Daily Frolic 5: What comes naturally to the British

This sketch constitutes a brief departure from my linguistic theme – though language features prominently here too. Much as I adore both Britain – my wonderful adoptive country – and the British, I couldn’t resist the lure of this snippet …


“Look what I have just found.”


“In my collection.”


“About this disaster.”

“What disaster?”

“When 11 climbers died. In 2008; it was awful.”

“It must have been.”

The Sunday Times gave a really vivid description of this catastrophe. Apparently, rescue efforts hit difficulties right from the start. Read this.”

“Right from the start there were difficulties. Some of the Koreans could not understand English.”

“Oh dear; did they die?”

“Three of them.”

“Poor, poor people – how terrible!”

“Yes, I know.”

“Do you think they might have been saved if they had understood at least some English?”

“They might, but there was no reason for them to.”

“What do you mean no reason? If they were climbing in Britain …”

“No, no, it wasn’t in Britain. They were on K2.”

“Where exactly is K2?”

“Between Pakistan and China.”

“But they were with a British expedition?”

“No, no, there were several expeditions climbing, but they were with a South Korean expedition.”

“But collaborating with an English-speaking one?”

“I don’t think so.”

“Wait a minute, wait a minute: they are from South Korea, they are climbing in Asia, their team is all-Korean, they don’t collaborate with any English-speaking climbers – why would anybody expect them to understand English?”

“Well, it comes naturally – to the Brits, I mean. You know what the stereotype of a Briton abroad is?”

“Sure: he wears a pinstripe suit and a bowler hat and carries an umbrella. At least that’s what we all thought when I was growing up in Poland.”

“No, no, I mean a Briton actually abroad – now.”

“O-o-o-o: throwing up in front of a pub at three in the morning?”

“No, no, I didn’t mean that.”

“So what did you mean?”

“Speaking English v-e-e-e-e-ry slowly and loudly in the expectation that, eventually, the non-English-speaking natives will grasp the message.”

“Is that so?”

“Yep. Apparently, only 30% of Britons can converse in a language other than their own. The rest seem to think that everybody else should speak English.”

“Well, nearly a quarter of the world’s population do; it sounds as if even some of those Koreans did.”

“Yes, isn’t it marvellous? The fact remains, though, that more than three-quarters don’t. But Brits still come up with stuff like that: they don’t mean to sound imperialistic or anything like that – it’s just how they are.”

“I don’t suppose any of the British climbers spoke Korean?”

“It wouldn’t appear so.”

“Hmmm, you know what the real problem was?”


None of the British could understand Korean.


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