Extract: How to be an Alien in England by Angela Kiss

9781910463215How to be Optimistic is extracted from Angela Kiss’ How to be an Alien in England, out TODAY from September Publishing (9781910463215, p/b, £8.99). 


I was extremely enthusiastic to learn optimism from The English when I moved to London.

You may ask why?

Well, because I am Hungarian.

We are said to be the most pessimistic people in Europe. Probably in the whole planet. Moon included. Hungarians always see the worst. If some- thing is good it is suspicious for us. The common belief in Hungary is that an optimistic person is simply uninformed. Or misinformed.

Of course we agree that optimism would be a better approach to life but it is just not our thing. It has never been.

For example, have you ever heard the Hungarian national anthem? No? Good for you! I wouldn’t recommend it at all. Unless you are looking for inspiration for your suicide attempt. If it is not just an attempt but you are deadly serious about your suicide then I strongly recommend you not only read the lyrics but listen to the music too. The most mournful funeral song sounds jolly compared to it.

Other nations have inspiring anthems like ‘God Save the Queen’ or ‘La Marseillaise’ or ‘The Star- Spangled Banner’, and their lyrics are about victory and proudness like ‘Russia – our sacred home- land, Russia – our beloved country’ or ‘Germany, Germany above everything, Above everything  in the world!’

But what about the Hungarian anthem?

It starts with ‘O Lord, bless the Hungarian’ and then follow eight long and painful stanzas about our ‘slave yoke’ and ‘funeral urn’ and ‘the corpses of our defeated army’ and ‘groans of death, weeping’ and finally it finishes with ‘Pity, O Lord, the Hungarians they who have suffered for all sins of the past and of the future!’

Yes, of the future too.

It doesn’t sound optimistic, does it?

Plus to multiply our pessimism we have a tradition that on New Year’s Eve at midnight every single Hungarian in the whole world stands up and sings our happy-go-lucky national anthem.

Perfect start for a new year, isn’t it?

There are those lunatic people who always prophesy the end of the world. I belong to them. I strongly believe that the end of the world will come as a worldwide mass suicide when one day Hungary wins all the Olympic gold medals and the whole world is constantly forced to listen to our national anthem. Don’t laugh! There is a fair chance of that since we are amongst the top countries of the Olympic medal table. If you consider the population of the other countries, actually we are second after Finland. So, as you can see, I am not kidding.

Now I am sure you understand why I wanted to learn optimism from The English. They seemed like the perfect nation to teach me how to ‘always look on the bright side of life’.

I needed optimism. A lot.

But soon I realised that The English are not entirely optimistic. But I wouldn’t say that they are pessimistic either.

So what are they?

To be honest even a decade in England is not enough for me to find the right word to describe their temperament, so I have had no other option but to invent a new expression myself, to contribute to the English language.

In my opinion The English are ‘borderline pessimistic’.

For evidence of my borderline pessimist theory there is only one word you have to understand. This word is the English favourite national catchphrase, namely: ‘typical’.

kiss drawing 2
‘Typical.’ (illustration by Stephanie von Reiswitz)

Let’s say it rains all bank holiday weekend. Are The English surprised or sad or angry?

Not at all. Because this is what they have expected and this is what happened.

They only sigh philosophically, with a look of a prophet who is prideful that his (in this case: negative) prognostication has happened, and they say:

‘Typical.’ (With a dot and not with an exclamation mark.)

In England everything is typical. If your train is late, it is typical. If there are no seats on the upper deck of a bus, it is typical. If the printer breaks down at your workplace just before you want to use it, it is typical. If it starts to rain at five o’clock just before you leave work, it is typical. If you pay £4 for a £3 meal deal, it is typical. If there are severe delays on the tube because of suicide, it is typical. If your meal is late, cold or uneatable in a restaurant, it is typical. If your queue is the slowest queue, it is typical. If you wake up at the weekend because of the noise of your neighbour’s lawn mower, it is typical. For The English everything is typical. And not just small everyday things but big things too. One of my English friends said that the American Revolution was so typical of the bloody Americans. (Sorry, Americans, but you must know the truth: The English call you ‘bloody’ too; in their eyes you are no better than any other alien nation.) When I asked my friend how it could be typical if it was the first and last and only War of American Independence, he looked at me as puzzled as if I was an alien from a faraway unknown planet. (Or at least from Hungary.) And after his long, puzzled pause he did not answer, of course. Which was so typical of The English! (Typical with exclamation mark!)

For me the constant use of the word ‘typical’ sounds more pessimistic than optimistic. It is like always seeing the worst. With not as much pessimism as Hungarians, but definitely borderline pessimistic.

But there is nothing wrong with pessimism. The world needs pessimism too. There is a well-known aphorism by G.B. Stern: ‘Both optimists and pessimists contribute to our society. The optimist invents the airplane and the pessimist the parachute.’

Have you ever heard the story of Robert Cocking? He was an English parachute designer and developer. (For your information: the modern parachute was invented by a Frenchman. I am just adding it to please French readers and give them a chance to look down upon The English more than they already do.)

Despite being a parachute developer, the English Robert Cocking was not a pessimist at all. He was an optimist. He was certain that his new parachute design would work. So believed the large audience in Vauxhall Gardens.

But sadly, his parachute did not work.

Do you think it was typical?

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