Mikes was born in Hungary in 1921. He studied law at Budapest University, and then began to write for newspapers. He came to London for two weeks just before the Second World War began, and made England his home for the rest of his life. During the war he worked for the BBC, making radio programmes for Hungary. He wrote How to be an Alien in 1946. He did not want to write an amusing book, but thousands of English people bought it and found it very funny. He wrote many other books about foreigners and English people. The story of his life, How to be Seventy, went on sale in bookshops on his seventieth birthday in 1982. He died in 1987. iv PREFACE I wrote this book in 1946. Many people bought it and said kind things about it. I was surprised and pleased but I was also unhappy that they liked it. I will explain. It is very nice when a lot of people buy a book by a new writer. I’m sorry, ‘very nice’ is not an English thing to say. It is not unpleasant when a lot of readers like a new book. Why was I unhappy? I wrote this book to tell the English what I thought about them, or ‘where to get off as they say. I thought I was brave. I thought, ‘This book is going to make the English angry’ But no storm came The English only said that my book was ‘quite amusing’. I was very unhappy. Then, a few weeks later, I heard about a woman who gave this book to her husband because she thought it was ‘quite amusing’. The man sat down, put his feet up, and read the book. His face became darker and darker. When he finished the book, he stood up and said, ‘Rude Very, very rude’ He threw the book into the fire. What a good Englishman He said just the right thing, and I felt much better. I hoped to meet more men like him, but I never found another Englishman who did not like the book. I have written many more books since then but nobody remembers them. Everybody thinks How to be an Alien is the only book that I have ever written. This is a problem. I am now in the middle of writing a very large and serious book, 750 pages long. about old Sumeria. I will win the Nobel Prize for it. It will make no difference; people will still think How to be an Alien is the only book that I have ever written. People ask me, ‘When are you going to write another How to be an Alien?’ I am sure they mean to be kind, but they cannot quite understand my quiet reply: ‘Never, I hope.’ 1 I think I am the right person to write about ‘how to be an alien’. I am an alien. I have been an alien all my life. I first understood that I was an alien when I was twenty-six years old. In my country, Hungary, everybody was an alien so I did not think I was very different or unusual. Then I came to England and learned that I was different. This was an unpleasant surprise. I learned immediately that I was an alien. People learn all important things in a few seconds. A long time ago I spent a lot of time with a young woman who was very proud of being English. One day, to my great surprise, she asked me to marry her. ‘No,’ I replied, ‘I cannot marry you. My mother does not want me to marry a foreigner.’ She looked surprised and replied, ‘Me, a foreigner? What a funny thing to say. I’m English. You are the foreigner And your mother is a foreigner, too’ I did not agree. ‘Am I a foreigner in Budapest, too?’ I asked. ‘Everywhere,’ she said. ‘If it’s true that you’re an alien in England, it’s also true in Hungary and North Borneo and Venezuela and everywhere.’ She was right, of course, and I was quite unhappy about it. There is no way out of it. Other people can change. A criminal can perhaps change his ways and become a better person but a foreigner cannot change. A foreigner is always a foreigner. He can become British, perhaps; he can never become truly English. So it is better to understand that you are always a foreigner. Maybe some English people will forgive you. They will be polite to you. They will ask you into their homes and they will be kind to you. The English keep dogs and cats and they are happy to keep a few foreigners, too. This book offers you some rules about being an alien in England. Study them carefully. They will help you to be more like the English. If you are like the English, they think you are funny. If you are not like them, they think you are even funnier. G.M. 2 PART 1 THE MOST IMPORTANT RULES Chapter 1 A Warning to Beginners In England everything is different. You must understand that when people say ‘England’, they sometimes mean ‘Great Britain’ (England, Scotland and Wales), sometimes ‘the United Kingdom’ (England Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland), sometimes the ‘British Isles’ (England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland) – but never just England. On Sundays in Europe, the poorest person wears his best clothes and the life of the country becomes happy, bright and colourful; on Sundays in England, the richest people wear their oldest clothes and the country becomes dark and sad. In Europe nobody talks about the weather; in England, you have to say ‘Nice day, isn’t it?’ about two hundred times every day, or people think you are a bit boring. In Europe you get Sunday newspapers on Monday. In England, a strange country, you get Sunday newspapers on Sunday. On a European bus the driver uses the bell if he wants to drive on past a bus-stop without stopping. In England you use the bell when you want the bus to stop. In Europe people like their cats but in England they love their cats more than their family. In Europe, people eat good food. In England people think that good manners at the table are more important than the food you get to eat. The English eat bad food but they say it tastes good. In Europe important people speak loudly and clearly; in England they learn to speak slowly and quietly so you cannot understand them. In