In Cool Hand Luke, Strother Martin’s Captain comes out with the priceless line, ‘What we’ve got here is a failure to communicate.’ I got involved in three conversations over the weekend that sounded for all the world as if they were in English, but each involved total incomprehension.
First up, a barman of my acquaintance. He works in a hotel, and the owner made one of his occasional state visits. My friend asked him if he’d like his customary glass of Chardonnay.
‘Is the Pope a Catholic?*’
‘I don’t know. Is he?’
Now, that’s quite funny in its own right, I think, but here’s the best bit. No, second best bit. He genuinely was unaware that Il Papa is the head of the Catholic church**. And the real killer. He’d never heard the expression before and didn’t know what it meant.
Joe is at least a native English speaker, but the second tale involves somebody whose mother tongue is Italian. She’s from Sardinia originally, but her English is first rate, with a delightful accent. When she swears in English with that accent, and she does it quite a lot since she’s a bit accident prone, it never fails to raise my spirits.
She works in the same bar as Joe, and the other day a potential punter walked in, looked at the handpumps, and asked my friend the ABV of the three beers on offer. The fact that these figures are actually displayed on the pump labels obviously passed him by. My friend patiently told him. ‘4.6% 4.2% 4.3%.’
He was one of those people who does talk so much as harrumph.
‘Oh no. Bit rich for me. I have the car in the carpark.’ He stumped off in what amounts to high dudgeon.
Marzia looked at me with her famous WTF face. ‘He could have just had a haff.’ That’s not a typo, it’s how she pronounces it.
‘Or not go in licensed premises when he’s got the car. I have to say that baffled me, too.’
Another WTF look. ‘Baffled?’
Try explaining that concept to somebody. Best I could come up with was low level confusion.
Lastly to my long suffering friend Mark. He’d asked me something and I did my best mansplaining thing. I can’t remember the question, but it was one of those where the answer is not what you might expect.
‘I know it’s a bit counterintuitive, but it’s right.’
‘What did you say? Counter…?’
‘Counterintuitive. Not what you might guess.’
‘Never heard that word before. I’ll have to try and work it into a meeting with my other directors this week.’
How you get to be in your fifties and not have heard the word before is beyond me.
*He’s a bit of a nobhead, the owner.
** Young people today, eh?