George Mikes quotes and aphorisms
George Mikes quotes and aphorisms

linedividerI am no cynic, and do believe in quite a few things: for example, in the power of books written in London by ex-refugees, I have in mind, primarily, my colleagues Karl Marx and Sigmund Freud, whose works (although more boring than mine) made quite an impression on the world… Natives such as Charles Darwin have sometimes done quite well, and so have a few outright foreigners, such as Copernicus with his On the Revolution of Heavenly Spheres and Galileo with Siderius Nuncius. All the above writers changed the fate of humanity, the author of the present volume (that’s me) is quite prepared to make a lesser impact. But here it is: a message of hope, of optimism, of making the most of life. Here it is: a thesis that proclaims happiness, or at least contentment, to be within the reach of everyone. Once you have grabbed a little contentment, satisfaction, good humour and optimism, do not be ashamed of it, as most intellectuals seem to be, and do not throw it out of the window. But whether you do or not is up to you. I have given my recipe.
George Mikes

An Englishman, even if he is alone, forms an orderly queue of one.
George Mikes

In England only uneducated people show off their knowledge; nobody quotes Latin or Greek authors in the course of conversation, unless he has never read them.
George Mikes

Many Continentals think life is a game; the English think cricket is a game.
George Mikes

On the Continent people have good food; in England people have good table manners.
George Mikes

The world still consists of two clearly divided groups: the English and the foreigners. One group consists of less than 50 million people; the other of 3,950 million. The latter group does not really count.
George Mikes

When people say England, they sometimes mean Great Britain, sometimes the United Kingdom, sometimes the British Isles, – but never England.
George Mikes

A sense of humour is considered the flower of a noble soul. The man with a sense of humour is supposed to be able to look at things with detachment and see the smallness in teh great and the ludicrous in the magnificent. He is able to laugh at himself and this is regarded as one of the supreme human qualities.
George Mikes

Jokes are better than war. Even the most aggressive jokes are better than the least aggressive wars. Even the longest jokes are better than the shortest wars.
George Mikes

Great tragedy is more emotional, and consequently less intellectual, than great humour.” e ancora: “Tears may be reckoned superior to laughter since tears cleanse  us  while laughter makes us feel guilty. George Mikes

What is humour? I don’t know,…. Here it will suffice to say that essentially – at least for me – it is no less and no more than the original Latin word denotes: flavour. It is simply a special flavour, a way of looking at things.
George Mikes

A sense of humour is considered the flower of a noble soul. The man with a sense of humour is supposed to be able to look at things with detachment and see the smallness in teh great and the ludicrous in the magnificent. He is able to laugh at himself and this is regarded as one of the supreme human qualities.
George Mikes

The first difficulty in the definition of humour was that people approached it from different angles. Aristotle looked at it from an aesthetic point of view, Bergson as a philosopher and Freud as a psychologist. It is the story of rain, all over again.
George Mikes

I, for one, am not certain at all that the Universe has meaning and the life has an aim: but there is humour.
George Mikes

Surely, if the Humorist is of any use to society, his function is not to be the funnier than his neighbour about funny things. He is to see the lighter side of serious, dark and even tragic things…. a humorist is – per definition – a person who sees the light side of darkness.
George Mikes

I am a simple pratictioner – a G.P. of humour- I wish to record my thoughts, experiences, problems and the curios, sometimes frustrating relationship between the humorist and his raw material.
George Mikes

My brother would also stop someone in the street and ask him if he knew where, say, Bradford Avenue was? the victim would say: no, he didn’t know. Then my brother would explain to him, with all due decorum, that it was second on the right.
George Mikes

Or remember one of F.E. Smith’s famous rejoinders to the judge who told him off pompously: “I am afraid, Mr Smith, that even after your opening remarks, I am not much wiser.” “Not wiser, my Lord” came the retort, “but better informed.”
George Mikes

Or, Wilde again, having been informed that Osgood, the go-ahead publisher who advertised the fact that all his books were published simultaneously in London and New York, had died: “He is a great loss to us”. I suppose they will bury him simultaneously in London and New York.
George Mikes

But, whatever their charm, all these remarks are offensive, aimed against a victim and designed to establish the wit’s superiority over him.” e ancora:   “The witticism is a thinly disguised insult: you are either able to retaliate on the same level or you have to grin as if you enjoyed it.
George Mikes

The satirist is often a powerless individual whose only weapon is his pen with which he fights kings, tyrants and obnoxious political systems.
George Mikes

Humour, because it is aggressive, is a weapon, indeed a very effective weapon. If it serves a good cause, if it is aimed at the right target, it can be an admirable corrective or a great benefactor. But in addition to its aggressive content; a sense of humour also involves a sense of proportion.
George Mikes

