What does a man have to do to get a beer around here?

Ordering alcohol is never easy for me when I’m in the southern United States. I’m asked for ID on a regular basis, despite the fact that I turned 21 many moons ago, and showing any barman or waiter my British passport generally produces a look of bafflement and wonder. I guess it might be Tennessee’s way of attempting to stop me from drinking in the first place, given that the state still has a number of dry counties. Or no-go zones, as I prefer to call them.

But sometimes all it takes to get a drink is abject humiliation.

On a flight from Washington DC to Knoxville on Wednesday evening, the flight attendant and her trolley made their way down the aisle of the tiny plane offering free fizzy popsoda, or alcoholic drinks for $6. No tiny bags of free snacks, sadly – one man who asked for some pretzels received a slightly embarrassed reply of “Sorry, United got rid of them a while ago.”

A couple of people had opted for a late night beer by the time the trolley got to me, and after five hours of hanging around airports, I decided to get the Thanksgiving party started in a similar way (safe in the knowledge that my passport was in my back pocket, in case any age-related concerns were brought up). Putting aside my annoyance at paying six dollars for something available for less than a dollar in a supermarket, I waited for my turn.

Attendant: “Can I get you a drink from the trolley?”

Brit Out Of Water: “That would be great. Can I have a beer, please?”

Attendant: “Pardon?”

Brit Out Of Water: “A beer please.”

Attendant: “Sorry?”

Brit Out Of Water (face reddening as people start to listen in): “A beer.”

Attendant: “What is it you would like sir?”

Brit Out Of Water (desperation setting in as fellow passengers start to laugh): “A beer. You know, a beer. A beer.”

Attendant: “Erm, I’m sorry sir, I don’t think we have…”

[Brit Out Of Water bends down, opens the bottom drawer of the trolley and gesticulates wildly at the cans within]

Attendant: “Oh, a beer! Why didn’t you say…”

Now, I admit that the British tend to pronounce the word that denotes “an alcoholic drink containing water, grain, hops and yeast” as ‘bee-err’ and Americans pronounce it more like ‘byurrrrgh’. But nonetheless, most flyers know that their drinks options are limited to a very few options, and so it wasn’t as if I was going to be asking for a glass of Château Pétrus (1929 preferably, although I hear that the 1961 is drinking very well at the moment). But that British accent just keeps getting in the way of day-to-day life, it would seem.

On the way back yesterday, a different attendant approached with the trolley on our delayed flight back to New York.

Attendant: “Would you like a drink sir?”

Brit Out Of Water: “I’ll have a Heineken, please.”

9 thoughts on “What does a man have to do to get a beer around here?

  1. Expatmum

    As long as you don’t ask for LAGER. That really throws them. I have a half written post somewhere about the trouble you face as a Brit with the bloody voice recognition customer service phone calls these days. I usually give up half way through. Mainly because my kids are wetting themselves listening to me trying to say all the responses with an exaggerated twang.

  2. Alasdair

    Silly expats !

    If you want to sound like a native-born American, either a) get a VERY bad cold which clogs both nostrils simultaneously or b) hold your nose shut while repeating the exact same words …

    The result tends to be instant recognition and understanding of your words, followed a few seconds later by divers levels of irritation cuz you are obviously making fun of the poor innocent American who could not understand you the first time or three – until you repeated the words with nostrils blocked …

    Over the phone, they will be less offended, unless you tell them how you suddenly became audibly understandable … I’m Scots, so I try not to lie … well, not directly, anyway … I’ve found it effective to answer “I just had to re-align my nostrils” … apparently that sounds sufficiently scientific and (believe it or not) anatomically-plausible …

    Then there’s the always-favourite conversation/skit … to be seen/heard/visualised with a smile …

    American: You have an accent ! Where are you from ?

    Me: I don’t have an accent. *You* do !

    American: No, I don’t ! *You* do ! So – where are you from ?

    Me: (At this point, playing along, accepting the minor karmic drain) I’m from Glendale.

    This can lead in many directions … a favourite one is

    American: Where is Glendale ?

    Me: (slightly more karmic drain) You know Los Angeles ? (American nods) Los Angeles is a suburb of Glendale.

    American: (CPU pegged for a few seconds) But your accent doesn’t sound like one from Glendale.

    Me: I don’t have an accent. *You* do.

    The intelligent American (and both of you know who you are) will ask “Where are you from originally ?” – at which point I reply that I am originally from Scotland …

    Oh – the conversation is even funnier when I am wearing my kilt …

  3. Esther

    I had to resort to miming the act of giving birth and then holding the baby to the receptionist at a hospital recently while trying to visit my friend. Apparently I butcher the word ‘maternity’!

    And I no longer ask for water anymore – it never fails to elicit a blank look from whoever I’m talking to. Now I always ask for ‘wadda’.

  4. gabi

    While perusing a particularly terrible boyfriend’s music collection in college, I came across some Sade CDs. Did you know the US releases had “Sade (Shar-day)” – or something like it – on the spines to help Americans pronounce her name properly. I was rolling on the floor over that one, not least because I was dating someone who owned a Sade album.

  5. MikeH

    I find when I try to order “a half a pint” in a pub, my American accent translates that to “I’ll have a pint” – but really, that’s not such a bad thing.

  6. LadyPeugeot

    Expat Mum’s comment on the voice-recognition thing really got me! I hate those bloody things! Normally I come across them trying to call my health insurance company. So one, I’m annoyed anyway as I always am when I am dealing with any health-insurance issues here, two I know I’m in for it.
    I always end up exaggerating my “zees” and putting on the crappest twangy accent to get the message across. Still I’m met with “I’m sorry – I didn’t quite get that. Can you repeat…”

  7. Siobhan

    I’m not one to draw attention to myself, but every time I talk, I invariably attract gazes from 40 feet away, even the cats stop and stare. I have decided to make myself a t-shirt that reads: “No, I’m not from Ireland” to stop the barrage of sighing and saying “no, Scotland.” I wish I could imitate it much better.

    It’s a pain in the arse having to repeat yourself, isn’t it?

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