Terence Blacker: A cut-out-and-keep guide to becoming British

Useful phrases: "Is this deductible?", "I'm registered in the Isle of Man"

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

Culture: Britain's culture is the envy of the world. 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. It is widely used in British politics. (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 registered in the Isle of Man", "I'm an alternative comedian and don't really understand money".)

Fair play: The British invented fair play on the playing fields of Eton. To this day, traditional Etonian values of fairness and equality are frequently debated in Britain's famous House of Lords. (Useful phrases: "Play up and play the game", "All animals are equal but some animals are more equal than others".)

Religion: The Church of England is connected to the state but joining is not compulsory. It is often described as "a broad church", which means it accepts anyone who likes the general idea of having a religion. Recently, a rival religion of atheism has become established under the chaplaincy of Professor Richard Dawkins. Religious fundamentalism is now regarded as the height of bad manners in the UK. (Useful phrases: "I definitely believe in something greater than ourselves", "Amen to that".)

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 (see Fair play), the British allow lesser nations to 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?", "They think it's all over", "Come on, Henman".)

The BBC: The greatest broadcaster in the world, the BBC is responsible for some of the most profitable franchises in the international market, including Top Gear, and Strictly Come Dancing. (Useful phrases: "Paxman's looking a bit bored these days", "Not another repeat of Dad's Army", "Lord Reith must be spinning in his grave".)

Honours: In Britain, even if you are not born with a title or honour, you have the opportunity to gain one by doing good works or giving money to a political party. Because British society is so equal (see Class), even those who have criticised the ruling classes can be rewarded. Today, you will find such "outsiders" as Lord Prescott, Baroness Joan Bakewell and Lord Mandelson bravely arguing against privilege in the House of Lords. (Useful phrases: "I only accepted it for my family", "The Lords gives me a political platform", "Arise, Sir David Hare".)

The National Health Service: Britain's health service embodies the basic principle of national life: every person should be treated equally. In this spirit of fairness, doctors recently went on strike in support of their having pensions equal to those of senior civil servants. (Useful phrases: "Can you let me out before I catch MRSA?", "Is this where I enter the postcode lottery?", "Can I pay for the drugs myself then?".)

terblacker@aol.com

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