The day an American asked me how come I speak English
In 1992, I went to Canada and the USA. I spent three or so weeks travelling around, on my own, visiting friends and family.
It was the first time I’d flown.
Before we’d even taken off things started to get interesting.
The plane was delayed and while we were all sat there, on the tarmac of Manchester Airport, waiting for clearance, the pilot made an announcement to tell us all that it shouldn’t be too much longer before we were on our way.
He kept on talking, but not to us. For several minutes we could hear him chatting with the co-pilot, and whoever else was there, but it was conversation not intended for us to hear. Mostly it was incomprehensible technical stuff, and some of it was inaudible. Then the mic was cut.
A minute later, he came back over the speakers to apologise for having left the mic on while he was chatting to his colleagues and said “there are a lot of switches up here and it sometimes gets confusing.”
A lot of us exchanged quizzical looks. Had he really just said that..? Yes, he had.
Four hours later, a little more than halfway to Toronto – where I’d get to hear about Mrs Aqua for the first time – the guy across the aisle from me collapsed.
At this point I was beginning to wonder why they bothered putting movies on for us to watch – the flight itself was providing far more entertainment and distraction than I’d bargained for.
We landed, in one piece. The collapsed man was OK too.
|My passport photo, taken in 1992|
At the immigration queue the guy in front of me got instantly deported… into a holding cell and put on the first plane back to Manchester.
Three days later I saw two guys from the Ku Klux Klan being deported from Canada, at Fort Erie, and sent back to the USA.
By this point I couldn’t tell if I was still suffering from jet lag, or whether I was simply over-stimulated from everything that was going on around me. But one thing was for sure, I was wired.
One of my abiding memories from that trip is of something that happened at Penn Station in New York.
I was waiting for a train to take me to Fayetteville, North Carolina. All the trains were delayed. As any fellow Brits will know, this is a situation we have all become accustomed to. And so it was that I found myself hanging around at Penn Station with lots of other delayed travellers, one of whom struck up a conversation with me.
He was a couple of years younger than me, was well dressed, wore a broad smile and had a couple of suitcases. He introduced himself by saying something about the delay being annoying and that he was on his way home from college.
It was 20 years ago, so what follows is not an actual word-for-word account of what happened next. But the main thrust of it is here…
- Me: “what are you doing at college?”
- Him: “liberal arts.”
- Him: “how about yourself?”
- Me: “I’m travelling round for a few weeks, I’ve got some friends in Maine and North Carolina, and my brother lives in Michigan. Last week I was in Toronto for a few days.”
- Him: “may I just say, you speak really good English.”
- Voice in Sean’s head: “RUN! RUN! HE’S CLEARLY ONE OF THOSE PSYCHO KILLERS FROM NEW YORK EVERYONE’S WARNED YOU ABOUT!!”
- My actual voice: “Er, I’m English.” (note: I’m not, I’m an Irishman who grew up in England, but that’s a tale for another occasion)
- Him: “Sure, but how come you speak such good English?” (the ‘such’ and the ‘good’ were over emphasized)
- Voice in Sean’s head: “THIS IS HOW IT ENDS…!”
- My actual voice: “Well, I come from England. I grew up there. It’s what we speak. I really ought to find a telephone. It’s been great meeting you.”
On that same trip a lot of very weird and funny stuff happened. But the “how come you speak such good English guy” was a real stand-out moment.