She stopped, order pad in one hand, pen in the other, and looked at me. As did the rest of my family. It was the good-bye breakfast before they left for home hundreds of miles away. Some were sleepy, some were chirpy. They were only slightly interested in what I had to say to our server.
“Do I detect an accent?” I said.
Now I had everyone’s attention, though that’s not what I was going for.
I’m somewhat of an expert on languages. In addition to my native English, I speak Mandarin. A little. Enough to order a glass of wine in Nanjing and answer any question with Wǒ bù míngbái nǐ zài shuō shénme, which, roughly translated means, I don’t understand what you’re saying. Also, Nǎlǐ shì měiguó dàshǐ guǎn? Meaning, Where is the American embassy? Essential phrases in a foreign land.
Forty years ago I took two years of Latin. Veni. Vidi. Vici. Ten years before that I was living in Texas and Spanish was part of the daily curriculum. I could count to twenty and say good day to Senora Folks, my teacher in the third grade. A few years ago I picked up a Spanish language CD for a dollar at a street fair and I’ve managed to get through the first three lessons. Si, senor.
“Me?” the server asked.
“Maybe eastern European,” I said.
The company I work for used to have a catered Christmas dinner at one of the hotels in Charleston, and most of the catering staff had, what seemed to me, a Russian accent. So I asked one of the servers. Yes, she answered, Russian. So being the sophisticated multi-lingual guy that I am, I asked her to teach me how to say thank you. After several tries, I learned Spasibo. The following year, I had learned a few more Russian phrases, including dobry y vecher, or Good evening. She was appreciative of my efforts, but I think the rest of the staff found me annoying. Bez raznitsy. Whatever.
I must confess that I used Google Translate for that last phrase. Have you checked out Google Translate? Go do it. Right now. I’ll wait.
(Whistling in the background.)
Pretty cool, huh.
By now you recognize that I’m quite a cosmopolitan guy, even though I live in a very small town in a backwoods, hillbilly state. I really should start drinking martinis. Shaken, of course.
“Where are you from?” I asked.
I waited for the answer that would leave my family impressed by my ability to identify ethnic origins by accents. Ukraine. Maybe Kazakhstan. Could be Belarus.
“I’m from Red House,” she said.
Red House is basically two hollers over from the restaurant, to put it in the West Virginia vernacular.
Oh, she had an accent. A Mountaineer accent. How I mistook that for eastern European I’ll never know. Not much you can say after a faux pas like that. At least the family had a good laugh and went home with a story to tell.
Faux pas. That’s French. French should be easy to learn.