Why did I become a humorous writer instead of, say, an aggressive revolutionary for which my dislike of authority might well have predestined me? I do, of course, have the humorous outlook…., but I also choose to speak the truth – as I see it – in a comic manner because I do not dare to take it seriously, like the court jester of another age, I want to protect myself against the wrath of my victims by the cry: “I was only joking.”
George Mikes

A sense of humour always contains an element of self-denigration, acceptance of one’s own weakness. To see your own foibles, silliness, weakness, vanity, erratic nature and be genuinely amused by them is the true test of a sense of humour. The man who can only laugh at things, events, situations and other people has no sense of humour.
George Mikes

It is,indeed, the grand, the majestic,the impressive, the awe-inspiring, the redoutable, which are, primarily, the legitimate subject of humour: they must be tamed, humanized, cut down to size.
George Mikes

A lot of oriental people laugh when occidentals would cry or show anger… Laughing at a sad story – a tragic story – is an oriental convention. The teller of the story  does  not  want  to  embarass  you – the laughter means: ” I’m going to get this shock over, I do not mean to ask for your sympathy….”
George Mikes

Laughter, someone said, is taken as a sign of strength, freedom, health, beauty, youth and happiness.
George Mikes

As I said before, if we want to read witty and thought-inspiring things about humour and laughter, we might turn to the philosophical literature dealing with them. If we want to find out what laughter really is, we will not get far.
George Mikes

The truth is that good-quality highbrow humour may make you laugh, even roar with laughter, the reverse of this, however, is not true. Loud laughter is certainly no proof that you are laughing at something intellectually satisfying and truly witty (by the standards of the normal, educated person – if he exists).
George Mikes

Humour is  a  manifestation of national character. If there is national character, there is national humour. But is there national character? Is any trace left of it?
George Mikes

The British are, of course, basically fair – at least an average Englishman may steal, rob, cheat, but even the average British thief tries to be fair. To steal, or to break into a house is one thing: what do you expect from a professional criminal ? A man has to live. But to be unfair, that is a stigma he refuses to bear.
George Mikes

Leaving literary  conventions  and devices apart, the English have the gift – a very precious one – of being able to laugh at themselves and their own weakness.
George Mikes

Understatement  is  not a trick, not a literary device: it is a way of life. It is a weltanschaung, i.e. a way of looking at the world. You have to breathe the air of England, live with these understanding, tolerant – some say sheepish – people for a while before you get it into your blood. Unless you learn what understatement is you have not made even the first step towards understanding English Humour.
George Mikes

Nonsense poetry is an English invention, made famous by Edward Lear…. It may be seen as the ultimate literary rebellion against  an  orderly universe; shaking off the unbearable chains of everyday orderliness and logic; the anarchist’s triumph over Nature and Sense.
George Mikes

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 society. A foreigner cannot improve. Once a foreigner, always a foreigner. There is no way out of him. He may become British; he can never become English.
George Mikes

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.
George Mikes

So it is better to reconcile yourself to the sorrowful reality. There are some noble English people who might forgive you. There are some magnanimous souls who realize that it is not your fault, only your misfortune. They will treat you with  condescention, understanding and sympathy. They will invite you to their homes, just as they keep lap-dogs and other pets, they are quite prepared to keep a few foreigners.
George Mikes

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. 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.
George Mikes

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 all the time.
George Mikes

The British meteorologist forecast the right weather – as it really should be – and then these impertinent little anti-cyclones interfere and mess up everything. That again proves that if the British kept to themselves and did not mix with foreign things like Polar and Azores anti-cyclones they would be much better off.
George Mikes

Continental people  have sex life; the English have hot-water bottles.
George Mikes

It is extremely important that the B.I. (Bloomsbury Intellectual) should always wear a three-days beard, as shaving is considered a contemptible bourgeois habit. (the extremist left-wing holds the same view concerning washing, too)…. Politically you must belong to the extreme left. You must, however, bear a few things in mind.
George Mikes

You must not care a damn about the welfare of the people in this country or abroad, because that would be “practical politics” – and you should only be interested in the ideological side of matters…
George Mikes

The English  Civil  Servant  considers  himself no soldier but a glorified businessman. He is smooth and courteous; he smiles in a superior way; he is agreeable and obliging. If so – you may ask – how can he achieve the supreme object of his vast and noble organization, namely, not to transact any business and be left in peace to read a good murder story undisturbed ? There are various, centuries-old, true British traditions to secure this aim.
George Mikes