Europe, clever people show that they are clever by talking about Aristotle, Horace and Montaigne; in England only stupid people try to show how clever they are. The 3 On Sundays in England, the richest people wear their oldest clothes and the country becomes sad and dark. only people who talk about Latin and Greek writers are those who have not read them. In Europe, almost every country, big or small, fights wars to show they are the best; the English fight wars against those people who think they are the best. The English already know which country is really the best. Europeans cry and quickly get angry; instead of this the English just laugh quietly at their problems. In Europe people are either honest with you or they lie to you; in England people almost never lie, but they are almost never quite honest with you either. Many Europeans think that life is a game; the English think cricket is a game. Chapter 2 Introducing People This part of the book tells you how to introduce people to other people. Most importantly, when you introduce strangers, do not say their name so that the other person is able to hear it. Usually this is not a problem because nobody can understand your accent. If somebody introduces you to a stranger, there are two important rules to follow. 1 If he puts out his hand to shake yours, do not take it. Smile and wait. When he stops trying to shake your hand, try to shake his. Repeat this game all afternoon or evening. Quite possibly this will be the most amusing part of your afternoon or evening. 2 The introductions are finished and your new friend asks if you are well: ‘How do you do? ‘ But do not forget: he does not really want to know. To him it does not matter if you are well or if you are dying of a terrible illness. Do not answer. Your conversation will be like this: HE: ‘How do you do?’ 5 If he puts out his hand to shake yours, do not take it. When he stops trying to shake your hand, try to shake his. YOU: ‘Quite good health. Not sleeping very well. Left foot hurts a bit. One or two stomach problems.’ A conversation like this is un-English, and unforgivable. When ’ you meet somebody, never say, ‘Pleased to meet you. English people think this is very rude. And one other thing: do not call foreign lawyers, teachers, doctors, dentists or shopkeepers ‘Doctor’. Everybody knows that the little word ‘doctor’ means that you are a central European. It is not a good thing to be a central European in England, so you do not want people to remember. Chapter 3 The Weather This is the most important subject m the land. In Europe, people say, ‘He is the type of person who talks about the weather,’ to show that somebody is very boring. In England, the weather is always an interesting, exciting subject and you must be good at talking about it. Chapter 4 Examples for Conversation For Good Weather ‘Nice day, isn’t it? ‘ ‘Isn’t it beautiful?’ ‘The sun ‘Isn’t it wonderful?’ ‘Yes, wonderful, isn’t it? ‘ ‘It’s so nice and hot . . .’ ‘I think it’s so nice when it’s hot, isn’t it?’ ‘I really love it, don’t you? ‘ 7 For Bad Weather ‘Terrible day, isn’t it?’ ‘Isn’t it unpleasant?’ ‘The rain ... I don’t like the rain.’ ‘Just think - a day like this in July. It rains in the morning, then a bit of sun and then rain, rain, rain, all day’ ‘I remember the same July day in 1936 ‘Yes, I remember too.’ ‘Or was it 1928?’ ‘Yes, it was.’ ‘Or in 1939?’ ‘Yes, that’s right.’ Now look at the last few sentences of this conversation. You can see a very important rule: you must always agree with other people when you talk about the weather. If it is raining and snowing and the wind is knocking down trees, and someone says, ‘Nice day, isn’t it?’ answer immediately, ‘Isn’t it wonderful?’ Learn these conversations by heart. You can use them again and again. If you repeat these conversations every day for the rest of your life, it is possible that people will think you are clever, polite and amusing. Listen to the weather reports on the radio and you will hear different weather reports for different people. There is always a different report for farmers. For example, you hear, ‘Tomorrow it will be cloudy and cold. There will be a lot of rain.’ Then, immediately after this you hear, ‘Weather report for farmers. It will be bright and warm and there will be a lot of sunshine.’ Farmers do important work for the country, so they need better weather, you see. Often the radio tells you that it is a nice day but then you look 8 If it is raining and someone says, 'Nice, day, isn't it?' answer immediately, 'Isn't it wonderful?' outside and see that it is raining or snowing. Sometimes the radio says it is a rainy day and you see that the sun is shining brightly. This is not because the weather people have made a mistake. It is because they have reported the right weather as they want it to be but then some troublesome weather from another part of the world moves in across Britain and changes the weather picture. If British weather has to mix with foreign weather, things are not looking very good. 9 Chapter 5 Soul: Not Quite Saying What You Mean Foreigners have souls; the English do not have souls. In Europe you find many people who look sad. This is soul. The worst kind of soul belongs to the Slav people. Slavs are usually very deep thinkers. They say things like this: ‘Sometimes I am so happy and sometimes I am so sad. Can you explain why?’ (You cannot explain, do not try.) Or perhaps they say, ‘I want to be in some other place, not here.’ (Do not say, ‘I’d like you to be in some other place, too.’) All this is very deep. It is soul, just soul. But the English have no soul. Instead they say less than they mean. For example, if a European boy wants to tell a girl that he loves her, he goes down on his knees and tells her she is the sweetest, most beautiful and wonderful person in the world. She has something in her, something special, and he cannot live one more minute without her. In Europe you find many people who look sad. This is soul. 10 Sometimes, to make all this quite clear, he shoots himself. This happens every day in European countries where people have soul. In England the boy puts his hand on the girl’s shoulder and says quietly, ‘You’re all right, you know.’ If he really loves her, he says, ‘I really quite like you, in fact.’ If he wants to marry a girl, he says, ‘I say ... would you ...?’ If he wants to sleep with her, ‘I say ... shall we...?’ Chapter 6 Tea Tea was once a good drink; with lemon and sugar it tastes very pleasant. But then the British decided to put cold milk and no sugar into it. They made it colourless and tasteless. In the hands of the English, tea became an unpleasant drink, like dirty water, but they still call it ‘tea’. Tea is the most important drink in Great Britain and Ireland. You must never say, ‘I do not want a cup of tea,’ or people will think that you are very strange and very foreign. In an English home, you get a cup of tea at five o’clock in the morning when you are still trying to sleep. If your friend brings you a cup of tea and you wake from your sweetest morning sleep, you must not say, T think you are most unkind to wake me up and I’d like to shoot you’ You must smile your best five o’clock smile and say, ‘Thank you so much. I do love a cup of tea at this time of the morning. ‘When your friend leaves the room, you can throw the tea down the toilet. Then you have tea for breakfast; you have tea at eleven o’clock in the morning; then after lunch; then you have tea at ‘tea-time’ (about four o’clock in the afternoon); then after supper; and again at eleven o’clock at night. You must drink more cups of tea if the weather is hot; if it is cold; if you are tired; if anybody thinks you are tired; if you are 11 afraid; before you go out; if you are out; if you have just returned home; if you want a cup; if you do not want a cup; if you have not had a cup for some time; if you have just had a cup. You must not follow my example. I sleep at five o’clock in the morning; I have coffee for breakfast; I drink black coffee again and again during the day; I drink strange and unusual teas (with no milk) at tea-time. I have these funny foreign ways ... and my poor wife (who was once a good Englishwoman) now has them too, I’m sorry to say. Chapter 7 Sex European men and women have sex lives; English men and women have hot-water bottles. Chapter 8 The Language When I arrived in England I thought that I knew English. After I’d been here an hour I realized I did not understand one word. In my first week I learned a little of the language, but after seven years I knew that I could never use it really well. This is sad, but nobody speaks English perfectly. Remember that those five hundred words the ordinary Englishman uses-most are not all the words in the language. You can learn another five hundred and another five thousand and another fifty thousand words after that and you will still find another fifty thousand you have never heard of. Nobody has heard of them. If you live in England for a long time you will be very surprised to find that the word nice is not the only adjective in the English language. For the first three years you do not need to 12 learn or use any other adjectives. You can say that the weather is nice, a restaurant is nice, Mr So-and-so is nice, Mrs So-and-so’s clothes are nice, you had a nice time, and all this will be very nice. You must decide about your accent. You will have your foreign accent all right but many people like to mix it with another accent. I knew a Polish Jew who had a strong Yiddish-Irish accent. People thought he was very interesting. The easiest way to show that you have a good accent (or no foreign accent) is to hold a pipe or cigar in your mouth, to speak through your teeth and finish all your sentences with the question: ‘isn’t it?’ People will not understand you, but they will think that you probably speak very good English. Hold a pipe in your mouth, speak through your teeth and finish all your sentences with the question: 'isn't it?' 13 Many foreigners try hard to speak with an Oxford accent. The city of Oxford has a famous university. If you have an Oxford accent, people think that you mix with clever people and that you are very intelligent. But the Oxford accent hurts your throat and is hard to use all the time. Sometimes you can forget to use it, speak with your foreign accent and then where are you? People will laugh at you. The best way to look clever is to use long words, of course. These words are often old Latin and Greek words, which the English language has taken in. Many foreigners have learned Latin and Greek in school and they find that (a) it is much easier to learn these words than the much shorter English words; (b) these words are usually very long and make you seem very intelligent when you talk to shopkeepers and postmen. But be careful with all these long words — they do not always have the same meaning as they once had in Latin or Greek. When you know all the long words, remember to learn some short ones, too. Finally there are two important things 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 On a bus or in the street it is better to speak quietly in good German than to shout loudly in bad English. Anyway, all this language business is not easy. After eight years in this country, a very kind woman told me the other day, ‘You speak with a very good accent, but without any English.’ Chapter 9 How Not to Be Clever ‘You foreigners are so clever,’ a woman said to me some years ago. I know many foreigners who are stupid. I thought she was being kind but not quite honest. 14