How To Be A Brit by George Mikes
May 11, 2023
I'm attracted to the Penguin classic design book, and when I saw "How To Be A Brit" at the Last Bookstore in Downtown Los Angeles, it brought back memories of me going to used bookstores in London and finding old Penguin paperbacks from the 1940s. That it has illustrations going through the entire book is an additional plus. I didn't buy it. Two weeks later, I saw it at a Tokyo bookstore with an English language section; they had a stack of this title. For sure, the perfect book for a foreigner visiting another country. Still, I didn't buy it. It wasn't until I returned from Japan that I returned to The Last Bookstore to locate this damn book. I did and went to the library to get other titles by George Mikes.
I have a fascination with books by foreigners writing about another culture. Mikes originally came from Hungary and lived in London for most of his life. In a sense, he became more British than the British, and he knew there was a cultural difference between the British and everyone else. Some of the commentaries are old-fashioned, but that's not a problem for me. Even the subject matter is not that important to me. What's essential is Mikes's language and funny observations that border on stereotyping, but that's OK.
"How To Be a Brit" is three short books. "How to be an Alien," " How to be Inimitable, " and "How to be Decadent" sadly have no Sadian touches but more with how the everyday British treat themselves. Nicolas Bentley's illustrations throughout the book are charming, funny, and a reminder of Robert Benchley's world. There are traces of Benchley in Mikes' work. Both are absurd humorists commenting on the everyday life of... well, people.
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