The Englishman Who Spoke Good English

It has finally happened. After all the years of waiting and hoping and wondering how I would respond it has finally happened, the one thing I have been waiting for all this time.

It all started when I spotted a couple walking towards me in the street, clutching a map, both sharing the same confused look upon their faces which suggested they were utterly and completely lost. I already started to wonder if this could finally be the moment but I tried to push such thoughts aside and not hope for it too much. The disappointment would have been crushing.

Instead I waited as the space between us closed one step at a time. I tried to not look at them too much as we got closer and then… just as we were about to pass each other it happened…

“Excuse me… do you speak English.”

I almost fist pumped the air in triumph.

It was the lady who had asked the question I had been waiting all this time to hear. Her husband was still too busy gripping the map and looking at it intensely. I don’t think he was quite ready to admit that they were lost yet but I did not care about that. All I cared about was that someone had finally asked me, an Englishman, if I spoke English. She had even said it very slowly, over pronouncing each word in her Yorkshire accent in the hope that ‘the foreigner’ would understand.

I decided to play it cool. I had been waiting for this moment for a long time and had an equally long list of highly witty come backs prepared but I did not want to throw the moment away too quickly. There was still one other thing that could make it perfect.

After five minutes of giving directions to the wife and five minutes of the husband’s best ‘Honestly, I know where we are’ impression we were about to part ways. For a moment I thought I had waited too long and missed my opportunity but then…

“Thank you. And can I just say… your English is very good.”

I could have hugged her. I almost did.

“Thank you. I am English.” I replied instead (number 234 on the highly witty come back list).

She looked embarrassed for a moment while we both chuckled about this revelation and the husband attempted his best ‘I was not listening but I just worked out where we are for myself’ impression . I bid them farewell and skipped down the street.

34 responses to “The Englishman Who Spoke Good English”

  1. “Thank you- so is yours” would have been my come back :-)

    Of course, you do realise that you now need to reveal the other items on your list …

  2. Invader Stu says:

    Owww… that would have been a good one. And you have a point about having to reveal the other ones. Maybe I might do a follow up but I don’t know if they are just funny to me.

  3. Aledys Ver says:

    Lol!!! I don’t think I’ll ever have this moment with Argie tourists … or Spanish speaking tourists for that matter – well, I live in the east, we just get German tourists over here! :D But oh, glorious moment indeed!!

  4. Jules says:

    For some reason even Dutch people ask me for directions…that gets interesting…

  5. Invader Stu says:

    Aledys Ver – At least you have the fun of getting to mess with German tourists

    Jules – I’ve had that too. Most of the time they give up and walk away when they hear me try to speak Dutch. I can’t fool them that I am not English once I open my mouth.

  6. Anneke says:

    Teehee, always great fun! Too bad most anglophones won’t believe me when I say I’m Dutch. Because I don’t sound Dutch. Well, no, actually that is the point of studying English! :P One woman went so far as to demand that I speak Dutch.

  7. Alison says:

    I completely understand the appeal of this whole situation! I was thrilled when some German tourists stopped me one day to ask for help about parking and they started by asking if I speak English. “Of course!”, I answered, as every Dutch person seems to respond to me. I do keep waiting for the moment when someone does commend me on my English. I haven’t decided whether I’ll admit to it being my first language or just let them think I’m quite talented at languages. Oh, the irony! ;) Sadly for now, I only get Dutch people stopping me for directions.

  8. Anita says:

    I live in a village full of islands and dead end streets between Amsterdam and Zaandam . Bacause of that many people get lost and ask for directions. One funny thing always happens: after hearing my instructions in Dutch a “blanke” Dutch person will always ask for directions again to someone else after riding/biking some meters. If it is a Surinamese, Moroccan, or foreigner they feel confident about what I tell them and find their way.

  9. Invader Stu says:

    Anneke – You should carry an ID around with you to prove it to them. I can understand how they feel though. I had a Dutch co-worker who I spent a year thinking was English because he spoke it better than me with a really posh English accent.

    Alison – It will happen to you one day. I had almost given up hope but it still happened.

  10. French Bean says:

    A moment that was long-time in the making. Congrats!

    I had some similar experiences in Dijon when tourists would ask me for directions…in French. It made me happy when I was able to answer them correctly and frustrated me when I couldn’t. My brain seemed to think “you’ve been here for 7 months and you *still* don’t know where such-and-such place is? Loser.”

    In France, I still come off as a foreigner based on the way I speak (I don’t quite have the verbal fluidity of a native) and I have people tell me constantly that I speak French well, but what really floors them is when I reveal that I am an American; they almost can’t believe it. :-P

    And just last week, I helped out some French tourists here in Miami who thought that I was French! Ha, ha, ha! The sweet taste of success! True, it happened outside of France, but it happened nonetheless! :-D

    (Okay, this comment has been long enough.)

  11. Keith says:

    I was on holiday in Berlin, standing on the corner (watching all the girls go by), when I was approached by an American couple.

    “Excuse me, spreken zee englisch?”. I thought “This one is too good to miss!”

    I replied in my best Oxford english,”I’m awfully sorry old chap, but I’m afraid I don’t speak it at all”.

    With that he said “Sorry”, and turned and walked away! Unbelievable!

  12. MissNeriss says:

    Keith, that’s gold!

