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So This Is How the Americans See Us!

The War Illustrated, Volume 6, No. 134, Page 115, August 7, 1942.

Before they cross the Atlantic, American soldiers are given an official War Department publication called "A Short Guide to Great Britain." As will be seen from the extracts given below, it is written in racy language, and its 32 pages provide a delightfully fresh and not too unflattering -we are relieved to note!- representation of our national home and character.

In their major way of life British and American people are much alike. They speak the same language, they both believe in representative government, in freedom of worship, in freedom of speech. But each country has minor national characteristics which differ. It is by causing misunderstanding over these minor differences that Hitler hopes to make his propaganda effective.

The British are reserved, not unfriendly. You defeat enemy propaganda not by denying these differences exist, but by admitting them openly and then trying to understand them.

For instance, the British are often more reserved in conduct than we are. On a small, crowded island where 45,000,000 people live, each man learns to guard his privacy carefully, and is equally careful not to invade another man's privacy. So if Britons sit in trains or buses without starting up a conversation with you it doesn't meant they are being haughty and unfriendly. Probably they are paying more attention to you than you think, but they don't speak to you because they don't want to appear invasive or rude.

Another difference. The British have phrases and colloquialisms of their own that may sound funny to you. You can make just as many "boners" in their eyes.

It isn't a good idea, for instance, to say "bloody" in mixed company in Britain. It is one of their worst swear words. To say "I look like a bum" is offensive to their ears, for to the British this means that you look like your own backside. It isn't important, but just a tip if you are trying to shine in polite society.

American wages and American soldiers' pay are the highest in the world. When payday comes it would be a sound practice to learn to spend your money according to British standards.

They consider you highly paid. They won't think any better of you for throwing money around. They are more likely to feel that you haven't learned the common-sense virtue of thrift.

The British Tommy is apt to be specially touchy about the difference between his wages and yours. Keep this in mind, use common sense, and don't rub him the wrong way.

The British are tough. Don't be misled by the British tendency to be soft-spoken and polite. If they need to be they can be plenty tough.

The English language did not spread across oceans and over the mountains and jungles and swamps of the world because these people are pantywaists. Sixty thousand British civilians -men, women and children- have died under bombs, and yet the morale of the British people is unbreakable and high. A nation does not come through that if it does not have plain, common guts.

At first you will probably not like the almost continual rain and mists and absence of snow and crisp cold. Actually the City of London has less rain for the whole year than many places in the United States. Most people get used to the English climate eventually.

Although you will read in papers about "Lords" and "Sirs," England is still one of the great Democracies and cradle of many American liberties. Personal rule by king has been dead in England for nearly 1,000 years. Today the King reigns but does not govern. British people have a great affection for their monarch, but they have stripped him of practically all political power. It is well to remember this in your comings and goings about England.

Be careful not to criticize the King. The British feel about that they way you would feel if anybody spoke against our country or our flag. Their King and Queen stuck with the people through blitzes, and had their home bombed just like anyone else. So their people are proud of them.

In general, more people play games in Britain that in America, and they play the game even if they are not good at it.

The British have theatres and movies (which they call cinemas) as we have, but the great place of recreation is the "pub".

A "pub" (or public house) is what we would call a bar or tavern. The usual drink is beer, which is not an imitation of German beer, as our beer is, but ale (they usually call it beer or bitter). The British are beer drinkers and can "hold it." Beer is now below peacetime strength, but can still make a man's tongue wag at both ends. You will be welcome in British pubs as long as you remember one thing - the "pub" is the poor man's club or gathering-place where men have come to see their friends, not strangers.

You will naturally be interesting in getting to know your opposite number - the British soldier (Tommy) you have heard and read about. You can understand that two actions on your part will slow up friendship - swiping his girl and not appreciating what his Army has been up against. Yes, and rubbing it in that you are better paid than he is.

Keep out of arguments. You can rub the Briton the wrong way by telling him "We came over and won the last one." Each nation did its share, but Britain remembers that nearly 1,000,000 of her best manhood died in the last war. America lost 60,000 in action. Such arguments, and the War Debts along with them, are dead issues.

The British don't know how to make a good cup of coffee. You don't know how to make a good cup of tea. It is an even swap.

The British are leisurely, but not really slow. Their crack trains held world speed records, a British ship held the Transatlantic record, a British car and British driver set up worked speed records in America.

You will find the British money system easier than you think.

Don't show off or brag or bluster - "swank" as the British say. If somebody looks in your direction and says, "He's chucking his weight about," you can be pretty sure you are off base. That is the time to pull in your ears.

The British will welcome you as friends and allies, but remember that crossing an ocean does not automatically make you a hero. There are housewives in aprons and youngsters in knee pants in Britain who have lived through more high-explosives in air raids than many soldiers saw in first-class barrages in the last war.

If you are invited to eat with a family, do not eat too much, otherwise you might eat up their weekly rations. Don't criticize food, beer, or cigarettes to the British. Remember, they've been at war since 1939.

Don't make fun of the British speech or accents. You sound just as funny to them, but they will be too polite to show it.

You will soon find yourself among kindly, quiet, hardworking people who have been under a strain such as few people in the world have ever known. In your dealings with them, let this be your slogan: "It is always impolite to criticize your hosts; it is militarily stupid to criticize your Allies."


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