Switzerland for Beginners [ePub]

by George Mikes

George Mikes (pronounced Mik-esh) was a Hungarian-born British author best known for his humorous commentaries on various countries.

Mikes graduated in Budapest in 1933 and started work as a journalist on Reggel ("Morning"), a Budapest newspaper. For a short while he wrote a column called Intim Pista for Színházi Élet ("Theatre Life").

In 1938 Mikes became the London correspondent for Reggel and 8 Órao Ujság ("8 Hours"). He worked for Reggel until 1940. Having been sent to London to cover the Munich Crisis and expecting to stay for only a couple of weeks, he remained for the rest of his life. In 1946 he became a British Citizen. It is reported that being a Jew from Hungary was a factor in his decision. Mikes wrote in both Hungarian and English: The Observer, The Times Literary Supplement, Encounter, Irodalmi Újság, Népszava, the Viennese Hungarian-language Magyar Híradó, and Világ.

From 1939 Mikes worked for the BBC Hungarian section making documentaries, at first as a freelance correspondent and, from 1950, as an employee. From 1975 until his death on 30 August 1987 he worked for the Hungarian section of Szabad Európa Rádió. He was president of the London branch of PEN, and a member of the Garrick Club.

His friends included Arthur Koestler, J. B. Priestley and André Deutsch, who was also his publisher.

His first book (1945) was We Were There To Escape – the true story of a Jugoslav officer about life in prisoner-of-war camps. The Times Literary Supplement praised the book for the humour it showed in parts, which led him to write his most famous book How to be an Alien which in 1946 proved a great success in post-war Britain.

How to be an Alien (1946) poked gentle fun at the English, including a one-line chapter on sex: "Continental people have sex lives; the English have hot-water bottles."

Subsequent books dealt with (among others) Japan (The Land of the Rising Yen), Israel (Milk and Honey, The Prophet Motive), the U.S. (How to Scrape Skies), and the United Nations (How to Unite Nations), Australia (Boomerang), the British again (How to be Inimitable, How to be Decadent), and South America (How to Tango). Other subjects include God (How to be God), his cat (Tsi-Tsa), wealth (How to be Poor) or philosophy (How to be a Guru).

Apart from his commentaries, he wrote humorous fiction (Mortal Passion; The Spy Who Died of Boredom) and contributed to the satirical television series That Was The Week That Was.

His autobiography was called How to be Seventy.

Serious writing included a book about the Hungarian Secret Police and he narrated a BBC television report of the Hungarian Revolution of 1956.

07.09.2010

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