Yes, the title is ironic.
I do love a good guest post. This one comes from Helena Stroud, who’s a fan of the blog, and has apparently been on many “unfeasibly disastrous dates” herself. And if this brilliant story is anything to go by, I can well believe it. Hope you enjoy it!
Czech Yo’ Self!
This happened when I was on holiday in Prague. One of the few planned excursions I felt I needed to do while I was there was a trip to the famous ossuary at Sedlec. Having done my metalhead thing and taken a lot of blurry photos of skulls, I took the train back to Prague. I assume a coachload of idiots had broken down nearby, as the train was full to bursting with loud, irritating travellers in their early twenties. I decided to try and find a compartment to myself and as luck would have it, there was an empty one. I sank down in the seat with a contented sigh and opened my copy of The Golem (in case it’s unclear, I am a reasonably pretentious woman).
My solitude was interrupted by the arrival of two young men. I smiled a silent hello at them and buried my head in my book, determined not to be caught up in conversation when I wanted to be quiet. However, I was not about to be given the choice. One of the guys – an American, I forget his name – launched into a loud monologue directed at me and his friend about Sedlec, the ossuary, travelling, Prague, dumplings and, most annoyingly, George Bush.
It was the heyday of Bush-bashing then, and normally I’d have waded in with my choice Bush quotes and had a bit of a laugh. Not so with this boy. No, I was stuck in a train carriage with possibly the world’s only studenty young American abroad who was a massive George Bush fan. He talked about how, if he saw George Bush in the street, he’d invite him in for dinner with his family, and how he knew he’d be a ‘great guy to shoot the shit with’. I kept silent with difficulty, forbearing to mention that the fact that shooting shit came so naturally to Bush was precisely the reason why the man was so roundly hated by people with a couple of brain cells to rub together.
The young patriot seemed unaccountably to flag after a while, and – perhaps feeling that his monologue was not getting enough outside interest – asked me my name. Now, I could have simply said, ‘Helena’ followed by, ‘Excuse me, I’d really like to read my book’ - doubtless the sensible course of action in this situation. However, the guy was really pissing me off and though I had no desire to be caught up in a full-blown political argument, I wanted to have a little private fun with him. Fun that would last no longer than the train ride, and would only be known as fun to me. In short, I put on a thick Flemish accent and pretended to be Belgian.
Now, I know this may sound like a very odd sort of thing to do, but I’d actually done it from time to time before. I used to live in Belgium, so putting on a Flemish accent and chatting away about Brussels was pretty easy. I started getting really into the whole situation. My accent got thicker, I stumbled more over my words, and just as I was starting to enjoy the fact that I was having a bit of fun at the expense of this earnest young fella, the door to the compartment slid open. I turned, and was greeted with the sight of one of the most handsome men I have ever laid eyes on. This tall, broad-shouldered, square-jawed bloke smiled at me. He had curly blonde hair and big blue eyes. He was very, very lovely. Then American boy spoke up.
‘Hey Julian, come sit down! This is Marianne, she’s from Belgium!’
So, Marianne from Belgium I was. Julian was a Canadian, a photographer who was sharing a hostel room with the American guy. As it transpired, he wasn’t just a pretty face either. Smart, funny, well-read and charming, he shied away from ridiculing American guy’s eulogies on Bush, instead choosing to deflect him with insightful but witty comments. Between us we soon had a fun, interesting conversation going, even though my side of it was still in a by-now-embarrassing Flemish accent.
By the time the train pulled into Prague I was very much regretting my spur-of-the-moment decision to be Belgian for the train ride. This was a guy I felt a connection with, who made me laugh and had lots in common with me. I turned to say goodbye, only to hear him say, ‘So, do you fancy grabbing a drink somewhere tonight?’
Oh SHIT. It seemed that lovely Julian the lovely photographer from lovely Canada might actually like me. And oh SHIT I was still Belgian. Did I really want to go for a drink with him? Of course I did.
Before getting to the bar that evening I decided to tell him everything. It probably wouldn’t sound that odd, I told myself. I’d been annoyed by the other guy on the train, I’d played a part to amuse myself, I didn’t need to keep up the charade now, with a guy I was happy to be hanging out with. It would be fine. So, I told him as soon as I saw him, right?
Of course I fucking didn’t. I bottled it as soon as I saw him waiting at the table and greeted him instead with a cheery Belgian, ‘Hallo!’ We got beers, and I extolled the virtues of Hoegaarden over Budvar. He told me about his life and family in Vancouver, and asked questions about my life in Belgium. Instead of slowly letting the Belgian-ness slide I found that some weird suicide mechanism inside me was making me become, if anything, more and more Belgian as the night went on. I invented some strict, Catholic parents for myself who lived in a gloomy, incense-haunted house in Antwerp. I told him of my terrifyingly right-wing Grandfather, who wanted to kick all French-speaking Belgians out of the country. I talked about my great passion for jazz, a musical genre I know almost nothing about. I even invented a dog for myself, a playful Tervuren Shepherd called Tosca. I have never owned a dog, but this was the most Belgian pet I could think up when put on the spot.
The evening went from strength to strength. For some reason Julian seemed to really like my improvised Belgian personality. When his hand touched mine over the table, I knew I’d have to make a decision. Could I shag this gorgeous, intelligent, funny man as a Belgian?
Later on, he saw me back to my flat. As I stood by the front door, still totally undecided, he took my face in his hands and kissed me. I knew in that moment that I couldn’t possibly go to bed with him. It wasn’t that he was a bad kisser – frankly, was amazing. No, the panic I felt when his lips touched mine made me realise that I had no clue how Marianne the strictly-raised, Catholic, dog-owning, jazz-loving Belgian kissed. How the hell would I know how she fucked?
In the end, we exchanged numbers and emails, promising to meet up again soon, and I went to bed alone. As I lay in bed, I felt like a total fraud, like I’d somehow cheated and insulted this sweet man I’d just met. I vowed that the next day I would email Julian, confess my sins and ask for forgiveness. What did I have to lose? Besides, I was certain I couldn’t keep on being Belgian for another date.
So I did. I sent an email explaining everything, how the guy on the train had annoyed me, I’d done it as a giggle and I hadn’t meant it to go on so far. I explained that I was English, had once lived in Belgium, and that this would explain my near-encyclopaedic knowledge of European lagers. I said I’d like to meet him again if he still wanted to.
I never heard from Julian again. Of course I didn’t. I’ve often wondered if Julian has told the same story to as many people as I have, in bars in Vancouver, to his own mates, and revelled in the looks of fascinated horror he received. I’ve also wondered if he was actually tempted, even a little, to go for a drink with Helena the English girl after he read my email.
At the end of the day, I think my friend Claire summed it up best when she said to me, ‘Helena, if a guy can’t cope with you pretending to be Belgian for a whole night when he’s only just met you, he’s probably not the right guy for you.’ And she’s absolutely right.
Great story Helena! If you’d like to write a guest post, just click here to get in contact!