Though Cyril had lived in America for over twenty years, he'd been born in London. Naturally I was mesmerized by his sexy accent, but quickly learned it came with a down side. Every time he spoke, he said something that made no sense. These odd mutterings were British colloquialisms, I guessed, though exactly how they could have gotten so entrenched in his vocabulary confounded me. I thought they were fun for our first few dates. They were colorful. But eventually I realized they were conversation killers, and, you know, sometimes there are conversations you want to see all the way through to the end.
One night we were discussing art with another couple. "I like Picasso and I like Manet," Cyril declared. "It's all swings and roundabouts."
He looked to everyone for agreement but instead all he got was "Whaaa?" And immediately the conversation swerved from art to "Gosh, aren't British people fascinating?"
I figured Cyril would eventually catch on, but he didn't. For two months I watched every conversation go up in flames. I began to read odd psychology into it. Were idioms just his way of saying, "I'm special!" rather than whatever he pretended to spout? I mean, I learned his Britishisms in about eight minutes, so he certainly should have gotten our language down. His feigned surprise at realizing nobody understood him was certainly wearing thin.
So, I became his translator. He did his little "I'm foreign!" thing, and I followed behind with a shovel, reassuring people that yes, there was a country in the world where what he said made sense. It wasn't fun. I think it was the tenth time I explained to someone that "spend a penny" meant "go to the bathroom" that I realized I wanted to fight back.
I decided to give Cyril a taste of his own medicine. I couldn't make out any kind of pattern to British idioms -- they seemed to be just a random melange of unrelated words -- so I made up American ones. Like him, I threw them liberally into everything I said.
"What do you want for dinner tonight?" Cyril asked.
"Oh, I don't care," I replied. "Really, it's the pig's moustache."
He glanced at me with furrowed brow. "The pig's moustache?" he asked. "Is that supposed to mean something?"
"It's colloquial, I guess," I said with a shrug. "Kind of like 'swings and roundabouts.'"
"Oh," he said. "Okay. You want to go to a restaurant?"
"Sure, that'd be fine," I replied. "That sounds like an ostrich tango."
I could almost see his eyes narrow. "How about the French place down the street?" he asked. "I hear it's the dog's breakfast, and cheap as chips to boot."
"Absolutely!" I replied. "But let's get a move on. I could eat the devil's dandruff."
From that point on, it was war. Nothing either of us said made any sense. For weeks we spouted absolute nonsense. We'd start a sentence, then finish it with whatever popped into our heads. We both agreed the latest Woody Allen film was the gypsy's jockstrap. Apple-picking in the Hudson valley sounded like an Amish volcano. When he ran into our neighbor at three a.m. she looked like an astronaut's handshake.
Miming words would have communicated more.
Finally, one day he'd had it. He didn't explode. In fact, I'm not real sure what he did, because as usual I understood about half of what he said.
"Roman," he said, "I love you. You're all fur coat and no knickers."
I smiled. I guessed I'd won, but wasn't positive. Instead I decided that change is seriously overrated. I didn't give a fuck what Cyril said, because in my book he was the cat's tattoo.
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