It’s 6:30 AM in a hotel room in Orlando, Florida. The third day of a long-anticipated holiday. My wife has been coughing and spluttering all night. My 15-year-old daughter is sneezing and sniffing, as is my 11 — year-old son. I have a sore throat. This happens when you go from a cold, rainy English October to hot, sunny Florida. I’ve had maybe two hours sleep, broken into naps.
At the point where I’m sure I can’t handle any more I remember that, some short distance away, I saw a large, 24-hour chemists (that’s pharmacy in American). I pull on some clothes and make my way down to the car park. After a few false starts I locate our hire car — I have to remember I’m looking for a white one instead of a burgundy red one. On our first trip here, they gave us a Nissan, on our second, a Toyota. This time, however, they’ve given us a Dodge Intrigue (I think that was the name). This thing is the size of a barge and handles like a breeze-block.
I wrestle it out of the car park, get across the intersection and find my way, after some false starts, into the car park of the pharmacy. The place is the size of an average British supermarket (the local one, not the one at the out-of-town retail park). I wander around for a little while, between shelves of unfamiliar packaging (Tylenol? Is that paracetamol, which I could use, or ibuprofen, which would be no help?) I’m wearing my driving glasses, not my reading ones, which are usefully sitting on the nightstand, so I can’t make out the smaller writing on the packages.
At the rear of the shop is a small window, with a clean-cut young chap standing alertly on the other side. I approach him with hope.
“Good morning, sir! How can I help you today?” He sounds sincere in his desire to assist, something you wouldn’t find in a British shop at that ungodly hour.
“Nah then, lad.” I reply. “T’missus ‘as been barkin’ all neet. T’bairns ‘ave got t’sniffles. Ah’ve got a sore throat an’ a stuffed ‘ead missen. We’re in a reet state! Hast tha got owt as’ll ‘elp, like?”
Blank look. “Excuse me, sir?” Belated realisation that not only have I slipped into the broadest of my native accent, but have lapsed into dialect as well. Drawn-out vowels, bitten-off consonants, unfamiliar vocabulary; poor lad has no chance!
I channel the spirit of a fellow Yorkshireman, Patrick Stewart, and restate my request in suitably-clipped, British tones.
“I understand, sir. This happens to a lot of British people this time of year. It’s the change of climate. This will help your wife, these will be good for your kids, and that one you should take.”
Goods and money change hands, then. “What was that you were speaking before, sir? I thought I knew British accents, but that one threw me!”
“It’s all right lad. That was broad Yorkshire, and a lot of people in Britain don’t understand it, either! Sorry, but I’ve been up most of the night, and I sort of slipped into it. I grew up speaking like that.”
“You did? People still talk like that in England?”
“In Yorkshire, yes. Different places have different accents and dialects.”
“Wow! But it’s such a little place! You have a good day, sir!”
The medicines worked a treat, by the way, we were all right as rain the next day. But for the rest of the holiday I was very conscious of the way I spoke!