HOW TO BE AN ALIEN
By George Mikes
1. TABLE OF CONTENTS
* “How to be an Alien” begins with a little description of the author's life, whose name is George Mikes, and his vast work. We will talk about him at the next point.
Secondly, we can see some pages where the author talks about his impression of the book when it was published and the way he thought it was going to be accepted. It's a kind of preface where he says that this book was going to be a personal defiance. He thought that English people would kick his backside or maybe they would up in arms against him. But it wasn't in this way. All people congratulated him, because they thought that How to be an Alien was a critical work of English society, but in a funny way. So they were very happy and satisfied because they felt that the book was made thanks to them.
Then, we have a short preface where Mikes define to himself as an alien during all his life, except the period when he lived at his natural country. He also narrate the moment when his English girlfriend says to him if he wanted to get married with her, and how he decided to pay attention of the advices of his mother, who said that it isn't a good idea to get married with a foreigner, with an alien. But she thought that him and his mother were the aliens.
After these introductions, begins the book. Its first chapter deals will how to be a general alien. Talks us about how is life in England and how is in the Continent. The author compares them continuously. Here he gives to us the first advice: if we want to be a respectable person, it would be recommendable to finish each sentence with “isn't it”.
The next point is the weather of the country. You have to remember that the weather is always wonderful, and in the opposite way you don't have to discuss with the person you're talking with.
There is a little amount of pages to talk about the tea, which is almost a religion there, and there are just a few lines to talk about sex. I think it's a joke, but if I have to say the truth, I still haven't understood it.
Then, we arrived to a very important part of the book: the language. Here he says, for example, that we have to think that everything is “nice”, to finish every sentence with “isn't it”, etc.
The next point explains us how we don't have to seem more intelligent than the group of persons we are talking with, because a typical English gentleman is an example of modesty.
Further on, in the space dedicated to rudeness, Mikes talks about how we have to answer to outward provocations if we want to seem English, and how would do a continental. Then, the author tries to explain the difference between bargaining, just done by continental, and to compromise, a praiseworthy habit in England. Like to be a hypocrite. Here he gives to us an advice if we want to be an English hypocrite.
The next point, “the national passion”, is my favourite part. It talks about how English people make queue, although they are alone in this queue.
Finishing this chapter, the book gives three little advices and details for become a general alien.
The next chapter explains us how we can be a particular alien: the kind of clothes we have to wear, our external appearance, our way of thinking, how would be our preferences, etc.
Then, the book says how to look a person that we don't be. For example, you have to refuse a useful job although you don't have any money to live; you have to be a parasite with your friends, etc.
Further on, explain us what's the principal aim of an English film producer and how to develop it: to show Hollywood how to do a good film. Then, there is a part dedicated to the cars, you know: how to recognize a police car and the way of thinking of the policemen. And continuing with motor, there is a little space to learn to play some games that you have to know if you want to be a bus driver.
The next point is very interesting. It talks about the shaped of an English town, and all we have to do if we want to build one. For example, not to built a street straight (but S-shaped, for example), how to appoint a street, etc. It also says that England is the only country in the world that has a Ministry of Town and Country Planning, and this is the reason of the trouble.
Then, Mikes talks about the English civil servants. He says that they are completely different to their continental homologous. For example: in England, Civil servants think that they are a kind of military, they're always shouting, they define themselves like a successful businessman, etc.
The penultimate point shows us how five different newspapers talk about the same news: a conflict in a Pacific island, Charamak.
Finally, the last point of “How to be an Alien” talks about a kind of initiation ritual, which marks the line that separate to be or not to be English, that is to be or not to be an alien. It shows you the kind of persons that you have to look down if you want to be a good English, the kind of breakfast you have to take, etc. This last part is full of irony.
* The author of “How to be an Alien” is George Mikes. He was born in 1912 in a little town of Hungary, Siklós. We don't know what were his dreams when he was just a child, but probably not to be a writer, because he studied in Budapest University the law career instead, where he got his doctorate. However, he worked as journalist, and he was sent to London to cover the Munich crisis. But he thought that England was a very good place where he could live.
He was working for the Hungarian BBC during the Second World War, until 1951. He has been written all his life, until his death came in 1987, when he was 75 years old.
“How to be an Alien” is just a little sample of his full work. When he wrote this book, he wanted to do a criticize of the English society, but all people thought that it was a humorist work. It went into thirty editions. At last, it was published in 1946 and still now has a very important success.
