01.12
Mt Grrrr Fart

“And your last name, Sir?

“Gravatt”

“Well, thank you very much Mr Grrrrr Fart”

There’s nothing more disconcerting than to enunciate something in perfect Queen’s English only to hear it horribly distorted when played back.

“It’s Gra…Va…TT.” I emphasised a particularly crisp ‘t’

“Yes, Mr Grrrrr Fart, thank you very much.”

“Gravatt.”

“I’m sorry Sir, what did you say?”

“Gravatt, I said Gravatt.”

“Yes, Sir.”

“My name’s Gravatt, Simon Gravatt.”

A smile crept across his face. “Yes Sir, 007. Very good, Sir. Like it. Very cool.”

I gave up. I walked out the shop to a “Have a nice day, Mr Grrrrr Fart.”

New country, new identity. Back in England I was Simon Gravatt; Here I’m Mr Grrrrr Fart.

It’s even worse for my wife. Her name, Rosalind, is Shakespearian (as is Macbeth’s), but in its diminutive form of Ros it bemuses Americans, and so she becomes Rose Grrrr Fart. I honestly think this is why she spends so much time at work, where she uses her maiden name and her staff know that if they call her Rose, or spell her name with a ‘z’, they’ll lose their job.

It’s the ‘a’ that’s the problem. An ‘a’ before a ‘t’ plunges any Anglo-American conversation into freefall incomprehension. Two and half years here and I still can’t order a glass of water. It’s why I drink so much coffee and beer. It’s because we, particularly us Public School types, slip an invisible ‘r’ in between the ‘a’ and the following consonant.

To an American ear it sounds like, “Mr Grrrrr Fart wants a gl Arse of War ter”. And it makes no sense whatsoever.

“An Arse of war? An ass of war? Who are you calling an ass of war? Are you disrespecting our troops, Mr Grrrr Fart? I won’t have that kind of talk in here… We fly the flag… This is the greatest nation in the world. Where would you have been back in 1944 without our support? And where would you be now if we hadn’t saved the world from Saddam Hussein? Get out, we don’t need that kind of talk in here.”

I take refuge in my local Starbucks where I’m always greeted as ‘Grande Cappucino’. I like that. I am what I drink. They asked me to complete a survey there last month. It was a scheme that randomly selected customers and included the incentive of a free drink. The frequency of my Starbucks visits meant that I was randomly selected so often that I must have skewed the research results. The questionnaire wasn’t really designed for someone like me. For example, it asked how many times a month I go to Starbucks. I can’t count that high. Better if they had asked how many times an hour. When they come to analyse the results, they’re going to assume they’ve got a pocket of very heavy drinkers in North Chicago, when in fact it’s a single heavy drinker randomly selected many times.

I’ve noticed recently that I’m having going to the restroom (loo) with increased frequency. The ads would have me believe that I might have prostrate cancer, but clearly my bladder is working overtime to empty itself of an unprecedented quantity of caffeinated water and frothy milk. My son has calculated that I personally have increased the turnover of a small Starbucks in Lincoln Park, Chaicago by over $5,000 in this calendar year. No wonder worldwide coffee sales are up. No wonder Mr Grrrrr Fart is feeling a little wired.

Talking of wired, there was an article the other month in Wired Magazine about people who are unable to recognise human faces. I think I must have a mild form of this, because I’m terrible at remembering faces. Not only that, but I’ve got a face that strangers always think they’ve seen before. I would have thought my particular set of facial features – balding, big nosed, yellow-toothed, coalescing somewhat unexpectedly into a not unattractive countenance – to be a little out of the ordinary.

Only when Sir Paul McCartney refused to believe that we hadn’t met before, did I begin to accept that I am, in fact, Everyman. (I did wonder, though, in the same way that you become Heavyweight Boxing Champion of the World by beating the existing Heavyweight Boxing Champion of the World, whether it might also be true that you become one of the most famous men in the world when one of the most famous men in the world thinks he knows you).

It’s a terrible combination when, on the one hand, people think they’ve met you before and, on the other, you have no idea whether they have. And it’s even worse in America where everyone behaves as if they’re your best friend, even when, especially when, they’re complete strangers.

“Hey Bud”. I was just walking along the street minding my own business when a guy (everyone’s a guy here, even the gals) greeted me as if we had been drinking companions for the past twelve years. I’d never met him before. At least I don’t think I had. But I couldn’t be sure.

Being English I can never quite pluck up the courage to initiate a friendly greeting when passing people in the street. I see them approaching. I know, as this is America, we’re going to exchange pleasantries. I want to be more social. I want to say ‘Hi’ or ‘Good Evening’ or ‘What Ho Chap’ first, but some part of me just can’t do it. As soon as we’re in range I find myself instinctively glancing downwards at the ground to avoid the embarrassing possibility of eye contact with someone to whom I haven’t been introduced. There’s nothing I can do about it. I’m mute until they say a cheery ‘Good Morning’ and then I find myself repeating exactly what they said with as much enthusiasm as is possible for someone of Anglo-Saxon stock. But when they say ‘Hey Bud’, I can only grunt in reply. (I could never, ever say ‘Hey Bud’.)

But it’s when they say “Good morning Mr Grrrrrr Fart?” that I know I must know them.

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