I was out in Soho celebrating a birthday party in our IT team. It was my second engagement of the night after a celebratory well-done-everyone project completion party, so I was nicely oiled by the time I arrived for the birthday.
I got chatting to a few IT people. I’d met them before but they were always too drunk to remember who I was the next day – the kind of occasion when you feel like you’ve gone through the whole introductory pleasantry business with people about 16 times and just never gotten any further because in the cold hard hungover light of day the whole experience of meeting you was completely forgotten and you had to start again next time you saw them.
That can be tiresome, so I felt the need to spice things up a bit with my popular (and often convincing) “Pretend I’m The President and CEO Of The Company” routine. I’ve had a number of successes in the past with this and it’s a good way of introducing an element of sycophancy into an otherwise banal bar conversation.
Usually this routine either fails or succeeds and then I come clean shortly after. Although on one occasion I carried this on for many weeks, bringing colleagues in on the joke, growing facial hair to match the photo of the CEO on the company intranet, and ensuring I was seen by the prank victim drinking in the work bar with the VPs. I’m not sure it went down well though when he had to tell his boss he came in at 11am because he was out all night getting shit-faced with the CEO.
Anyway, at the IT birthday drinks, I’d moved on from the President Prank, and began talking to Kostas (no, not the bastard thieving taxi driver Kostas Extra from my Twitter postings, another Kostas). I had met him many many times, and we had chatted many many times, but on each occasion he’d had many many too many drinks and so we were back to square one. So I was telling him (for the 17th time) what I do, which department I work in, my star sign, my favourite part of a monkey, all the usual introductory smalltalk.
He then asked where I was from and I said Glasgow. And he seemed really shocked. He kept saying “there’s no way you’re Scottish” and “are you really from Glasgow” and I asked why and he said “because you’ve got an Eastern European accent”.
OK. I don’t but carry on…
I said I had a Glasgow accent and then he started asking me to say things, words and sounds and letters and I did and he kept saying I was talking in an Eastern European accent. Then he brought in other people and said “listen to this guy, where do you think he’s from” and they would say Scotland and he was just shocked.
In the end he came to the conclusion we were all winding him up, and that everyone at the party had decided beforehand “let’s wind up Kostas by pretending Alan is Scottish”. He genuinely thought we were all conspiring to trick him. He was so utterly convinced I was definitely from Eastern Europe! There was nothing that could have made him think this (this was even before I got my famous Polish t-shirt).
An hour or so later, he was still at it. So he said to me “where are you really from?” thinking he’d worn me down and the prank we were all playing on him would have run its course. I had given up by that point so I said Bosnia. He thought maybe I’d just picked a random country to shut him up so he said “Are you sure? You’re not just saying that are you?” Of course I was just saying that. But the only way to end this nonsensical conversation about my origins was to pick a lie and make it fucking well convincing.
I remembered I had a little keepsake in my wallet from my holiday to Bosnia a couple of years previously – a little Bosnian flag pin badge, blue and yellow. I fished it out. “See! And look at my shoes!” I was wearing a pair of blue and yellow chequered Converse shoes. I don’t know what’s weirder, my tendency to dress in national colours of various Eastern European countries, or the fact that he accepted SHOES as final evidence that I was definitely Bosnian.
He was convinced. I spent the next half hour chatting to him about “home”. I had some good material from my holiday and my general knowledge about Bosnia – I was actually more convincing than I was in my well-practiced President Prank. He asked me whether I was Croat or Serb …… hmmm, too easy – so I said Bosnian Muslim, he didn’t doubt me for a second. The people around us were almost having nosebleeds they were trying so hard not to laugh.
Kostas was asking me all kinds of things, like how Ramadan is observed in Bosnia (lucky I was there during it) and because I know a lot about Bosnia I was able to answer all his questions. I added a bit of patriotic passion and a splash of homesickness into the mix. It was great fun. I think I almost cried at one point reminiscing about my teenage years during the war.
The rest of the night was good fun and we finally managed to move onto other topics. But he actually left the party fully believing that I was a Bosnian Muslim…
It gets worse. The next night I was having some drinks in the downstairs bar with my team and Kostas and his colleague came in and sat near us. I went over a little bit later and expected Kostas to say “YOU! I can’t believe you were trying to make out you were Bosnian”. Instead … he looked at his colleague and said “I can’t believe all you guys were seriously trying to tell me he was Scottish!” He was sober this time, and he still thought I was a Bosnian Muslim.
So we got talking again, he asked about when I left and where my family were etc, what I thought about the capture of Radovan Karadžić, and I went back and rejoined me team. I just didn’t have the heart to break the truth to him. Actually that’s not it – I really didn’t have the patience to go through the argument again about my accent not being Scottish…
He still thinks I’m Bosnian, and I’m only lucky he never once actually thought to ask me to speak Bosnian. I only know three words and somehow I don’t think that saying “pospana ogledalo buba*” over and over again would have been convincing.
As with all these encounters this story was told to a few of my friends in the coming weeks. But one colleague managed to misinterpret the story, and came away not remembering the beginning bit about me not being from Bosnia, and so is also convinced (I guess until he reads this) that I am actually Bosnian. I’d forgotten this until he recently introduced me in the pub to one of his old mates, and started with “There’s a very interesting fact about Alan. Guess where he’s from?” Oh no. “Alan’s actually from Bosnia and was raised in Sarajevo. Alan, tell us all about your childhood.”
It was very suddenly my round and a quick topic-changing dash to the bar was made….
*sleepy, mirror and insect/bug – literally the only three words I know (don’t ask…)
I’ve been pressured to update this post as I slightly underestimated the extent to which my friend Nelson, mentioned at the end of the story, really believed I was Bosnian. Apparently it is quite a few times that I have been introduced to his friends and had to keep the Bosnian origins story going, and I appear to have gone a little bit further one night, I’m told, in telling the story of how I escaped from Sarajevo during the war… quite an acting talent I have it seems. Anyway Nelson is now quite clear I am not Bosnian after a conversation last week after he read my post, which included many an f-word. I never realised “not being Bosnian” was such a bad thing. Lesson learned, if you find yourself enveloped in a drunken lie … just keep on going.
Nelson is extraordinarily gullible while drunk. Myself and another friend Richard Gill spent an entire night convincing him that Richard really was Hans the German Student. Richard nicked Nelson’s glasses and then went round talking in a cod German accent. I nearly died trying not to laugh while he fell for it hook, line and sinker.