He has a lot of books published, so works as Shakespeare and Myself, How to Unite Nations, How to be Inimitable, English Humour for Beginners, How to be Poor, How to be Decadent, How to be Brit, The Land of the Rising Yen, How to be a Guru, How to Scrape Skies, How to Tango, Switzerland for Beginners, Italy for Beginners, Über Alles, Little Cabbages and How to Run a Stately Home (with the Duke of Bedford) are some good examples.
He always has been very involved with the situation and reality of the country that saw him to born, Hungary. So he wrote, for example, a study of the Hungarian Revolution and an analysis of the Hungarian secret political police system, called A Study of Infamy, too.
At last, he published his autobiography in 1982, when he reached the age of 70. He called this work How to be Seventy, and it was one of his last books.
3. SETTING: TIME AND SPACE
* It's very easy to realize that the action of the book has its development in England, due to that How to be an Alien is a kind of criticism of English habits.
But I think that the book doesn't have a specifically time setting. The English society hasn't changed during this time, so in my opinion, all the advices, rules, habits, and other things that Mikes gives to us, could be used in whatever age. We could say that this is a typical characteristic of the British: the conservatism and how they keep their behaviour without changing it any bit.
* In the preface, George Mikes explains that his aim when he wrote How to be an Alien was to do a criticism of England. He wanted to be implacable with them and he expected that all the country would try to kill him. But which happened was completely the opposite and the book was taken by a funny work of a person who loved England and wanted to entertain the people.
So the book could be a comedy, if you're English, and could be a criticism, if you're Continental.
* We could say that the book is a useful guide of the English behaviour. But there are a lot of little things inside of it which show us, with sense of humour, the advantages and disadvantages of to be or not to be English.
“How to be an Alien” is a continuous comparison between the British people and the rest of the continent. Sometimes English are better than us and sometimes they are so strange that they can't explain it to themselves, and simply they accept it.
The book explains us how we have to be if we want to match at the English society. So we can read, for example, some useful chapters about the hypocrisy, and the things that we have to do if we want to be a hypocrite. Or how we don't have to be more intelligent as the person we are talking with, if we want that this conversation goes well.
But “How to be an Alien” talk us about the English habits and customs too. For example, there is a chapter whose content teaches us about the English national sport: to queue. According to the book, people gets queue for everything at everywhere. And if there isn't nobody at the place where you have to get queue, people do it alone, and if other person comes he will have to get thee behind the person who arrived first, because the queue is already made. You know: English matters.
At last, there is a little introduction of how has to be your behaviour if you want to work in England. I have just remembered the chapter which talks about the bus driver job and the games that you can play in a bus for fight against boredom.
* Really, there aren't any specifically characters in “How to be an Alien”. George Mikes has tried to show the content of the book using some examples. But he hasn't used a particular person or name, above all because it is not necessary. He knows how to develop the argument of the book in a way that we don't have to read any name, so we don't miss any character.
7. PERSONAL OPINION
* The book I have read is “How to be an Alien”. When I started to read this work, I thought that I wasn't going to have fun with it. But I was in a terrible mistake, because “How to be an Alien” is a very interesting book which tries to show us how is the English behaviour: their habits, their preferences, the things they don't like, etc. We could say that is a useful guide which teaches us how to be a good English.
I have enjoyed myself a lot reading this book and, above all, I've learnt about other cultures.
8. REASONS TO RECOMMEND. POTENCIAL READERS
* If I have to be sincere, I have to say that I'm not used to reading. I'm used to taking just one book each month and read it. But other thing I have to say is that How to be an Alien is a book that you can read without think, because is a very entertaining book whose principal virtue is that you can read it quickly. I have read it twice, because first time I read was in the same week I bought it, and when I began to do this work I didn't remember almost anything, so I had to read it again. And in this second time, I just took a day.
So due to this reasons, and something else that you'll only know if you read the book, I recommend it to everybody, irrespective of the age. Just one requirement: to know a little of English.
9. BIBLIOGRAPHY / SOURCES USED
* The development of this work has been possible thanks to my computer, and also my dictionary. I'd have said Internet too, however I thought that I was going to find more information as I have found. But it hasn't been necessary because How to be an Alien is a book with a lot of information inside and you can make a good work without help of high technologies.