    I’m still waiting for that wonderful moment too Stu. Surely it will happen one day. I do regularly have Dutchies stop me on my bike to ask directions, which I always cycle away feeling awesome about that I’ve been able to do it until that facepalm moment that I realise I’ve sent them in the wrong direction! At least I could do it in Dutch though!

  13. Invader Stu says:

    French Bean – I think it still counts outside of France. In fact I would even go as far to say it counts even more. Think about it. A French person expecting that another person in France is French is not amazing as a French person in another country thinking the person in front of them is also French even though they are not in France.

    Keith – I wonder how many blocks away they got before they realized what had just happened.

  14. Invader Stu says:

    MissNeriss – Ive done that a few times. Or I spend 5mins with them trying to work out the directions to where they are trying to get to only to realize that I have no clue.

  15. orangesplaash says:

    Glad to read you got your “moment”! Many a Dutch have asked me for directions..and it makes me feel proud that I moved beyond the “ik weet het niet” stage long ago :)

  16. julia says:

    I get all excited when people ask me for directions. It happens all the time because I don’t hide my eager, over-excited face too well. My biggest thrill was, one day at my kid’s bus stop, someone thought I was Hispanic and asked me for directions in Spanish and I managed to tell them where to go. It’s those little thrills that get me up in the morning.

    Congrats for having your moment.

  17. Amanda says:

    Congratulation on your moment to shine. :D I get stopped pretty frequently by both Dutch and non-Dutch visitors. The interaction usually goes “Buzz Buzz Dutch-something”, me “huh?”, them “oh, you don’t live here” and they wander off. To be fair, I’m terrible at directions even when they do try to tough it out in English.

  18. Invader_Stu says:

    Orangesplaash – I know how you feel. I was so happy when I moved beyond the ‘Hu? What?’ stage.

    Julia – It’s great when those kind of things happen, especially someone thinking you were Hispanic. Cool.

    Amanda – That’s what happens to me all the time if the people asking for directions are Dutch. I’m always surprised that just because I did not understand them in Dutch they think I wont be able to help… but then again to be fair I do suck at giving directions as well.

  19. Wendi says:

    I say that to Texans all of the time.

  20. Leti Locatelli says:

    Hi, Stu, it´s always so funny to read you! I wish I could have more time to go back on your blog and read old posts. Anyway, congrats for your “moment” !!!
    Greetings from Zuidoostbeemster!

  21. Invader Stu says:

    Wendi – That you are English or that their English is very good :p

    Leti – Thanks :) Greetings from Rotterdam

  22. StephanieC says:

    You had me at ‘fist pump’… lol.

  23. PinayinDutchland says:

    Hahaha I love this story. I can’t recall having the same experience just yet. But I get the same feeling when I showed a fellow expat yesterday how to use the ret machine, in Dutch. Must say though, I love the British accent.

  24. Aledys Ver says:

    Yes, Stu – I get to mess with German tourists here in the east… but I can’t mention the war! I think I did it once or twice, but I got away with it! lol! (from Fawlty Towers)

  25. French Bean says:

    Fawlty Towers reference FTW.

    (Fawlty Towers Win vs. For The Win.)

    And perhaps you are right, Stu. Maybe it is more significant to have the French believe that I’m French when they are outside of France. ^.^

  26. zed says:

    I’m so glad that you had your ‘moment’ :)

    When people here ask if I speak English I simply reply “well yes, I do actually – and rather well.” It works a treat each time – I’m such a smug bitch;)

  27. Efrutik says:

    You know I wish this would happen to me. Russians nearly fall and die of heart attacks when they hear me speak Russian without an accent. Then I have to stand there and think, am “I a ghost or they will actually be ok and not have that seemingly creeping upon them heart attack?”. It’s awkward and a bit annoying. For the record, yes non-Russians, especially Africans can speak Russian without an accent, they might have a story to accompany that. But if you are staring at them like you have seen a ghost I don’t think they will want to elaborate on that story!

    Hihi Glad you got your fun moment however, it must have been priceless indeed :)

  28. Invader Stu says:

    StephanieC – Fist pumps are always good

    PinayinDutchland – I hope they understood Dutch as well :p

    Aledys Ver – “You started it.” “No we didn’t.” “Yes you did you invaded Poland.”

    French Bean – I think it is :)

    zed – That must make me a smug bitch to because that was reply 56 on my witty come back list.

    Efrutik – You should use the moment that they are staring at you to just suddenly shout “BOO!”

  29. Just a Plane Ride Away says:

    LOL! I’d love to hear the rest of your comebacks one day :-)

  30. valmann24@hotmail.com says:

    Good pne Stu! We get asked this qute a lot here in the Oude Haven, as you might imagine. My favourite answer to the “Do you speak English?” is “A little” :)

  31. VallyP says:

    P.S Sorry about the typos, my eyes aren’t so good at the moment :-p

  32. Invader Stu says:

    Just a Plane Ride Away – I might share the list here one day

    VallyP – That’s number 25 on my witty comeback list :p

  33. Renee says:

    Haha, love it. I had a similar thing happen in the UK. I was there on a working holiday visa and had ended up in a pub in Worthing, West Sussex with a group of people from around the world who were there to study english. Turkey, Brazil, and several other countries were represented. I’m Australian and told the group that. After some basic conversation, one guy complimented me – you must have been here a while – your english is excellent!

  34. Adam Lewis says:

    hahah, ridiculous….but tourists are often very confused and sometimes they don’t realize.

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