Terence Blacker: Everything you need to know to be British

Not before time, the Home Office is to redraft the handbook given to potential immigrants to this country, placing emphasis more firmly on our culture and values. Britain: A User's Guide is not yet published, but an early draft shows that, with these guidelines, anyone hoping to become British will know what to expect:

Culture. The country's internationally famous playwright William Shakespeare is traditionally staged in every theatre once every few months, and is much loved by the British. Leading historical novelist Jane Austen has inspired many memorable TV series and films. The world's most famous group, The Beatles, hailed from Liverpool and changed pop music for ever. (Useful Phrases: "The Bard", "The immortal Jane", "We all live in a yellow submarine").

Sense of humour. The British are famous for their sense of humour and like to say, at moments of difficulty, "You've got to laugh", sometimes adding, in more serious mode, "Otherwise you would bloomin' well cry!" Irony, the most famous form of British humour, is unknown to other nationalities, particularly the Americans, and involves saying one thing while meaning the opposite. (Useful phrases: "Don't panic!", "Don't mention the war!", "Suits you, sir!")

Tax. Every British citizen is required to pay tax, but successful people can pay accountants to reduce the amount they owe the state as a reward for doing so well. Be aware of the difference in meaning between tax planning, a good thing; tax avoidance, a good thing but not discussed in polite company; and tax evasion, a bad thing. (Useful phrases: "Is this deductible?", "I'm an alternative comedian and don't really understand money").

Class. Class divisions and prejudice have been eliminated in British society. It is traditional for the prime minister to remind citizens every few years that class no longer exists and, just to make sure, broadcasters commission former members of the working class – Lord Bragg, Lord Prescott – to investigate the subject once every so often. (Useful phrases: "Not quite our class, darling", "Pas devant les domestiques").

Sport. All the world's leading sports were invented in Britain, but these days, in a spirit of generosity, the British allow lesser nations beat them at everything except snooker and darts. Watching sport, if possible in front of a screen, and then discussing it in the pub afterwards, has now taken the place of participation. (Useful phrases: "What about 1966?", "Come on, Henman").

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