Every couple of months someone says to me, ‘oh go on, tell so-and-so about your most embarrassing moment’. Over the years I’ve got it down to about 2.45 minutes, but to save me having to tell it again – EVER – I am officially writing it so that I don’t have to repeat myself again. EVER.
I should start by clarifying a few things. I grew up in a small town. Which is to say that if it’s a small town now, back in the 70’s it truly was one banjo player short of a redneck band. The fact that the closest ‘city’ to us was nicknamed ‘Sleepy Hollow’ should attest to exactly how small, and how quiet this no-banjo town of mine was.
The thing with small towns is that it’s all good and well when you’re a little kid. You get to do stuff like ride your bike around the neighbourhood all by yourself and borrow cups of flour from your neighbour. But by the time you’re a teenager, you’re literally clawing at yourself to get away from small-town stuff. Any break in the monotony is welcome and as a result, newcomers to the town are given celebrity status. (‘Psst. They’re from the ‘outside’.)
Back in Grade 9, I was so eager to meet new people that I accidentally made friends with ‘the new girl’ (lets call her Exotica) on the basis that she was a foreigner. The teacher had asked her to get up in front of the class and introduce herself. In my defence she did have fairly exotic looks. Very pretty, with one of those sexy, French-looking noses (please; think Jean Dujardin and not Gerard Depardieu).
So enamoured was I at the prospect of becoming friends with a foreigner, that when she announced where she came from, I heard ‘Luxembourg’. Delirious and over-excited at the prospect of knowing a real live European, I split-second-daydreamed that I’d become so close to the family (indispensable, even) that when they went ‘home’ to Luxembourg on holiday, they’d insist on taking me along. I could just imagine all those European holidays stretching before me. I was certain they took trips to places like the French Riviera.
By the end of tea break I’d established that Exotica was actually from Lichtenburg (which I’d never heard of - who had?) which by all accounts, sounded decidedly un-glamourous. It was too late. I already liked her. But my dreams of European holidays were crushed.
Fast forward to a hot, lazy Sunday afternoon and Exotica and I are extremely bored teenagers. Had we already been shagging blokes we could have phoned them up for a shag but we weren’t shagging yet so we decide to root through her Grandma’s kist. You know, try on some old shit that smells like mothballs. I settled on a purple fur Russian hat and Exotica must have chosen something similar (I think there was beaver-fur involved.)
Determined to shake things up a bit around town, we decided to ride our bikes down to the village whilst wearing the moth-bally headgear. Upon arriving at the one and only tourist attraction in town, we came upon a family of four. Real foreigners. The dad, intrigued by our unusual headgear, asked us where we were from.
‘Oh’, we replied ‘we live here’.
He frowned a little, squinting at the sweltering KZN summer sun and then back at our furry hats. Uncomfortable silence ensued.
I thought it only polite to ask where they came from. I think it’s to point out at this stag, that he not only had a very, very, very thick accent but also that his speech was somewhat distorted due to the rather heavy moustache he was sporting.
‘Guesh’ he said.
To my horror, I realized that I’d never even heard of a city, or a town, or a country by the name of Guesh. Was it somewhere near the town of Gstaad? Or was it even Gstaad itself and this was the way you pronounced it if you actually lived there?
Well, I could hardly say I had no idea where Guesh was (how very rude). Also, I didn’t want to appear to be an unsophisticated, provincial idiot (which I was). Desperate, I decided to wing it.
‘Ah’, I replied, nodding knowingly and smiling. ‘I’ve never been to Gueeeeshsh but I have seen postcards and it looks like a lovely place’.
The dad made absolutely no attempt to hide his confusion.
‘No’, he replied, shaking his head. ‘Guess. Guess where I’m from’.
All I can say is thank God for Exotica because by this time I was utterly useless. Completely unraveled. Doubled over. Unable to speak. Wheezing. Coughing. Laughing and crying at the same time.
Turns out they were from Israel.
*Kist – big wooden box like a steamer trunk used for storing old shit