Saturday, January 4, 2014

Englishman in New York

We spent Christmas and the New Year in New York. Everything was pretty much as I had expected it to be: terribly noisy, extremely cold, awfully crowded... and frightfully expensive. I'm too embarrassed to say how much we paid for our hotel room, but let's just say I've stayed in far smarter places in Spain for less than a quarter of the price. Indeed, there were taxes and taxis everywhere. The famous "yellow taxis", incidentally, are in fact orange:

George Bernard Shaw famously said that Britain and the US were "two nations divided by a common language", and I have to say that my experience bore this out. The most repeated conversation I had with my wife was:

'What did they say?'
'I have no idea. Something about (supply intelligent guess), I think.' 

Sometimes it was the flat or non-existent intonation; other times it was the vocabulary or turn of phrase; occasionally it was a culture clash; and, more often than not, a combination of all three:

'Can I have names for these?' the Starbucks guy asked me, holding up two empty coffee cups.
'Er, Tom and Jerry?'
'I mean, What's your name?'
'Oh, sorry. Mike.'

No wonder my books sell so badly in the States! And while we're on the topic of language, I must say I was very hurt that not a single New Yorker complimented me on my beautiful sweet-talking English accent, which would appear to have been contaminated by my lengthy stay in the Basque Country.

While every exchange was agony for her proud English-teaching husband, my wife breezed through every situation unscathed:

'Would you like to contribute to the Saint Joseph's Hospital fund?' the cashier asked hopefully.
'No,' she replied honestly.

If that had been me, I would most likely have answered, 'Er, not just now, only we're in rather a hurry. I'm really sorry. Maybe another time, OK?' and then spent the rest of the day tormenting myself for being such a heartless beast.

The highlight of our stay was on the last night when we finally found a good-for-value restaurant just a stone's throw away from our hotel, depending of course on size of stone, strength of thrower, accuracy of launch, wind speed... Er, where was I? Ah yes, I can thoroughly recommend the garlic bread and fettuccini gamberi at Grotta Azzurra, a delightfully friendly and cosy restaurant in Little Italy, New York:

Our waiter was called Sergei. He spoke English far better than anybody else in New York, so I took an immediate liking to him. Besides, I thought it was pretty cool for a Basque/Brit couple to be dining in an Italian restaurant in America, while served by a Russian.

Happy New Year!
 ‘Traffic light,’ said Mal, pointing to a traffic light, because that’s what it was.
 ‘But it’s green.’
 ‘Well spotted.’
 ‘But green means, “Go”.’
 ‘Not here it doesn’t.’
 ‘So what does it—’


A huge boulder came flying out of nowhere and landed just a couple of yards in front of the milk float.

 ‘Bloody hell!’
 ‘Mind your language.’
 ‘Sorry. I wasn’t expecting that.’

The light changed to red, and Mal started up again.

 ‘Green means, “Beware of falling rocks”.’
 ‘And red means, “Proceed with caution”, I suppose?’


 ‘Red means, “Get a move on. Another rock is on its way”,’ said Mal as boulder number two crashed into the spot where they had pulled up only a moment earlier. ‘Any more questions?’
 ‘What about the middle light?’
 ‘The orange one that flashes at random?’
 ‘Yeah, that one. The yellow one.’
 ‘It means, “Testing, testing”. Just ignore it. Everybody else does.’

            dayrealing, Chapter 42, “The Passenger”

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