Wednesday, May 30, 2007
Excewze Mee Ay dewnt speeke yewr Ingglissh
I don't speak English any more.
That is, I always thought I did. I was brought up to pronounce my t's and never drop my h's. I got beaten up at my private school for sounding posh, until the kids realised I was from a single parent family, whereupon they beat me up for not being posh.
I remember giving a speech on the quality and importance of maintaining the grammatical order and classical pronunciation of English once at the English Speaking Union. When I got hounded down by a smart-arsed 6th Former from a competing school accusing me of lack of cosmopolitanity (yes, she thought that was a real word) I should have been warned to change before it was too late.
But now it is too late. 13 years on and I realise I do not speak in a way that others can understand. The past two weeks' worth of interaction with the general shopkeeping public around Oxford Circus has convinced me of this fact.
1) I endeavoured to get €100 for a trip to Greece from my local high street bank, which shall remain nameless, although it has a blue eagle for a logo. So the conversation went thus:
"Could I please have €100 - I'm going to Greece"
"You want three hundred locker keys? For a safe deposit?"
What? What on earth could he have possibly thought - how???
Me (for that is who it was) "No - €100 euro please."
"€100 - just €100 please."
2) I went into my local bead shop to buy some bails - small silver clasps that attach crystal pendants to necklaces.
"May I please have some bails?"
"Bows?" said the lovely lassie behind the bar, a Kent girl through and through.
Me (for that is who it was) "No, Bails, please, for necklaces."
"Oh! said the assistant, brightening. You want BELLS."
"No" (still me). Not Bellz, Bay-ls." Thinking phonetics would help. HOW on this green earth can Bails sound like Bells? "Bails Bails Bails," I repeated like a madwoman, desperately pointing with each word to a picture in the order book. I felt like a foreigner pointing sheepishly to some unpronounceable portion of Polish sausage in a restaurant.
"Oh! You mean Ba'wls".
I did not say AAAAAAAAAARRRRRRRRRRGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGHHHHHHHHH. She may have put that on the order form too and charged me for "ostrich feathers".
But the worst came at Subway. The chap had just served an entire Italian family who had as much English between them as a tree stump. All I asked was:
"Everything except the onions please."
"You want more cheese?"
"No thank you" (still me) "Just all the Salad, except the onions."
OH MY GOSH.
"NO ONIONS. Onions, no" (I said, gesticulating wildly and pointing at the offending tub of raw bulbs). "Salad, lettuce, cucumber, yes yes, Onion - no!"
Papa Italian turned round from the payment area and smiled. "She has no onion, all other yes." He beamed kindly.
"I see" said the assistant. He turned to me. "Sorry, I could not understand your accent."
If only my English teacher Mrs Smith could see me now, a sorry form of humanity, forced to drawl only inanities and relegated to a morass of incomprehension. It won't be long before I am reduced to drawing pictures of apples and showing them to the checkout girl at Sainsbury's. "A-p-p-l-e... hur hur, me speketh gud, gibber gibber..."
at 11:02 am