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The Bellinghman

#126 George Mikes: How to Be an Alien: A Handbook for Beginners and Advanced Pupils

George Mikes: How to Be an Alien: A Handbook for Beginners and Advanced Pupils

Illustrator: Nicholas Bentley
Paperback: 96 pages
Publisher: Penguin Books Ltd; New Impression edition (25 Jun 1970)
Language English
ISBN-10: 0140025146
Category(ies): Humour, Anthropology

The details above are of a more recent paperback edition, whereas the edition here read is the 1946 hardback, which lacks an ISBN. However, since it's been enormously popular (the copy here is the 22nd impression!), and we're looking at the content anyway, I trust you will forgive me.

Perhaps the best way to approach this book is to quote from it. To that end, I will pick a particular chapter and reproduce it in full:


Continental people have sex life; the English have hot water bottles.
This is surely the most famous quote about the English there is, and here is where it came from. Mikes (pronounced "me-cash") was a Hungarian émigré settled in London before the second World War. An educated and urbane man, he watched and commented on the people around him as only an outsider who was fully committed to where he now lived could. And he absorbed that self-deprecating humour that the English so love, and used it to examine his subjects.

This book is the result. It's slim, but full of sharp (yet fond) examinations of his fellows. Much of it is now dated - this is a good two generations ago - but it's part of where the culture of this country came from. (Welshness, Scottishness and Irishness are not examined here, excepting his mention of the confusion between Britishness and Englishness, and the potholes that may result.) And it's where he started, before going on to write so many more books over the following years.

Rightly one of the most famous humorous examinations of the English.
Tags: books, reviews

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