11 June, 2011


Tales from the Multiculture - oh don't worry it'll do

Customer orders pint of bitter, what in marketingspeak is now known as "real ale". Turns to companions to confirm their requirements.

Now as an experienced and, though I say it myself, accomplished pisshead, I don't generally approve of this sort of behaviour. You get your order sorted out before you approach the bar, not get bogged down for half an hour in an extended discussion between Sharon and Tracey about the relative merits of Vodka Red Bull and Jägerbombs while the "bar associate" fumes impatiently, and then top the whole order off with a nonchalant "oh, and two pints of Guinness, please" at the very end. This advice applies most especially to parties of amateur drinkers during the "Festive Season", I might add, grumpily.

But as it happened the pub was well quiet and the bar staff were standing around scratching, well, whatever they felt like scratching.

"The same again please", announced the customer confidently, indicating that he would also like another pint of Old Dog Fart for his drinking companion. Here he encountered a slight snag. The lady bar associate in question hails from the European mainland and her command of the Anglo-Saxon tongue is not all it might be. In fact, I recall on a previous visit having to translate between her and a party of German tourists who did actually speak English, but not as she knew it, Jim.

And so the customer received not a pint of Old Dog Fart, but a pint of "same again", or San Miguel as it turned out to be. The drinking companion, being English, acquiesced and accepted this dubious substitution.

Great place London, innit. I mean, everybody speaks English.

My arse.


'I mean, everybody speaks English.'

Idiomatic English is a challenge for even educated Eastern europeans, and when I encounter barstaff/waiting staff who clearly hail from there I adjust my banter accordingly. One of the pleasures, so it is alleged, of living in our thriving multiculture.

I have to say tho' that the worst bar service I've experienced recently was from a northern lass who found that, despite the best efforts of swan neck dispense & sparkler, my selected brew didn't develop the quarter inch head that she expected it to. Halfway in she then proceeded to swill the contents around in the glass, as if she were a nurse dealing with a dubious urine sample. The resultant, stone dead, concoction unsurprising proved to be undrinkable.

After spending many years working in bars before the socialist bastards closed them all, that first paragraph touched my heart. Particularly the bit about the Guiness :-)

The language skills of East European barstaff are deceptive. Practice makes them word perfect in the English needed in their job — handling food and drink orders. Those with a good ear can also develop very convincing near-native accents.

But go off-topic and venture beyond that core repertoire and the weakness is laid bare. Complete idiomatic command of a language requires prolonged and intensive cultural and linguistic exposure — embedding even — which these folk have not had time to acquire.

None of this would matter if it were not symptomatic of daily life in London generally. Interaction with non-native speakers, particularly those in retail and service jobs, is so common that the default language of London is no longer British English but a simplified International English.

Us natives have become just another group of foreigners who switch to our native tongue only when we are among our own.

And whatever the diversity celebrators may say, it's very disheartening.

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