Despite popular belief, bartending can get pretty boring. You’ve got your regulars, your out-of-townies, and your happy-hour hunters. Same faces, different feet, shuffling in and out of a rotating door of continuum.
Tucked away in our small New England town, my fellow bartenders and I have unique mechanisms of dealing with the inevitable whir of monotony at our hole-in-the-wall pub. My medication of choice is acting. No, I don’t mean belting out Shakespearean sonnets on top of the bar, with a bottle of Jack in one hand and a plastic skull in the other. I am (unlike some of my colleagues) subtler.
I prefer accents. One of my hobbies is international films and trying my tongue at foreign accents. What started out as a personal hobby has now evolved into quite an event with our regulars, where I feature beverages from whatever part of the world I’ve been studying recently, including trivia questions about obscure bits of art and various forms of expression. On the house drinks go to the customers who I fail to stump with my challenging bits of culture.
This had been going on for about four months when a group of young men who I didn’t recognize sauntered in. They appeared to be in their mid-twenties, all of varying heights, similar athletic builds and equally sopping wet as they came in from the pouring rain. Determined to bring a little cheer into their soggy lives, I opened in my very best British English “Awriight you lot! You’re in a right state. Looks as if you’ve flown from Wales herself. Soaked through to your sneakers! Settle down, stay awhile. I promise I won’t make you run from the bill.” As anticipated, the group froze in their seats with expressions of momentary paralysis from my unexpected UK dialect. I smiled, as if I hadn’t noticed, not wanting them to feel shame for the gawking faces they were making. And then, as if on a timer, each member of the group turned to their left. I stood still, smile slowly fading as the silence grew more deafening.
I began to zero in on the focus of their gazes. At the very end of my bar top sat a young man who stood out from the rest, and it took me quite a few seconds of staring to recognize why. He was the only one who didn’t seem perplexed. Instead, he appeared to be intrigued. Almost instantly, his stare became so intense that I needed to divert my own gaze and began to pray he didn’t have some weird Austin Powers fetish, or worse yet some politically conservative Irishman who was now going to hate my “British” bum the rest of the evening. I’ve had those nights.
“Well, what are the odds of this? Another Brit here?!” As he spoke, I froze. Blood rushed to my face.
In my mortified state, I almost missed his wide eyes melt into a broad smile and the quick flash of a dimple as he winked. “What say you Miss? Got any liveners?” I felt air return to my lungs as I turned around to hide my disorientation and process what had just unfolded.
He spoke a different dialect of English. He sounded like he actually was from the United Kingdom. He must have known I had been faking. But he’d winked instead of accusing me. He was playing along. He wanted me to play as well.
Focus! Think. Think Desi! What are your UK themed drink specials?! How is this happening? Pimms. I need to text Ivoire about this! Newcastle Brown. How ridiculous must I have sounded to him? FAT Bastard. Is he just waiting for the right moment to expose me? Green King. I’m going to have to keep this going all night ...”Five Half and Halfs coming up fellas. What brings all of you in here tonight?” Get the group talking, so you won’t have to. Mr. United Kingdom however, steadily smiled on.
Two stiff drinks each and four open tabs later, the group became pretty self-absorbed. I felt only a tad less anxious.
“You know…splendid, really. That was the best I’d ever heard”. My shoulders stiffened and my breath drew quicker. The dreaded moment of truth had arrived. After confirming that none of his “mates” were in earshot I acknowledged that his words had reached my ears with a raised brow. He continued, “I’m Michael by the way.”
“Desanne,” I said with a smile in my natural Brooklyn, NY dialect “and if it was that good, you should here my Hebrew accent, how could you tell it was phoney?” He chuckled deeply and I instantly lowered my guard.
“Well, Desanne, to be honest I couldn’t. Your pronunciation and geological references were flawless and cheers to your drink suggestions, really spot on! Fantastic first syllable stresses.” I stood confused waiting for him to tell me why my well-rehearsed pronunciations and colloquialisms didn’t stump the expert.
“Yes, it was quite good,” he said as he smiled and kept my gaze. “You see, it’s just where I’m from, sneakers are almost always referred to as trainers and the bill you’d mentioned earlier…that’s how we speak of the police. We pay the check at the end of meal. It seemed almost too good to be coincidental that you would have referred to us as running from the coppers when we entered your pub. If you, however, happen to have one of those famous Long Island Iced Teas back there, I’ll teach you a few tricks to fool not just these Yanks but an Englishman like me. Tonight the bartender gets trollied!”