A man walks into a bar (and other clichés)

I love a good cliché. With my unrivalled ability to roll out a casual inanity for every occasion, I could probably have been a football managercoach were it not for a terrifying lack of ability and an underlying loathing of anyone whose ego is so large that it can’t even be carried on to an airplane as hand baggage.

Nonetheless, I consider it a personal failure if I don’t manage to crank out at least one over-used phrase per day. You’ll simply not see me happier than the moments after I’ve just managed to slip a cliché into an otherwise normal conversation. Well, unless you happen to catch my pumped-fist salute coming out of the toiletbathroom, after a painful four day bout of constipation has triumphantly been brought to an end, that is.

Personal favourites include ” actions speak louder than words”, “the road to hell is paved with good intentions”, “it ain’t over til the fat lady sings” or “no pain, no gain”, although try as I might, I’m yet to find a way to fit “there’s a thin line between love and hate” into a meeting without being given the look generally reserved for the moment when you realise that the falafel you just bit into was actually a breadcrumbed sheep’s testicle.

The fact is though that most clichés are borne of the truth. And none more so than “it’s a small world.”

Last night I walked into a perfectly everyday American bar just around the corner from where I live in the depths of Brooklyn. Faced with the choice of American beers that look and taste like water (or, worse still, look and taste like urine), I opted for a taste of Britain, in the shape of a ‘pint’ of Bass.

Bass is a strange thing. I’m not even sure that there still is a beer sold under the Bass name in the UK, and if there is, I probably wouldn’t order it (although to be fair, drinking canned Shandy Bass as a kid was one of my great not-as-illicit-as-it-seemed pleasures). But here, Bass seems to have a connotation of high quality – a seemingly safe bet when faced with mountains of six packs of Coors Light, Bud Light, and that weird lime tasting beer that I’ve never quite understood the point of.

Reader, I digress. Having downed my first beer with a speed that would make Usain Bolt’s face blanch, I walked to the bar to buy my second libation.

“Where in the UK are you from?” asked Woman Who I Would Call A Barmaid In The UK.

In the United States, being asked this question fills a Brit with joy and unabandoned glee because it means three things . Firstly, it means they’ve heard of the UK (not a given, trust me). Secondly, they haven’t confused you with an Australian, a Swede or a Canadian. And thirdly, there’s a vague chance that they’ve heard of some British city that’s not London.

“I come from a place called Chester,” I said meekly, readying myself to give directions from London or – at best – Manchester.

“Oh right. I spent my first day in the UK in Chester. My husband’s from Liverpool. I like Chester, although it’s a bit strange.”

I laughed at the thought of an American being confused by a city that has anything older than 500 years in it, and walked back to my seat.

A few moments later, a completely unrelated guy came over to our table.

“Excuse me, mate. Did I hear you say you’re from Chester? I’m from Wrexham actually. Nice to see you,” he said, before wandering out of the door.

Wrexham’s probably eight miles from Chester. I used to date a girl from Wrexham, and one night drove all the way home without realising I didn’t have my headlights on. I rarely came across someone from Wrexham when I was living in London though, let alone in suburban Brooklyn.

I’m now on eager alert for the random appearance of somebody who lived on my street as a kid, or who used to drink in the pub I used to work in and remembers the low cut Hawaiian style shirt I was forced to wear. After all, don’t these things come in threes?

Or would that just be a cliché?

11 thoughts on “A man walks into a bar (and other clichés)

  1. Brooklyn

    It almost always seems that no matter how far you travel, you meet someone from your neck of the woods.
    I just returned from a vacation in Central America, and on my first day (first half-day really), I met someone who lives a mere 5 blocks, at most, from where I work.

  2. voyeur36

    Talking about beers, I went into an Irish theme bar in Atlanta, and they didnt have any Guinness. Shock and horror.

  3. Iota

    I love small world moments.

    My favourite version of the man walks into a bar joke is this:

    A man walks into a bar… and says “ouch!”

  4. Sven

    On my first trip to Australia someone approached me in the airport because they recognised me from working in the Winchester branch of their bank eight years ago. Spookier than the small world is that people remember you for the oddest things, like counting money left-handed.

  5. Almost American

    I love it when that kind of thing happens! Sometime during my first year here in the US a friend said I should talk to one of her friends because he’d been to England. (!) His first question was “Do you know Henley?” It turned out I had seen him race against my brother’s crew (from your school BTW) in the Princess Elizabeth Cup at Henley Regatta and had photos of the event to prove it! Unfortunately the American crew won.

    It is always surprising to find an American who knows where Chester is!

  6. Graham

    Shandy Bass – now that brings back memories. I’m with you on the seemingly-illicit pleasure.

    I do believe you can still get Bass on tap in the UK. I’ve always considered it a generic “any port in a storm” (to coin a cliche) beer, for when the only other choice is beer-for-people-who-don’t-like-the-taste-of-beer.

    As an Englishman in New Jersey, I derive great pleasure when people recognize the accent, and especially when I hear another English accent. I found someone from the Isle of Wight the other day at the theatre.

    I was once at a small party in NYC and got talking to someone who actually went to school just down the road from me (I’m from Luton).

    Lovely to find your blog, btw.

    Graham.

  7. IanB

    I’m heading to Omaha where I strongly suspect I will be one of about three people from England who are still even vaguely English – trust me, I’ve checked, extensively.

    I was introduced to “Liz” last time I was there. Liz comes from St. Ives, married an Omahanian and lived in Council Bluffs for 30 years.

    “You’ll like Liz, she’s English”.

    Liz was more American than every other American I have ever met. I did like her though. She reminisced fondly about Marmite and the River Cam and told me that finding a fellow English ‘alien’ in Nebraska is a bit like finding good Cheddar, sorry I mean ‘sharp’ cheese in an American sandwich:- possible but rare.

    It’s only a question of time now before I forget how to pronounce “Towcester” and “Slough” and think that cold tea, especially the abomination of peach “tea” [shudder] a good thing rather than the drippings from Satan’s own teat.

  8. Brooklyn

    Expat Mum:

    For parents “Because I said so” is less a cliche then a preferable alternative to homicide when your child refuses to accept all the reasonable explanations you have given for telling said child “No” or “Please do _____.”

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