Englishmen in cahoots
(Page 2 of 2)
The sensitivity and craftsmanship of the artifacts were set out before the visitor with great clarity. My only regret was that many (though not all) of the galleries provided information in no other language than German. I put a question to a woman guard who spoke as little English as I did German. So I settled for the foreignness of the experience and enjoyed the visual communication of this magnificent collection. As I came to the last gallery, I spotted a glass door through which items from the European sculpture museum were visible.Skip to next paragraph
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``Geschlossen!'' rapped out a man's voice behind me, and I nearly jumped to attention. He followed up with a sentence of imperative German I couldn't understand.
``Oh, er - ya - sorry,'' I said meekly. ``It's shut, yes, I see.''
As I turned and walked past him he said, much more quietly, ``You are English, I think.''
``Yes,'' I said. ``How did you guess?''
``Are you visiting Berlin or living here?'' he asked.
``Visiting.... You speak extremely good English,'' I said admiringly.
``That,'' he said, ``is because I am English.''
He looked at me a moment, enjoying the effect of a statement he knew I didn't expect. ``Don't say it too loudly, though; my boss thinks I'm German.... I do have German citizenship. I've lived here for 20 years.... I don't get much opportunity to speak English. Where are you from?''
``South of the river - Pollokshields.''
``I was there during the war. Yes, I know Pollokshields.'' I sensed a certain wistfulness in him standing guard in the middle of all those African carvings.
``It's very nice to speak English,'' he said. ``I don't get much opportunity. Of course,'' he added, ``people even in Britain don't speak good English anymore. It's all those Americanisms creeping in, such as `Be good' instead of `Goodbye.' Of course, we get a lot of Americans coming through here. I tell them they don't speak English properly at all. They protest, so I ask them this: Which is correct grammatically - to say, `The yolk of an egg IS white or the yolk of an egg ARE white?'''
I must have looked blank.
``Well?'' he said. ``Which?''
``I suppose,'' I hesitated, ``it must be `ARE white.''
He looked triumphant. ``The answer'' he said, ``is YELLOW.''
``They never get it right either,'' he said. ``Now how about this one? Tell me - if a rooster lays an egg on the Berlin Wall, does it belong to the East Germans or the West Germans? Well?''
``Oh, heavens,'' I said. ``How about BOTH?''
``You're worse than the Americans!'' he laughed. ``Roosters don't lay eggs!''
``Oh! This is too much for me. No more!'' I exclaimed. And both of us went into ... well ... cahoots of laughter: Here we were after only a couple of minutes already a conspiracy of Englishmen. ``I must go before you ask me another one. Well, it's been very nice to meet you,'' I said, and meant it.
``Give my love to Glasgow,'' he said.
``I will indeed. Be - ''
I managed to stop myself only in the nick of time. I nearly made the most dreadful faux pas, as the French put it. I had been just about to say, ``Be good.''