Yet more joy of socks

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The Independent Online

Excitingly, at least for Gordon Brown, our country has once again become a fashionable tourist destination. At this time of the year, people all over the world are preparing to experience at first hand an event that, from Victorian times, has had international resonance - the great British Christmas.

Excitingly, at least for Gordon Brown, our country has once again become a fashionable tourist destination. At this time of the year, people all over the world are preparing to experience at first hand an event that, from Victorian times, has had international resonance - the great British Christmas.

Are we ready to share our seasonal joy with foreigners? I rather think not. No Christmas-related phrasebooks are on sale at airports, no glossy British Tourist Authority booklets with a beaming Santa standing in front of the Tower of London. It seems that we are quite happy to let our friends from abroad wander into the behavioural minefield that is Christmas without the slightest guidance.

Perhaps, if the internet can send these few simple guidelines across the world, then some of the more ghastly social mishaps can be avoided.

Guests

At this time of the year, Britons are expected to meet, mix with and sometimes even talk to people they have ignored throughout the rest of the year. In any large gathering, it is expected that some or all of the following categories of guest should be included: a pasty vegetarian; a hyperactive child; a babe whose swaddling clothes should have been changed some time ago; an alcoholic; a fascist (these last two categories may be combined); a couple whose marriage is on the rocks; a rather odd cousin, uncle or family friend who has nowhere else to go.

Useful guest-related sentences: "In my country, we would chain a child like that to a radiator." "Some of my best friends are asylum-seekers." "When did you last speak to your wife?" "Could you please take your hand off my thigh?"

Conversation

There are two types of conversation at a British Christmas: official, sitting-room conversation, which is open, genial and dull, and unofficial, kitchen conversation, which usually spoken in angry whispers. Do not be concerned if you overhear secrets on these occasions. As a foreigner, you hardly exist for the British, and they can say anything in front of you.

Useful kitchen conversation-related sentences: "Who does she think she is?" "Two stone at least!" "Why doesn't he just leave her?" "If he says that George Bush has restored his faith in America once more, he's getting a turkey over the head."

Presents

The British see the giving of presents as a form of domestic aggression in which guilt, disappointment and embarrassment are weapons. The complexities of gift warfare are difficult to explain and the safest approach is to adopt an expression of beaming, unquestioning good humour.

Useful gift-related sentences: "Ah, socks, just what I always wanted." "Great! It's the joy of socks for me this year." "Another pair! I must have reputation as a socks maniac."

Entertainment

The climax of a British Christmas is when the family sits down to enjoy the kind of entertainment that has become traditional down the years.

Useful entertainment-related sentences: "What's on the other side?" "I'm sorry, but we are not watching the Queen." "When's Only Fools and Horses on?" "They're not as funny as they used to be." "I'm sure Parkinson interviewed Billy Connolly last Christmas."

Farewells

The moment most treasured by British Christmas-lovers is when it is all over and people are leaving. The rhythm of family life - from bonhomie to boredom, irritation and rage - has been enacted and now it is time to return to normal life.

Useful farewell-related sentences: "No, apart from the glass-throwing incident, we really had a great time." "We're spending next Christmas in the Azores." "That's it, never again. No, I mean it this time."

Miles Kington is away

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