An Englishman walks into a pub…

An Englishman decides to go on holiday to Wales. He chooses to visit North Wales or mid-Wales rather than South Wales, because he wants to go somewhere rural and different from his city home in England.

In other words, he chooses to holiday in a part of Wales well known for Welsh nationalism, anti-English sentiment and high levels of Welsh-language fluency.

Then he walks into the pub. Or the post office. Or the village shop. And suddenly we’re in a Wild West tableau. Everybody else in the pub (or post office, or shop), who had previously been chatting away happily in English, falls silent. Then they resume their conversation – in Welsh. He feels excluded yet gratified. He goes home and tells his friends, “I walked in… and they all started speaking Welsh.”

But this story is part of another story. The bigger story is about a Welsh person who’s moaning about the stupidity of the English. He or she tells the straw-Englishman’s story as part of their own story, which is about English ignorance. Google for “they all started speaking Welsh” and you’ll see that none of the anecdotes are from English people complaining about Wales. They’re all from Welsh or pro-Welsh people complaining about English people complaining about Wales.

I’m not saying that you don’t get real anecdotes ending with the words “… and they all started speaking Welsh”, and I’d be interested to hear about any spotted in the wild. I’m just saying that to tell those stories is to position yourself, unwittingly, inside someone else’s story.

I have heard a genuine version of the “I went in to the post office…” story, but it was a dramatic variation on the usual one. An English friend of mine said that he walked into a post office in North Wales and heard people speaking Welsh. But as soon as they spotted him, the counter staff realised he was English and switched to speaking English out of courtesy. He was very surprised because he’d always been told it was supposed to happen the other way round. He thinks the surprising politeness was because he’s black.

Explore posts in the same categories: cultural narratives, foreignecdotes

One Comment on “An Englishman walks into a pub…”

  1. […] Verbal Tea Ushering in the ymdidan reich « An Englishman walks into a pub… […]

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