“Are you from around here?” I asked her.
She grinned and revealed, “Uh, Serbia.”
That was a surprise to us, and it must have looked like it on our faces, for she had answered me as if she knew it would be.
She appeared to be in her upper-20s, and had waited on us in what we had entered thinking was an ordinary Canary Islands restaurant. Dark-haired, tall and thin, we had assumed from the outset she was Spanish, and had thought we’d had that reconfirmed during our meal hearing her speaking Spanish fluently with other customers, as well as speaking heavily-accented English with others.
I’d made the cardinal mistake: I’d assumed something.
As she stood by our table, our meals finished, after having brought me the largest brandy for the least money I’d ever seen (“What would that have cost at the Algonquin?” my wife joked. “$50?”), she turned chatty. Until then, we’d not really heard her speaking enough English to discern a “non-Spanish” accent, but now I detected her English was full of Spanish-accented inflections. We were the only remaining customers left in the restaurant at that point.
“Chinese come in here to work,” she shrugged, gesturing to a restaurant next door that had a couple of Chinese serving staff. “The [Spanish] government has some agreement with China. But for us Serbs, it’s much harder. I’ve been here ten years. I’m a student at the university.”
“I’ve never been to Spain before,” I observed. “We’re borrowing our friends’ holiday apartment.”
“Ah, that is how it happens,” she laughed. “People borrow an apartment and come back again and again for years.”
Earlier, she had given English grandparents and their two young grandsons at the table next to ours a game of Connect Four to play during their meals. Clearing up their table, she waved the game my way and teased me: “You want?”
“Nah,” I smiled and shook my head.
“They are cute so young,” she declared as she put the game back down on their former table. “Not so long after, they are sitting there wanting wifi, staring at their phones.”
I joked, “Are there any Spanish people around here?”
“Inland, you’ll find them,” she crossed her arms and noted. “That family [what looked like parents and two 18ish-age young women] you saw sitting there who came in before you: Czechoslovakia. Czech or Slovak. I don’t know which. Have you been to Serbia?”
No, I’d never been to Serbia, I admitted. My wife explained that she had been to Belgrade quite a long time ago.
“Oh, before all the trouble,” she replied to her. [The break-up and war in the former Yugoslavia.] “Where are you from?”
We explained from the UK and New York in the US. Now, I finally broached the subject: “I haven’t heard any Americans here so far?”
“There aren’t many,” she answered. “People here are from England, Germany, France,” she smiled. “I even met someone from Iceland. Before her the only one I knew from Iceland is Bjork. My university teacher is American, I think. You don’t sound like her.”
“He’s been in the UK a while,” my wife said. “He doesn’t sound as American as he once did. He sounds more like me now,” she laughed.
The woman turned back to me: “Do you like the UK or the US better to live?” she probed.
I laughed. “I’m not saying.”
As we finished off our drinks, we wished her a goodnight. While doing so, in standing up I offered her my hand. As she shook it, we all introduced ourselves by our first names. “I’m Branka,” she said. “If you need suggestions of what to do while you are here, come by,” she added.
After we walked out, strolling down the street, my wife needled me: “I think Branka liked my husband.”
* * *
This morning, revisiting last night briefly, I said to my wife, “My uncle would’ve loved that. That sort of thing would’ve been right up his alley.”
“Yes, definitely,” she chuckled. “And her. A young European woman. But she didn’t have a necklace on.”
Have a good Tuesday, wherever you are in the world. 🙂