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WWII pamphlet offers soldiers advice on dealing with ‘stiff and frigid’ English

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Tom Fordy
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The world has changed a great deal since the Second World War. But the English, it seems, have not.

The Imperial War Museum is about to republish The English and Their Country: For Overseas Forces, a pamphlet written in 1944 as a guide for visiting American troops on the English and their funny, erm, English ways.

Written by Thomas Burke, The English and Their Country details our most peculiar foibles – moaning about the weather, our inherent social awkwardness, and even the English breakfast.

It makes a nice change from US visitors going viral with pithy observations of the English way of life. Indeed, this chap knows what he's on about. He's a fellow countryman after all.

“The English have for centuries been a puzzle to the people of other countries, and the failure to solve the puzzle has led the stranger to use all sorts of epithets,” reads the introduction, which in other words means the world thinks we’re utterly bonkers and calls us names.

“The English are peculiar, and their island is, in its physical features, climate, history and products, like no other territory of equal size.”

It’s a good introduction for the 1.5million Americans stationed here during the war. And despite being over 70 years old, this book remains an alarmingly insightful and accurate profile of the modern Englishman.

Here are some of our favourite descriptions of Englishness.

On being so painfully awkward

“The most frequent criticism of the Englishman made by men of many different countries, turns on his frigidity and stiffness… But that reserve is surface only. It is a covering assumed by the Englishman to conceal the fact that he is fundamentally shy. Yes—shy.”

On our fascination with the weather

"Never at any time is the weather of this little island the same in all parts… Englishmen and their visitors make bitter complaint about the caprice of the English climate, but it is this caprice which helps to give the country its green mantle, its variety of scenery, and its variety of human temper. That is why English people talk so much about the weather… its frequent change affects not only the physical scene but the human psychology and human reactions to circumstance."

On the difference between northerners and southerners

“The people of the English North are blunt of speech and manner. They say what they mean, even if it offends, and they act without regard to the more fastidious courtesies. They call it honesty. The South calls it uncouth. The North retorts by calling the manners of the South so much fuss and nonsense”

On the traditional English breakfast

"No other country begins the day with such a meal as porridge, eggs and bacon or fish or sausages, toast and marmalade and tea."

On the English sense of humour

“Another trait of his that puzzles the stranger is that of treating flippantly all that is most serious and most dear to him… He is outwardly serious only about trifles—about cricket, football, racing, stamp collecting, gardening, golf, his dog, his car.”

On regional accents

"All the people speak English, but they speak it in such different ways that the peasant from Cornwall can hardly understand the peasant of eastern England, and the shepherd from the rugged valleys of the Lake District in the north-west can hardly talk to the shepherd from the smooth, rolling hills of Sussex in the south, while the Londoner on holiday has difficulty in understanding any of them."

On the Englishman’s prerogative to have a bloody good moan

“No Englishman can defend these illogical customs, and he doesn’t try to. Though he suffers from them he doesn’t get them altered. He prefers to suffer and exercise his privilege of grumbling.”

The English and Their Country: For Overseas Forces is out 20 October

Image Credit: Imperial War Museums

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Tom Fordy

Tom Fordy is a London-based writer. He is former men's magazine editor and is now works as a lifestyle and entertainment journalist and opinionated beard for hire. His interests include the great literary works of the 20th century, New Wave European cinema and the career of Hulk Hogan. Follow Tom on Twitter: @TheTomFordy

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