Is it the way I talk?
Do I whisper or mumble? Maybe I’ve had a speech impediment all these years without anyone having the courage to tell me. We all know that the voice you hear in your head is different from the one everyone else hears.
Or perhaps I’ve been fitted with some sort of reverse Babelfish device that takes everything I say and renders it into Pawnee.
I ask because at Caffè Nero this morning, I have to say everything at least twice to make myself understood. Which I’d totally get if I was asking for something complicated like a triple venti half-sweet non-fat caramel macchiato, which I’ve just googled. But all I want is to go in, get a coffee and get out. So I say “Good morning, could I have a regular Americano to take away please?”
“Americano, please. And a plain croissant.”
“Eat in or take away?”
“To take away, thanks.” I suppose it’s conceivable that I’d want to eat the croissant there and then but not touch the coffee until I was safely off the premises, but not on this occasion.
“You want milk?”
“Yes, cold milk, please, but could I add it?”
“Could I add the milk myself?”
The barista nods and gets to work. I check my phone for something to do. A moment later I hear her addressing me.
“Chocolate?” She’s hovering by the croissants with a paper bag and a pair of tongs.
“Plain, please.” Maybe I didn’t say plain.
Presently a one-third-full cup of coffee appears on the counter. Blimey. Thank God I didn’t order a small one. The barista is just about to pour milk in from a giant jug. Whoa. “Could I pour the milk in myself please?”
Other baristas turn around upon hearing this perceived criticism of their milk-pouring abilities. An explanation is called for. “I just don’t like it drowned in milk.”
“You want hot milk?” How on earth does what I said sound like I’m asking for hot milk?
“No, cold milk is fine. Could I pour it myself, please?” With guarded hesitation she allows me full control of the milk jug. I add just enough to make the coffee coffee-coloured.
I pay and we’re almost done. I want to leave now. I’ve issued enough words. It’s London and it’s early morning. But on the table where they keep the sugar and sticks and napkins and stuff, and where I’d expect to find the lids for the coffee, there aren’t any. My barista, along with all the other baristas, is busy serving other people. I have to speak, again. “Sorry, do you have any lids for the coffee?”
“Excuse?” says one of the baristas.
“Do you have any lids for the coffee?” I gesture at the lid-less table.
“You want a lid?” Yes, I want a sodding lid. Why is this all so hard? He grabs a stack of lids from a shelf behind him and I get ready to place them on the table. Instead, he prises a single one off to give to me then replaces the other lids back on the shelf, evidently assuming that no other customers will want to protect their coffee from spillages.
Although, given the horribly foreshortened state of my ‘regular’, I could have hopped to work without spilling a drop.