Covent Garden Market-675189. An oil painting showing the early morning bustle of Covent GardenEnglish is my second language, I love it madly – just as madly as I love English literature and history. I was lost to anglophilia at a very early age, I read in English more than I do in Italian, I spent years in several parts of the British Islands, and feel at home whenever I go back there.

That said, I maintain that, at times, the English could put a little more effort in an attempt to understand non-native speakers.
Let me tell you a small story.

I was once sitting with my mother at a very nice cafe in Covent Garden Piazza. We’d been trotting around London all day, so we were a tad out of breath and not a little thirsty.

When the waiter came to collect our orders, my mother, who used to speak a very good English but is now sadly out of practice and has been for some years, asked for “an ale.”

The waiter’s eyes went the size of saucers – and I sat back to enjoy the scene – which you might think not the nicest way to support one’s mother, but I can’t resist a good piece of nonsense when it happens. And indeed…
“A nail?” the waiter asked, in utter bemusement. “Whatever for, Madam?”

“What can I possibly want it for?” sweetly asked Mother, all oblivious. “To drink, you know.”Nails

And this is where I think the waiter could have made a little effort, because I know the grammar was off, but really – what could she be asking for?

Instead, he kept staring at Mother in rabbity fascination – and one could see the debate going on behind his eyes: shall I run for help or not? And Mother was staring back with raised eyebrows, and looked ready to get flustered, so I stepped in, and suggested that she might mean just “ale.”

The relief in the poor man’s eyes was a sight to see. Confident once again that the foreign lady wasn’t a a potentially dangerous, nail-drinking lunatic, he informed her that they were not licensed to sell alcoholic beverages at that time of the day, and could he get her something else instead?

At which point Mother grasped the whole ale/nail tangle, and had a fit of the giggles, and it fell to me to order grapefruit squashes to go with our sandwiches, and we acquired one of my favourite anedoctes ever.

Well, this was all of fifteen years ago, so perhaps things have changed since – but really: a a tad, a drop, a particle more effort?

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