Civil Servant

Answer key

N.B.: All the line numbers refer to the original layout of the text; I just left them there
to make it clear that, of course, it is necessary to have line numbers in text analysis tasks.

I. Questions on the text

1. A few evil individuals make (secret) plots against them, come to them with various requests with the only aim of being troublesome.

2. The following elements could have been found:
  • hyperbole (l.1: “a world of difference”)
  • wordplay (ll.3ff.: “they cannot withdraw armies, so they withdraw permissions; [...] they cannot lose battles, they lose documents instead”)
  • eccentric simile (ll.4f.: “they thunder like cannons and their speech is like machine-gun fire”)
  • irony (l.9: “These people get the reception they deserve”)
  • surprise (ll.18ff., even at an asylum people are treated as by civil servants: “they should go to another office on the fifth floor”, cf. l.13)
  • nonsense (l.21: “[...] until they give up being lunatics”)
  • ridiculing certain types of people, here civil servants (ll.29f.: “the supreme object of his vast and noble organization, namely, not to transact any business”)
3. There are two means of achieving a comic effect in this sentence. For one, there is a logical impossibility: one cannot go out for tea before coming back from lunch; Mikes suggests that civil servants are never in their offices in the afternoon, that they do not come back from lunch but go to have tea at once. The other point is the ironical use of the adjective “admirable”; there is nothing admirable about spending half the day in restaurants.

4. The first sentence of the text, which stands as a paragraph of its own, sounds like a thesis that the author will prove in what follows. At first, the author supports his statement by describing continental civil servants as “rude” and “malicious” (ll.11/12) whom to ask for something must be a peculiarly unpleasant experience because they are fond of ordering people about and bullying them (“they thunder like cannons”, l.4; people “have to stand, often at attention”, l.10; ll.13-18). In complete contrast to such military behaviour, a British civil servant — according to Mikes — is “smooth and courteous” as well as “agreeable and obliging” (ll.27/28). Whereas his colleagues on the continent “consider themselves little generals” (l.3), the British civil servant considers himself “a glorified businessman” (l.27). But there is no more difference than that. The efficiency of the two kinds of civil servants seems to be just as low in either case. It is sheer impossibility to get a continental administration to work on a citizen’s request, complaint or problem, because one is sent from one office to another and nobody feels responsible — a “popular cat and mouse game” (l.12). In Britain, the citizens are not sent about in huge office buildings; their requests, however, are not dealt with either, since the civil servants “never make decisions” (l.37), since it is their “supreme object” “not to transact any business” (ll.29/30), an additional difficulty being that “in practice” British civil servants are never “at the disposal of the public” (ll.39/40).

III. Translation

Die Griechen gebrauchten dasselbe Wort sowohl für den Ausländer als auch für den Stotterer: Barbare; die ungehobelten bellenden Laute, die der Fremde ausstieß, wurden als Parodie der menschlichen Sprache angesehen. Spuren dieser frühzeitlichen Haltung weist noch die merkwürdige Tatsache auf, daß kultivierte Leute einen ausländischen Akzent tolerant akzeptieren, während die Nachahmung eines ausländischen Akzents ihnen komisch vorkommt. Die falsche Aussprache des Imitators wird als bloße Verstellung erkannt; dieses Wissen macht Mitleid unnötig und ermöglicht es dem Publikum, mit einem reinen Gewissen kindlich grausam zu sein.

eMailPeter Ringeisen