"- the one who lives in Germany, you know, the one who talks posh," ("Poshly," I corrected automatically. My siblings really hate me.)
But over here in Germany, I have discovered a curious thing: I can recognise a Celt at fifty paces. Be they Scottish, Welsh or Irish, I know we probably share DNA before they even open their mouths. I work in a multicultural environment, yet the Welsh, Scots and Irish still gravitate towards one another. What is it, I wonder, apart from a shared compulsion to sing at every public gathering? That, and the persistent desire to dress inadequately in inclement weather (I mean, come on: kilts. Really? Wearing a skirt with no underwear on a windy day - i.e. 360 out of 365 - in the mountains of northern Europe? Oh, please!)
Aside from everything else, I can speak normally (or spake narmal, as we'd say in Kildare) when I'm with my fellow Celts. I can start sentences with "Yerra ..." and no one bats an eyelid. In fact, I can utter complete sentences that consist of nothing but "Yerra ... " and they are seen as significant philosophical contributions to the discourse:
"And that was the point when I told him never to darken my door again! The rat!"
That says it all.
This is one of the reasons why I volunteered to do some of the telephone enquiries about our school's proposed trip to Scotland. I get to talk to ladies in offices in Scotland and chitchat about the weather whilst noting down ferry timetables and group discounts for students. It's very relaxing - after a day of speaking German, I get to chat with my fellow Celts. I can unleash my repressed Irish accent and let it all hang out.
Or so I thought.
Just last week I had a lovely chat with a lady called Betty near John o'Groats. I wanted to know how long the ferry to Orkney would take.
"Howarya," I said (= standard form of address in Kildare), "My name is Gingerbread Lady and I'm phoning youse from Germany because we're after planning a school trip to Scotland and, yerra, sure and amn't I just finalising the details." (Well, not quite - but you get the idea.)
Betty trilled in delight - more so when I told her that there were fifty of us. She tapped away on her computer and gave the sailing times and the price and we chatted about how dreadful the winter was and I was so happy to be able to talk to this lovely little old lady (or aul wan, as we'd say in Kildare). After a couple of minutes of small-talk, I thanked her and said I'd send an email to confirm.
"Wail," she said, "It's bin vairrry nice talkin to yui."
"Yerra, thanks a million Betty for all your help," I said, "Sure and aren't you a star?"
She paused and then said in a confidential voice:
"And I rrrreally must say: yuir English is vairy, vairy guid!"
Readers, I was momentarily stunned: she didn't know I was Irish! And then devastated: she didn't know I was Irish! And then complimented: my English is vairy, vairy guid! So I bit my lip and, not wanting to embarrass her, thanked her kindly and hung up.
Have I been here that long? I wondered. Am I beginning to sound like a German? Am I losing my accent - and my identity? Will this mean that I, too, will start wearing thermal underwear in winter and develop a yearning for The Nature? Who am I? What am I?
I can only imagine that later that day, Betty and the other girls were hanging around the water cooler or coffee maker or haggis dispenser, or whatever it is one has in Scottish offices, and she probably told them about me:
"I had a phonecall today from a lovely wee Gairman girrl - and aparrt from the fact that she had a vairy odd accent, her English was actually vairy guid!"
Thanks a bloody million for the identity crisis, Betty. I hope you choke on your shortbread.
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