While all this goes on, the English remain staunch believers in equality. Equality is a notion the English have given to humanity. Equality means that you are just as good as the next man but the next man is not half as good as you are.
George Mikes

Remember that everything is a “situation” or a “problem” nowadays. In the old days a man was travelling, today he is in a travel situation. In the past he got married, today he finds himself in a marriage situation. In the past he went bankrupt, today he has a liquidity problem. In the old days he was impotent, today he has a virility problem.
George Mikes

The length of your cigar will be in proportion to your importance. the cigars of those belonging to the lower income brackets hardly exceed two or three feet. In the modern American cars there is a round hole in the wind-screen so that the driver can stick his cigar through it. In the movie (a movie is in fact an ordinary cinema) you may burn the ears of people sitting in front of you without needing to say “pardon me”.
George Mikes

But it does follow, that we must treasure our vices and be cautious with our good characteristics because one could not exist without the other. It does follow that judging yourself or others you must not think of separable mental ingredients, but of the mixture only.
George Mikes

Beware of kindness or rather do not trust it implicitly because in a bad mixture it may only cover a weakling and a liar.
Beware of too much sincerity and open heartedness; chatterboxes seem often very sincere.
Beware of promises; they are often given to please you to-day and not to be kept to-morrow.
Beware of fanatics: they are usually frustrated fools who do not even believe in their own doctrines.
George Mikes

Beware of too much  chastity; because it is often practised and preached by people who would have liked to sin but could not. Do not turn your back on rude people without knowing a little more about them; they are often truthful and outspoken. Do not reject unkind people, just because they have the courage to say “no”.
George Mikes

Our age is not a wicked age – as some writers try to portray it; it is not a terrified age; it is not a romantic age; it is not an immoral age; it is not the age of Longing; it is not the age of Anxiety. It is the Age of Emptiness. Ours is a world swept away from its moorings and drifting nowhere in particular. What can one say about this ? Nothing. And our novelists say it. Not very well but say it.
George Mikes

Life for others is life; for me it is raw material. I know of course that if someone kicks a humorist in the… well, anywhere, it will hurt him exactly as it hurts other people. But the humorist sits down after a while, writes down his experiences in a distorted form in which he is either the hero or the maltreated victim, whereupon he feels all square with the world. I do not quite know why this should give us satisfaction but it does. Writing keeps us from more criminal activities. A new work is our just revenge on the world.
George Mikes

If God is an extension of the Mother – ideal – then God must be a Woman. From now on I shall call Him Her.
George Mikes

Religion – every religion – is based on fear: fear of death. So as religion is generally regarded as a Good Thing, cowardice must be a Good Thing, too. Fear – or call it Cowardice – is one of our most useful traits. Without fear, without the instinct of self-preservation, no species could survive. No one could remain alive if he were not a coward to some extent. Let us all turn heroes and the human race will perish. But as the human race is going to perish, in any case, in a few million years if not sooner, this change would not really affect the outcome, only its timing.
George Mikes

As I shall  explain  later, cowardice is one of the dominant forces and motives of human development and, on the whole, it is a beneficial and commendable influence. Cowardice is the foundation stone of all religions: it is also the foundation stone of humour.
George Mikes

The non-humorous world has one ambition. Every humourless member of it wants to be godlike; nay; wants to be God. Humour, at its best, teaches us that this is not a worth-while ambition: God himself is only human. And that’s where Humour becomes Divine. Perhaps our belief in that human God humour gives us – a God who is just as worried about Jesus, i.e. the next generation, as we are about our children – is less fervent; but we like Him more.
George Mikes

Humanity  created God and it could kill her off. But murder is a nasty business and God deserves a better fate. She has served us well. No, She must not be treated unkindly. She should be retired. Voluntarily redundancy would be preferable but if She insists on going on She must be pensioned off. George Mikes

Luckily, I can answer some of the most tormenting questions of philosophy. 1) What is the aim of life ? The answer is: nothing. 2) What happens to us after death? The answer again: nothing. Let me explain. Life has no universal aim. We are not here to celebrate the Glory of God. We have not been created  ad majoram Dei gloriam. God cannot be quite so modest as to find the performance of humanity the proof of final glory and majesty. But if life has no universal aim, it does have, it should have, a specific aim. The aim of your life is what you make it to be.
George Mikes

I believe in Pure Logic. I believe in the Sanctity of Reason. I loathe all superstition…..If someone wishes to believe that God created humanity as the crowning glory of the Universe, if he wishes to believe that nothing matters in those many thousand million years through which the Universe existed than those two million or so years during which a species which calls itself Homo sapiens has graced and will continue to grace ( or disgrace ) a provincial planet, let him do so.
George Mikes

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