It really is a strange feeling being a visitor in your country of birth, but at the same time quite revealing as I try to ignore the fact that I haven’t lived permanently in the UK for twenty-one years. Take the other morning, I was happily paying for a newspaper and a packet of Tunnock’s caramel wafers when I became completely befuddled by the small change that I held in my hand.
As I fiddled about inspecting these odd looking coins and muttering to myself, the woman on the other side of the counter gave me a number of very odd looks and then said in that oh-so-patronising-way “Are you confused sir?” Well, yes I was, but I certainly wasn’t going to confirm this fact to that rude-old-bag, so I gruffly indicated that British ‘shrapnel’ had changed shape over the years and given any more of her lip I would call over her manager and get her bloody sacked.
However, the funniest thing has been happening just lately, particularly when I speak to shop assistants - bar-persons and staff at petrol stations. This has to be the fact that I find myself speaking to them in fluent(ish) Spanish. Now then, for someone who after more than two decades struggles to order a beer back home in Mallorca, this is something very special don’t you think? Rather like those people who awake from deep coma’s, or a sudden blow to the head has them spouting fluent Serbo-Croat, I’ve done the same in Castilian, but without the coma or sudden head trauma.
I wonder what it can be? Julie says that I might blurt out the odd word in Spanish by mistake and if no one reacts I apparently just go-for-it making up all manner of Spanglish sounding words so as to underpin my effortless, but charming sophistication. The trouble with this rather dishonest showboating is that one day someone will speak proper Spanish back to me and I will be forced to faint.
Isn’t funny though, that after a good few years based in Mallorca living and working, some of those tired old British mindsets I used to despise now seem almost invigorating. The fact that you can buy a stamp in under 22 minutes is a wonder to behold, as is phoning the local council and purchasing ‘online’ a parking ticket outside your place of abode for a little over a quid a week.
I asked this friendly chap at the council if I needed to come in and fill-out a pointless seven page form then sit around for three hours, until some scruffy pen-pusher with halitosis spotted that I hadn’t filled in Section 8B sub-section Hl27 to his satisfaction, and I was to go to the back of the queue and die. With this he laughed a lovely little laugh - because clearly he had no comprehension of how many hours and days we all spend at Traffico Palma.
However, there are wonderful benefits on such a lovely island such as Mallorca. Primarily, this is because a couple of hours in a bar will never bankrupt you; here in middle England the opposite is true if you visit a public house. Strangely enough, if you should ask the average ex-pat British male what he misses most about living in Blighty, I would bet that a large percentage will go all misty-eyed about British pubs.
Well, that’s as maybe - but for anyone who has sat at a corner table at a pub in a typical, pleasant, English county-town, your eyes will water as to how much a pint of lager and bag of cheese & onion crisps might cost you. Nowadays, I just brace myself - because as I place my order with the pubs second best looking barmaid - she smiles a teasing little smile and breathlessly whispers “That’ll be 6pound 20pee Paco darling - por-favour.” Serves me right I suppose!
I wonder if you can actually be a ‘Brit abroad’ but in the UK. You know what I mean, a true Brit to all intents and purposes but unused to the strange ways of home. Unfortunately, I have been displaying some Mallorcan acquired driving habits as I potter around southern England.
Do you know, I can’t seem to navigate a roundabout anymore without the locals waving their fists and mouthing obscenities at me - why might this be I wonder? Then there is the business of ordering a drink or sandwich and then taking your place at a table while some stupid youth stares at you ‘cos you haven’t paid.
Anyway, never mind all this nonsense, on this trip - I have taken it upon myself to visit as many old churches and Cathedrals as humanly possible. Whilst visiting Tewkesbury Abbey, I rather boldly ignored a parking sign that proclaimed “For The Use of Clergy Only” and slid my car into the empty space. With this, some fellow with a dog-collar marched up to me and remonstrated with me to remove the car from his space.
Quick as a flash I broke into my very own Spanglish complete with pursed lips and a considerable amount of hand waving. Oh my good Lord - he only started to speak to me in proper Spanish didn’t he? Naturally of course, as we drove away from the scene of my latest embarrassment, she just had to say - “Tu estupido hombre” didn’t she!