There’s something wonderful about being an American in the UK and hearing another American accent on the street. It’s so stupid and yet every time it happens I freak out like I’ve just seen my favorite celebrity or a long-lost cousin. I’m going to get to talk to an American, my brain tells itself. They will probably be familiar with the things that I am familiar with! We are going to be BEST FRIENDS and fix all of our problems and everything is going to be fine now, because we have the same relationship to the letter R when it is the last letter of a word.
I’m almost certain I’ve written about this before, but the story of this last month has been “reevaluating familiar premises with new eyes,” so you’re going to get another take on this phenomenon. Watching two British people run into one another in America is a wholly different type of delight, like watching two grifters trying to run the same scam in a small town instantly clock one another and freeze during a game of high-stakes poker. They circle one another like cats, or like human cast members from the musical Cats. But seeing two Americans encountering one another anywhere in Europe is like watching two adults slowly realize they were best friends at summer camp twenty-eight years ago.
Two British people running into one another anywhere in the US
Briton the first: Oho!
Briton the second: Oho!
Briton the first: I can still see you even if you do not move, churl! Give yourself up, and offer your name to me, and trust in my mercy – this is your last and best hope.
Briton the second: I’ll give you my true name when God himself spits on the king’s road!! Take a handful of sand, a mouthful of blood, and an eyeful of the Devil!
Briton the first: How many Americans have you tricked into loving you?
Briton the second: You will take my Americans from me at your peril, countrywoman! I have five of them curled within my heart like a fist, and I will never give them up!
Briton the first: I will show them pictures of you at school! I will let them see you set against a backdrop of your fellows, and they will see you as you truly are for the first time, in context, and all your magicks will melt away!
Briton the second: Enmity, bitch-sister, enmity! I will fight you with my teeth and with my entirement! My children’s children will scald your name out of the heritage-books! England’s coming home, you rag-hearted frelk!
[Briefly the Americans belonging to one of the Britons stops by to check in about directions or to announce their table is ready, and all hostilities cease.]
Briton the first: I see a way for both of us to make it out of this meeting without disaster. Will you take it with me?
Briton the second: A trap? A trap for me, a trap for the ending of me?
Briton the first: No trap, Briton.
Briton the second: Speak on, tongue-kin.
Briton the first: Leave you this place without calling attention to my grift. I’ll do me the same. You leave with your Americans, me with mine. You take the western half of this country, I the east. Our paths never cross again. Both safe, both wary, both free.
Briton the second: I mistrust you with all my bones, johnnypeg. And yet what choice have I? You carry my destruction in your teeth, and I yours. I accept.
Briton the first: Now we wait.
Briton the second: Now we wait.
Briton the first: How is your mother?
Briton the second: Spit her name out of your mouth.
Briton the first: It is withdrawn.
Briton the second: Let us disparage Canada together.
Briton the first: Yes, come, let us disparage Canada together, until your Americans return to claim you.
Two Americans running into one another anywhere in the UK
American the first: –anyways, like I was saying, she’d never even heard him the first time, so I had to call them back –
American the second/Me: OH my GOD, I’m so sorry to bother you, but did I just hear an AMERICAN ACCENT come out of your mouth?
American the first [completely thrilled to have been interrupted]: OH my GOD, you DID, the accent was MINE, I’m an American, are you an American too?
American the second: YES I AM, YES, I’m an American! From America! Oh my God, seeing your face felt like seeing the face of God, cf Genesis 33:10.
American the first: We’re in EUROPE. Isn’t that thrilling and strange? Are you well? Have they cherished you here as you ought to be cherished, like God’s favorite egg wrapped in linen? Is your state Massachusetts, or New Mexico? Why do all of the shower doors in this country extend a mere third across the length of the shower, such that the shower is able to effectively piss all over the entire bathroom floor, no matter how careful the shower-er is? How are you suffering back at home? How fares the Republic?
American the second: I must sit down for sheer love of you. I am well here. My state is California. And yours?
American the first [solemnly]: My state is also California.
American the second [eyes welling enormously]: Then we must be married at once.
American the first: At once, my starling.
American the second: I have been to Brighton, and seen the summer here, and have concluded that Britons must never be permitted to have summer again. It was as hot and wet as God’s lungs, and there was a man playing the banjo on a beach with no sand. A seagull screamed at me with the voice of a human baby. I loved it. I suffered. I am still there.
American the first: Summer was invented in Santa Monica in 1967 and must never be permitted to escape.
American the second: As for the shower doors – I have no words, sister. There is a single door. It does not extend even halfway across the length of the tub. The bath mat makes a mockery of foot dryness. At home I suffer for six reasons, and in seven ways.
American the first: At home I suffer too. Will you return soon, to suffer afresh?
American the second: My suffering knows my name, and does not forget me.
American the first: How are you true, my darling, my duckling, my prize, my poppet, my dear heart? May I kiss you gently on the eyes and offer you the gold amulet that has been your birthright since the moment you quickened in your mother’s womb, and which I have been carrying around in anticipation these last thirty-one years?
American the second: Angel! I say you yea. [They embrace.]
Since landing in the UK last week, I’ve learned that I’ve spent my entire life mispronouncing the word “quay,” which surprised me perhaps more than it should. Everyone has been very very kind to me, and I have mostly been able to guess my way through situations where I’ve been unsure about how much to tip. My best friend Grace (who has made a number of appearances in this Chatner in the past) and I planned this trip a few months ago. We have been best friends since the day we met, when I spoke at a class of hers and asked her afterwards if she wanted to be best friends. (She did, so from then on we were.) Today we are not best friends. About a month ago we realized, or decided, or acknowledged, or concluded, or admitted, or something, that we were in love with one another, and so we have taken this trip in a spirit of adventure but decidedly not friendship. (First one who tries to sneak “‘Twas Grace that taught my heart” past me gets hammerbanned for a year. I’ve already been tricked into reciting TULIP all the way up to the I before realizing what I was doing.)
It was Grace who told me that I have been mispronouncing quay, and Cowper too, for good measure. The day after we went to Brighton, I woke up with a sore stomach because I’d spent hours in a boyfriendly attitude on the beach, half-sitting, half-reclining and supporting the weight of someone else’s head in my lap, and my body had been unused to such a posture. One needn’t be a boyfriend to adopt such a position, it should go without saying, but that is the order things have taken for me. The letters in TULIP represent the five points of Calvinism: Total Depravity, Unconditional Election, Limited Atonement, Irresistible Grace, and the Perseverance of the Saints.
John Gill’s commentary on John 6:44 describes the irresistible force of grace thusly: “Though this act of drawing is an act of power, yet not of force; God in drawing of unwilling, makes willing in the day of [God’s] power: [God] enlightens the understanding, bends the will, gives an heart of flesh, sweetly allures by the power of grace, and engages the soul […to] give up itself; draws with the bands of love. Drawing, though it supposes power and influence, yet not always coaction and force: music draws the ear, love the heart, and pleasure the mind.” Quay is pronounced like key, apparently. “But I thought it was a whole different thing from, like, Key West?”
“I never said it was the same thing as Key West. I’m not making any claims about Key West. I’m just saying that’s how quay is pronounced.” Normally, with Grace, we’re in my country and it’s a surprise when someone else talks like how she does; this week we’re in hers and it’s a surprise when someone sounds like me. Music draws the ear, love the heart, and pleasure the mind.