“Your accent sounds different,” the American girl looks at me, a quizzical expression on her face.
Another American girl had commented on my ‘accent’ a few weeks previously. That time it had been ‘what language is that you’re speaking?’
“My dad’s family is Scottish,” the girl smiles.
“Really? What’s his surname?”
She says a name.
“His family should have a clan tartan then,” I tell her even though I’ve never heard a Scottish name like it before . She doesn’t know what I’m talking about and the conversation stutters to a halt.
“I’m going to Scotland next month,” The girl’s teacher shouts from the other end of the table. “Edinburgh. It’s my first visit to Scotland.”
“Edinburgh’s very nice, you should like it,” I shout back, adding. “You must try haggis.”
“Yeah, I’ve heard about that.”
His expression confirms he has heard about haggis and probably isn’t going to try it. Offal just equals awful for too many people.
I’m distracted by the man to my right; another American – a journalist. English speaking foreigners have obviously been herded at tables together. He’s having a real tussle with his knife. I try not to look. Everyone else is nearly finished their crowdpleasing chicken except him. What on earth is he doing with that knife?
The girl is still looking at me. I feel compelled to try to continue to make small talk.
“First time in Europe?”
“Has it surprised you?”
“Every new place has surprises,” She replies.
“True, true,” I concede. She’s the one starting to sound like the seasoned traveller.
“What surprises you here in Austria?” I like to know what other people think; what fresh young eyes see.
Hers go blank and she shrugs. The statement had been a platitude.
There’s a clunk to my right as the man’s knife slides of his fork, knocking the untidy jumble of food that was on it back onto his plate where it slumps in a defeated heap. I’m not sure if he’s actually managed to get anything into his mouth yet. I wonder if he’s had a stroke. But everything seems to be functioning okay when his hands escape from his cutlery.
I realise I’m staring and turn back to the girl. She’s part of a group of American college students, touring Europe with their teacher.
“Where in Europe have you visited so far… before here?”
“Erm… Munich,” she nods thoughtfully, as if to confirm this. “We’ve just come from Munich.”
“We’re just about to head there in a couple of day. Any tips? Must see places?”
“It’s big,” she shrugs and laughs. “We got lost.”
“Aha, right, easy to get lost. I’ll watch out for that.”
We look at each other, neither really knowing what to say to carry on a stuttering conversation. Her eyes brighten. She’s thought of something.
“My mother’s family are from Germany,” she announces.
There’s a loud clang to my right as the knife slides off the plate again and one more forkful of food fails on its mission.